Gifts, Favors, and Banquets

Gifts, Favors, and Banquets

The Art of Social Relationships in China
  • Winner of the American Ethnological Society Book Prize - Honorable Mention, The Victor Turner Ethnographic Writing Prize - Honorable Mention, The Leeds Urban Anthropology Prize

An elaborate and pervasive set of practices, called guanxi, underlies everyday social relationships in contemporary China. Obtaining and changing job assignments, buying certain foods and consumer items, getting into good hospitals, buying train tickets, obtaining housing, even doing business—all such tasks call for the skillful and strategic giving of gifts and cultivating of obligation, indebtedness, and reciprocity. Mayfair Mei-hui Yang's close scrutiny of this phenomenon serves as a window to view facets of a much broader and more complex cultural, historical, and political formation. Using rich and varied ethnographic examples of guanxi stemming from her fieldwork in China in the 1980s and 1990s, the author shows how this "gift economy" operates in the larger context of the socialist state redistributive economy.