I had a discussion with an architect about this topic about 6 years ago and he said that guanxi was in decline and will eventually go the way of the dinosaur in most cases but not all. He gave this as an example.
He said when his architect company needed a new architect a new person was sent - no resume needed - the invisible hand decided who gets the job - no questions were asked. However, this system had nothing to do with ability. He said now all architects must use a resume so he has seen the changes in his lifetime.
He said - Before most companies were state owned and had to provide room and board for its employees. 6 years ago he said there were only a handful of those companies left. I am sure many of you know of certain residential quarters that are only for employees. Many companies have slowly phased these out and are no longer for employees only. I now own a home that is owned by the China Southern Power Grid in Dali and I own a home here in Kunming that is owned by a Pharma Company.
Another topic he mentioned was civil servant workers. He mentioned that guanxi was still alive and well in this department, especially when it comes to civil servants who join the Communist Party - they have preference. However, guanxi is not about gift giving but more about - Its not WHAT you know but WHO you know - type of thing.
Many jobs that were only for civil servants have now been opened to all people so there is a decline in civil servant jobs (Many private hospitals now). Also, there has been a decline in Communist Party membership. In the old days, a person who landed a civil servant job had it made but now people can earn a better living working outside the civil servant jobs and live like kings. Civil Servant jobs are no longer valued and actually looked down upon now. Civil servant workers are now considered low class and no longer esteemed or respected.
Every year my students tell me how their parents want them to take the annual (Oct-Nov) civil servant test and how they want them to join the Communist Party in the University. Most of them refuse and this debate with parents lingers - old way vs new way.
The last example he gave was in education. He was very clear that this has nothing to do with guanxi and is nothing more than plain bribery, although it is masked as guanxi.
I saw a recent example of this as there is a new system in place for primary school kids going to middle school. Some provinces made this change in 2015 and more now in 2016. Since many parents and teachers do not yet understand how this new system works they resort to good old fashioned bribery to get their brats into better schools.
I see this system slowly coming to an end soon because there are more parents with money and power now. Some parents are willing to fight and stand up for their rights, especially when their kids have the good scores while others do not and get in through bribery.
I predict we will see more and more cases of headmasters who can not justify how some rich kid with poor scores got in while others with good scores did not. Test scores are all computerized and in plain sight now.
Finally, it is the young people who will change this old system. As they grow older and replace the older leaders they will discontinue the guanxi system. They are tired of the drinking and the late night diners and KTV and they are now focusing on ability.
Personally, I believe guanxi is a Self Fulfilling Prophecy. In the land of China, anything can be accomplished - in time. However, it is those people who want it done NOW that resort to this behavior and feed the beast and intentionally, unintentionally, or ignorantly continue this system.
I have always been very clear with all the chinese people I interact with - I never receive gifts - and I have refused many a gift and made the person feel bad or lose face - too bad.
One of my requirements for my students is that they delete most of their QQ contacts. Most have 100s, I only allow 20 (Wechat is another beast). One of the usual arguements I get is that they may need that person at a later date. They admit they have no contact with that person any longer but they keep them in case they need them later on. I ask them, Do you realize you are using this person? they say YES but many people keep me on their contact list for the same reason.
Another part of guanxi that will disappear with time is that more young people have a stronger self esteem and know their own identity. Part of what keeps guanxi alive is the Inability of chinese people to say NO. So they do favors because they feel obligated, not because they really want to.
Travel opens peoples' eyes and many young people now travel on their own, not in tour groups. As they see and interact with different people they begin to assimilate new ideas and in turn give up many of their old beliefs and old ways. Visit your local PSB and see how many chinese people are getting passports.
Guanxi worked while China remained a homogenous country and culture. This is no longer true and fading quickly each passing year. Foreign Devils are everywhere in China since the Olympics of 2008. Learning english started in middle school, then began in the third grade, and now in first grade. Ask any chinese young person when Valentines Day is and they will say Feb 14, not July 7. As China becomes more westernized, and it is, guanxi will fade away.
As part of her work, my wife attends Parenting seminars frequently. All the Information presented is from the west (Psychology) and unknown previously in China. Do a Baidu search of - Supernanny - watch the videos - more chinese people are now open to counseling - this was unheard of in the past because of FACE.
Guanxi will continue to decline in the future because people can not do in business what they can no longer do in daily life. One can not deny that guanxi still exists, the question is how often was it seen 10 years ago and how often is it seen now - in Kunming.