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Connections: Between the Instrumental and the Affective

The gift economy integrates utility into non-state personal relationships of friendship and kinship, such as classmate, neighbour, native place, co-worker and superior-subordinate relationships (Yang 1988: 411). It is distinct to criminal bribery in both its form and in the cultural understanding of practitioners. As Osburg finds, the repertoire of ethics and etiquettes governing the practice of the gift economy in China is extremely significant. “Face,” honour, relations of obligation, indebtedness and reciprocity, which are not crucial components in bribery, are essential in the art ofguanxi (2013: 27). For example, bribe corruption is made possible because it must involve a process ofguanxi building before money is exchanged. But bribe corruption is not always a matter of monetary exchange, it also includes a number of interest exchanges between the official and bribe giver, as explained by a mid-level participant from a human resource department:

Corruption, I think, is a kind of behaviour engaged in by people with the power to seek benefits for themselves or for the people around them. It includes economic benefit. But even if there are no direct money transferred, the so-called interest exchange and transmission is also corruption.

Thus, the giving of a gift is a complex and multi-level exchange, which combines the instrumental and affective, the calculated with the moral and contacts with kinship; as a consequence in reality it becomes very difficult to differentiate and entangle different types ofguanxi (Osburg 2013: 27).

Foucault in his analysis of the Epicurean conception of friendship finds that friendship is a certain balance between utility and something other than utility (Foucault 2005: 194). It is desirable and yet it begins with usefulness. It takes place within the regime of social exchanges and services linking men together. It is as if the more useful it was, the less desirable it would be (193). There are three rationalities in this friendship: its birth in utility; opposition between the usefulness and the desirability of friendship; and friendship is only desirable if it constantly maintains a certain useful relationship. Thus, if we get rid of utility from friendship, we remove any hope for the future (194). Thus, the dichotomy between interest and affect is deeply rooted in Western understanding of family and friendships as a domain of nurturance and affect standing in opposition to the competitive, interested relations of the market (Osburg 2013: 28).

However, when China’s gift-giving culture involves Party members, this culture becomes problematic as the imperative of reciprocity (and utility) in personal relationship provides the fertile ground on which corruption grows. As Wang et al. find, the use ofguanxi in the form of patron-client relations is a response to the situation where powerful officials controlled access to scarce resources (2014: 499). In this case, corruption and gift-giving may become indistinguishable to a significant degree and it is impossible for the law to identify where gift-giving ends and where corruption begins (Hualing 2013: 5).

As Li finds, in order to loosen the causal link between gift-giving/ taking and the delivery of corrupt service, the guanxi mapping between two parties in the name of affective relationship can be lengthy and costly (2011: 17-18). To tackle this problem, the only choice that the Party can make is to blanket ban and thus prohibit the possibility of reciprocal relationships among officials (Hualing 2013: 5). In this sense, in China, where everything collapses into the political and the governing of members, everybody’s needs are suffused with normative and political content. The reason the Party is unwilling to separate culturally acceptable gift exchange from illegal interest exchange is thus not mainly for the purpose of eradicating bribery, but more importantly it is about eradicating faction formation. As noted above, the governmentality of the Party is simultaneously also the governmentality of the people; as one of our participants (mid-level official from an education department) confirms: [1]

that causes corruption. For example, policies were often deliberately set up for interested groups. When their interest is fulfilled, they then change these policies, which I think this is very unfair to the general public.

Corruption, in this sense, is a social field in which officials are enmeshed in networks of obligation and interests that well exceed formal regulations and contain their own “unwritten rules,” and strategies for advancement, enrichment and modes of power (Osburg 2013: 97). The networks are forged during long nights of entertaining that consist primarily of shared experiences of bodily pleasure (125). As a consequence, corrupted guanxi and guanxi-based corruption are seen as conjoined twins that cannot be separated (Fan 2002: 377). Some even go as far as stating that there is no guanxi network in business that is not tarnished by corruption and no corruption that does not involve guanxi (Fan 2002: 377). As an official tells us:

Actually, Karaoke clubs and having lovers are not really part of the common consumption patterns of the ordinary people, but are mainly reserved for privileged officials. Officials who enjoy these kinds of activities, need people who can cater for their needs. That is why people think wiping out pornography is quite funny, who were wiped? Weren’t officials themselves wiped? (Male, low-level official from the police department)

Mistresses, multiple wives and extramarital affairs are the norm among government officials, and the sex industry has developed in pace with the rest of China’s economy to become an integral part of the Chinese nightlife (Osburg 2013: 40). It has become a quite common phenomenon for corrupt officials to have a “love affair” outside marriage. Many people thought that having a love affair is a matter of private life; however, testimonies during corruption cases have shown that having a love affair often coincided with the first steps into corruption (Zhou 2006: 22), and as we will explain below mistresses/lovers can play key roles in enabling corrupt practices.

  • [1] think it is impossible to restrain officials’ immoral behaviours, if the Party only relies on their own self-discipline, I think in some ways it is the system
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