Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Chinese political culture

Over the weekend, I read Enigma of China, An Inspector Chen Novel by Qiu Xiaolong. (Mystery novels are one of my hobbies.)

Qiu Xiaolong, born in Shanghai, is a poet who writes mysteries from his home in St. Louis, MO.

I mention this here because his book is rife with examples of the workings of guanxi. You and your students don't have to know the Chinese term, but you should be aware of the important role that political connections (guanxi) play in Chinese government and politics.

The main character in Enigma of China is Chief Inspector Chen Cao of the Shanghai Police Department. As well as rising in the department, Chen is a rising cadre in the Communist Party. His father was a well-known scholar before being persecuted during the Cultural Revolution. All those things mean that Chen has connections to many people in many different positions.

guanxi
Every chapter illustrates a connection or two that Chen has. These connections help him find out how to evade some of the Chinese restrictions on internet activity, what plans someone in the Central Committee has for his future job assignment, how to get his mother admitted to a hospital usually reserved for top Party officials, how to reserve a private dining room in a very upscale restaurant, where a Shanghai official (who might have committed suicide) hid evidence that incriminated other officials, and where to hide a copy of that information to protect himself after he revealed it his bosses.

If summer wasn't "over," I might suggest this as summer reading for teachers and students, but it's a little late for that. The assignment might be to describe each of the guanxi connections described in the book and explain how the obligations and benefits are mutually beneficial.

On the downside of assigning this book, the story moves along quite slowly and it helps a great deal to know 20th century Chinese history to understand some of the subtleties in the story. If you enjoy good mysteries, you might read it just to find out if there had been a couple murders or only a suicide and a traffic accident. There are also details about Shanghai cuisine and Chinese poetry. There are also a couple of women (a reporter and a lawyer) who try to get Chen interested in relationships. At the end of the book, both relationships are only guanxi.

If you search this blog for guanxi, you'll find several previous postings about this bit of political culture in China.

For instance, Behind the scenes, from July 2012.


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