Guanxi Prevails Over Banks
16 Oct 2004
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” Nowhere does this ring truer than in China, where guanxi reigns supreme.
Guanxi has been translated in a lot of ways, such as “relationships” or “social networking.” Since it’s so often sort of a shady business (especially in government), I prefer the more colloqiual translation “connections.” That way having my own guanxi makes me feel like I’m in the mob or something.
A while back I wrote about how I applied for a credit card here in Shanghai and was cruelly rejected for reasons not entirely clear to me. I didn’t care too much; I even broadcasted my rejection on the internet, sharing with the whole world my humiliation at the hands of my Chinese financial overlords.
My girlfriend, however, was not pleased. She seemd to take it personally. She really felt that I should have no trouble getting a credit card through China Merchants Bank (ÕÐÉÌÒøÐÐ), and didn’t want to accept my rejection.
It’s exactly five months later today, and two China Merchants Bank gold credit cards just arrived in the mail. I activated them already. One has a visa logo (take a peek), and the other has a MasterCard logo. They have different credit card numbers. I have a combined 15,000 rmb limit (a bit under $2000 US), and I can use my credit cards to buy in dollars as well as in RMB.
How did my girlfriend do it? Guanxi, of course. She met a guy who worked at China Merchants Bank and charmed him into personally overseeing the approval of my credit card application. The only difference was they wanted a copy of my “Foreign Expert Certificate” this time. It expired a year ago, but fortunately the expiration date wasn’t on the same page as the official seal. The guy said it wouldn’t matter. Apparently it didn’t. I still don’t know if my being rejected the first time was a mistake or not, but using guanxi to get the job done was the surest way to get approved.
Very cool of my girlfriend to handle that for me, although I can’t help but wonder if she could possibly have some ulterior motive….