Social media networks continue to rapidly change in terms of connections and relationships. In Western society, social media sites such as Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are commonly used and vital in terms of entertainment, building friendships, and making strong career networks. In Chinese society, social media sites are also commonly used and vital, but with their own approach. Due to the high censorship of information being displayed on the Internet, certain social network sites like Facebook, Youtube, and Twitter are banned in China. Yet, China keeps surging at such a strong pace with its own social media networks and through the creation of sites that are similar to the ones used in Western society. In other words, they still want to stay in touch with the rest of world!
Before I go further in explaining China’s social media networks, here are some questions to ask. Have you ever heard of QQ? How about RenRen? Okay, does Sino-Weibo ring a bell? Well, how about Baidu Space? No clear answer? Do you give up? If you couldn’t answer these questions, don’t worry about it! The questions that were asked reflect on China’s current social media networks. The sites that are mentioned are frequently used in China’s society. Plus, what is guanxi (关系)? Honestly, just writing this article feels as if I am giving a teaching lesson with a focused theme on global social media! In reality, I think it is important that everyone should be familiar with social media networks in China. It is what opens our eyes and broadens our minds to learn and understand more about Chinese society.
When I first came to China in August 2010, I had little to no knowledge of social media networks used in Chinese society. It was through my teaching job that one of my students introduced me to QQ. At first, I was a bit confused as to what QQ was. After my student explained it to me, which led to other students helping me out, I started to realize how valuable this site was. More importantly, it served as the first steps towards understanding social media networks in China. After some time and patience with this site, I started to appreciate QQ more. After trying this site, I was eager to learn more about the other social media sites used in China.
In this article, I do my best to explain which specific social media networks are used in China, what exactly guanxi is, and in the end try to determine if both sides are perfect for each other or if both should remain separate entities. It is important to explore this issue because as the country continues to grow, so does its opportunities and networks. I am curious to see if both areas are essential to finding good friendships or a well-paying job. Plus, do Western society and Chinese society share a commonality in terms of how they value their usage of both social media networks and guanxi? Let’s start with finding out which specific social media networks are highly active in China.
A good source that made me want to research and learn further about China’s social networks is called Techrice.com. It’s a blog devoted to further analysis of China’s tech sector. About a year ago, Kai Lukoff, the founder and editor of Techrice.com, conducted a study where he and his team listed the most active social networks in China. In addition, they looked at social network sites that appealed to certain age groups. When I looked at his article called, “China’s Top 15 Social Networks,” I noticed most of the active social network sites were being used by young people under the age of 30 (namely QQ and RenRen). As I mentioned, it is important to briefly explain what each of these sites is. These social network sites continue to play a very active role in China’s society. Lukoff starts off his explanation on the most active social networks in China first with QQ.
QQ or Qzone is known to be China’s largest social network. Ma Huateng founded QQ in 1998 while in Shenzhen. Currently, this social network has about 640 million users and is growing. QQ resembles AOL Instant Messenger or MSN Messenger. My personal experience with QQ is that most of the students I taught in my previous and current job always use this site. In a way, QQ is good for chatting with friends, posting pictures, or sharing information to the public. Furthermore, QQ has expanded its services throughout Asia and USA. I use QQ International and surprisingly it has been able to work outside China whenever I travel. I like QQ because I saw it as another communication tool between my students and I, where I could bond better with them. Interesting enough is that my students tend to use QQ much more frequently than e-mails.
RenRen (人人网) is another major social networking site in China. Founded in December 2005 by Wang Xing, Wang Huiwen, Lai Binqiang, and Tang Yang, this social network is considered to be China’s version of Facebook. Currently, it has about 170 million users and like QQ is continuing to grow. The format of RenRen somewhat resembles Facebook and is very popular among college students around the country. Personally, I have not had a chance to use it, but my students talk a lot about it.
Sina Weibo (新浪微博), which means “Sina Microblog”, also made the list for most active social networks. Founded in August 2009 by the SINA Corporation, this social network currently has about 120 million registered users. The format and layout of Sina Weibo closely resembles that of Twitter where people’s accounts have “@Username” formats, sending messages/following other users, using hashtags via #HashName# format, and so on. The majority of users come from Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. The list of users includes Chinese movie stars, singers, athletes, organizations, and famous business and media figures. Sina Weibo is in the process of developing an international version.
Baidu Space (百度空间) is an online social networking service provided by Baidu, which is a Chinese language search engine similar to that of Google. With Baidu Space, users can create personalized homepages in a query-based searchable community. In developing these personalized homepages, users can share personal information and establish friendship circles with other Baidu Space users. As of July 2009, it reached 100 million registered users.
After briefly explaining each of these active social network sites, I am eager to check out and try the other sites. I am beginning to welcome and embrace different kinds of social media networks in China. It will still take some time of getting used to, but I think my Chinese and foreign friends in China can help me. There is still another term that needs to be explored and is of great importance to Chinese culture.
What exactly is guanxi (关系)?
So, has anyone heard of the term, guanxi (关系)? What exactly is guanxi (关系)? How does one apply this concept in today’s social networking world? I did not start hearing this term until I got to China and wondered why people take so much pride and consideration to the term. Even now, I am still trying to understand its true meaning. For that, I think a brief historical explanation of guanxi and its origins is in order.
The origins of guanxi can be traced back as far as the Han Dynasty (BC 206 – AD 220) where Confuscianism played a significant role in Chinese society and its influence impacted many areas of Chinese life. Traditionally, guanxi is defined as the concept of drawing on established connections in order to secure favors in personal relationships. As for guanxi in Confucian society, it reflected on social order and stability. To have social order and stability in Confucian society, there needed to be properly differentiated role relationships between particular individuals. These individuals included family members, colleagues, neighbors, friendship circles, casual acquaintances, and others. Besides connecting with different kinds of individuals, guanxi reflected on the behavior and attitudes that were displayed towards each other. Guanxi not only focuses on making strong connections between two people, but it is also places greater emphasis on loyalty, accountability, and obligation. It implies that friends will always be there to help you no matter what or that the people you meet in life are the ones you can count on first. I think that is the interpretation I am getting about guanxi during the early periods.
By modern times, guanxi became more common during the Cultural Revolution under the regime of Chairman Mao Zedong. It was seen through the danwei (单位) or work-unit system where many workers constructed strong social networks with their units. This improved their ability to enjoy important resources and privileges. After learning about the danwei and how they enjoyed certain resources and privileges, does it change the way we view the interpretation and understanding of guanxi? In this instance is the power of guanxi used for good or bad? These questions are difficult to answer now, but are important to keep in mind.
Currently, guanxi continues to be commonly heard all throughout China especially within the business sector. As mentioned before, China’s economy is continuing to grow at such a rapid pace. Both local and foreign businesspeople are making potential investments and trying to make greater use of guanxi in establishing both strong business connections and lasting personal relationships. More importantly, the way guanxi should be used in a beneficial way, not in a greedy or corrupt manner. While I have understood the basic fundamentals of guanxi, I still feel there is more to learn.
Perfect Together or Separate Entities?
I have arrived at the hardest part of this article. Are both China’s social media networks and guanxi a perfect match for each other? How does a person like myself try to answer this question? While it is a good question to ask, it is also a complicated one because it is so subjective. For example, one can take it from a business angle while another can take it from a social angle. Someone could even answer it from an innovation angle.
As the country’s population continues to grow, the same goes for its Internet users. According to a 2010 study done by the International Telecommunications Union, which is a specialized agency of the United Nations that focuses on information and communication technologies, China ranks #1 in the world in terms of largest Internet users with over 450,000,000 million users or about 34% of its population. This number will continue to rise as each year passes. Besides population growth, the country also continues to experience robust economic growth, which means further opportunities of all kinds. China’s social media networks have and will continue to grow as they are seen as a main source of building up personal connections and career networking opportunities.
What about guanxi? How vital will guanxi be for China now and in the future? Just like China’s social media networks, guanxi will also remain an important term as its economic growth continues to surge. The main element of guanxi is trust. Guanxi involves interpersonal trust between two people or more. Well, what about China’s social media networks? Do they also count as forms of social connection? Part of me agrees while the other part disagrees. Maybe people should start seeing guanxi as another form of face-to-face interaction, but the implications have a deeper meaning and purpose.
A friend of mine made a good point on this topic. From his view on China’s social media networks and guanxi, he proceeded to say, “In every interaction there’s always a certain level of guanxi that needs to be established. No matter if it’s with the lady making your noodles on the corner of the road or Hu Jintao. It’s a matter of how deep people want to make that guanxi. So think of how important this Social Media Network is to somebody and you’ll get your answer as to how much guanxi should be gotten out of the situation.” After reading his remark carefully and with deeper consideration, I can see that China’s social media network and guanxi could be a perfect match, but it all depends on the individual and how they use these tools. Again, it is only my interpretation, others are welcomed to share their viewpoints and angles.
In December 2011, an article written in Business Insider looked at how social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linkedin can really help you get a job. When I read this article, my reaction was both shocked and amazed at the role in which social media networks can connect an individual to a career opportunity. In this article, there is a diagram done by MBAOnline where they used various sources (CNN Money, Linkedin, Marketwire) to compose a list of how social media networks have tremendously impacted today’s job markets. One area that caught my attention in the diagram is how employees found their current jobs. When I saw “online social network,” it was at 16%, which in 2010 was at 11%. It is definitely a good sign that online social networks are making their presence heard! Hopefully for 2012, using online social networks for job hunting might increase significantly again.
Going back to the Business Insider article, the most dominant factor on how people found their current jobs is referral from professional or personal contacts, which is at 36%. Maybe it is the power of guanxi that is still dominating? Personal connections seem to be a more fitting and appropriate way to reach our potential endeavors. I say this point in terms of reflecting on my personal experiences and the types of careers I have done so far. It is important to know the right people. Plus, I tend to favor personal connections because I enjoy face-to-face interaction, and am a strong and firm believer on the concept of trust. Times have and will continue to change regarding social networking. Our current global job market is still struggling and everyone is trying to find ways to make strong connections and possible career opportunities as much as possible. Yet, people should take full advantage of using both social media networks and guanxi to the fullest.
Further food for thought?
After spending considerable time thinking about how to write and approach this topic, I believe that both social media networks and guanxi whether in China, America, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, or elsewhere will continue to play a vital role in both socializing and the global job market. More importantly, I have found another way to learn the similarities and differences between Chinese and Western society. Even though both societies use different social media networks and have different perspectives and approaches on guanxi, both of them share strong similar interests in trying to reach out to the world and helping others out. Only time will tell when social media networks and guanxi will be perfect match forever. Furthermore, I hope both of these areas, whether it is for socializing or building strong career interests will continue to be emphasized and used in the positive direction because that is how one builds both stronger connections and deeper trust with others as you go further in life!
by Francis Asprec (方东旭)