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Chinese business perceptions of interpersonal trust and xinren

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posted on 2023-02-06, 06:08 authored by Anton Kriz

This research investigates the issue of interpersonal trust in Chinese business-to-business markets under what, in this research, becomes classified by the Chinese as xinren. Understanding trust in Chinese business has been identified as a priority for Westerners entering the burgeoning Chinese market. The aim of this research is to seek rich exploratory data on interpersonal trust in Chinese markets-a subject that is acknowledged for its importance but has received little empirical investigation.

Much has been written on guanxi in Chinese business but there appears to be confusion between what constitutes trust as opposed to guanxi. By delving into the richness of the Chinese perceptions of trust and xinren this research attempts to unlock the nature of these constructs and answer the research question: How do business people of Chinese ethnic origin involved in international marketing perceive trust in Chinese-to-Chinese and Chinese-to-Western business? A key outcome of the research is the identification that Westerners can become insiders and build deep trust with the Chinese. However, it is difficult to achieve such a level of deep trust because it requires a special level of emotional exchange built through honesty, sincerity and reciprocal help.

The researcher interviewed a cross-section of Chinese business people in a variety of business organisations operating in Beijing, Xiamen, Shanghai, Taipei, Hong Kong, and Australia. The research was undertaken using the interpretive social science method and incorporated in depth, face-to-face interviews with a conversational style that was based on a protocol of relevant issues. Most respondents spoke both Chinese and English and were experienced in international trade.

A key component of this study was access. Access was gained through the building of an interviewer tree of connections or guanxishu-a tree or shu that enabled the researcher to 'snowball' from one referral to the next. The snowballing and conversational technique was suited to the Chinese business person's style, which has been described as high context and complex. Using taped interviews and transcripts, the researcher analysed the perceptions of the respondents with a computer package, NVIVO.

The research therefore attempts to contribute to knowledge through a deeper understanding of trust and interpersonal relationships in Chinese business. It does this through three contributions to the literature:

  • a richer understanding of the Chinese business person's perception of xinren;
  • a model that identifies the levels building to xinren and a holistic model of the people sharing such levels; and
  • a clarification for Westerners of the difference between xinren and guanxi.

Overall the research attempts to understand what Chinese business people mean by trust in the context of negotiating with other Chinese and Westerners. Trust is acknowledged as a key ingredient in business but in the Chinese interpersonal environment it has particular importance.


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Central Queensland University

Place of Publication

Rockhampton, Queensland

Peer Reviewed

  • No

Open Access

  • Yes

Era Eligible

  • No


Associate Professor Tony Ward

Thesis Type

  • Doctoral Thesis

Thesis Format

  • By publication