Frankfurt working papers on East Asia
A different capitalism? : Guanxi-capitalism and the importance of family in modern China
- The emergence of Capitalism is said to always lead to extreme changes in the structure of a society. This view implies that Capitalism is a universal and unique concept that needs an explicit institutional framework and should not discriminate between a German or US Capitalism. In contrast, this work argues that the ‘ideal type’ of Capitalism in a Weberian sense does not exist. It will be demonstrated that Capitalism is not a concept that shapes a uniform institutional framework within every society, constructing a specific economic system. Rather, depending on the institutional environment - family structures in particular - different forms of Capitalism arise. To exemplify this, the networking (Guanxi) Capitalism of contemporary China will be presented, where social institutions known from the past were reinforced for successful development. It will be argued that especially the change, destruction and creation of family and kinship structures are key factors that determined the further development and success of the Chinese economy and the type of Capitalism arising there. In contrast to Weber, it will be argued that Capitalism not necessarily leads to a process of destruction of traditional structures and to large-scale enterprises under rational, bureaucratic management, without leaving space for socio-cultural structures like family businesses. The flexible global production increasingly favours small business production over larger corporations. Small Chinese family firms are able to respond to rapidly changing market conditions and motivate maximum efforts for modest pay. The structure of the Chinese family proved to be very persistent over time and to be able to accommodate diverse economic and political environments while maintaining its core identity. This implies that Chinese Capitalism may be an entirely new economic system, based on Guanxi and the family.