Monday, March 16, 2009

Guanxi in Motion

Day 2: Fudan University

Guanxi is a word that we have come to know well in our EMBA Managing China class. According to Wikipedia, "Guānxi" is a central concept in Chinese society. It describes the basic dynamic in the complex nature of personalized networks of influence and social relationships. In other words, it's an informal social network formed with people you encounter, which sometimes makes it easier to do business in China. Angela, Jon S. and myself went on a taxi-cab journey today and put our Guanxi in motion.

Our cabby dropped us off at the gates of Fudan University and pointed down the street, as if we would know where to go. We had an interview set up with the professor of Health Economics and two of his graduate students, and an address on a piece of paper written in English and Chinese. If the buildings were numbered, or if there were street signs pointing one way or the other, we probably could have found the way on our own. But signs were as scarce as other Westerners on campus. Trapped in the middle of what looked like dormatories, we stopped to show our sign to a guard on the street. He also pointed in the same direction, but then made a gesture with his hand, as if to say turn left down there. So we kept walking...and walking...and walking.

Stopping for directions doesn't really help when you can't speak the native language, but we did so anyway. Walking into a convenient store, we played a charade-like game with the cashier to convey our ignorance and excuse our inability to communicate. In other words, "Americans LOST! Please help!"

It's amazing how well you can communicate even without common language. Sometimes, expressions like the deer in the headlights look of being lost seems to be universal. The man in the convenient store was clever enough to point to the phone and ask if we had a number for whomever we were trying to meet. After our hosts graciously came to collect us, we had a very delightful visit with the professor and his students. To say that they were prepared would be an understatement. They flipped through pages upon pages of research for the questions that Angela had sent, spoke with intriguing insight in English that was nearly perfect, and revealed cultural differences that neither party had thought of. It was beyond impressive. We left agreeing to collaborate on future projects, which both sides were excited about. I wouldn't be surprised if I have an email waiting for me when I get home.

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