The structure of guanxi: Resolving problems of network assurance

Jack Barbalet*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Citations (Scopus)


Two widespread assumptions concerning networks, including guanxi networks, are that they function in terms of trust relations and that their structure is dyadic. This article subjects both assumptions to critical assessment and proposes alternative formulations. When the distinctions between trust and trustworthiness and between trust and assurance are made, then broader understandings of guanxi relationships emerge. The article shows that the assurance mechanism of guanxi is public exposure of transgressions against network norms, leading to the transgressor’s loss of face (mianzi). The necessity of third-party intervention of this type, typically but not exclusively through gossip, indicates the triadic rather than dyadic structure of guanxi relationships when sanction of reputation is included in the conceptualization of guanxi. Changes in guanxi during economic transition in China, from strong-to weaker-tie associations, require careful consideration of the changing nature of the mechanisms of face-loss.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-69
Number of pages19
JournalTheory and Society
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Face
  • Gossip
  • Obligation
  • Triadic form
  • Trust
  • Trustworthiness


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