The Role of Guanxi in Building the Political-Criminal Nexus

Creating a political-criminal guanxi network is a necessary item for locally based criminal groups. The long-term survival of the eight notorious gangs in Chongqing was largely due to their success in establishing mutually beneficial guanxi networks with police officers. Guanxi with police officers offers locally based criminals significant protection against the uncertainties created by a series of crime crackdown campaigns. It is, however, not easy for an outsider to establish guanxi with those who control desired resources (Leung et al. 1995). The Chongqing crime crackdown provides information for researchers to analyse how locally based criminals adopted the ‘debt logic’ of guanxi practice to establish mutually beneficial networks with police officers. Guanxi building, as Chen and Chen (2004) argue, is divided into three sequential stages: initiating, building, and using.

Initiating guanxi

Two individuals who do not know each other but want to develop guanxi have to identify or create guanxi bases. A guanxi base is defined by Jacobs (1979: 243) as ‘a base in which two or more persons [have] a commonality of shared identification’. Guanxi begins with a guanxi base, but the existence of a guanxi base does not imply the existence of a guanxi. For example, two individuals might have a guanxi base (e.g. a neighbour) but they never get in touch with each other; under such circumstances, guanxi or active guanxi does not exist.

A guanxi base, as Fan (2002a) and Chen and Chen (2004) suggest, can be classified into four categories: (1) kinship and family ties; (2) common social identities, such as tong xiang (from the same birthplace), tongxue (from the same educational institution), and tong shi (from the same workplace); (3) common third party, which refers to ‘two individuals [who] can claim to have guanxi because they have been acquainted through a third party with whom they both have guanxi even though the two individuals themselves have no other direct guanxi bases with each other’ (Chen and Chen 2004: 311); (4) anticipatory bases, which can be created by two individuals who do not have the types of guanxi bases mentioned in 1, 2, and 3 but can still initiate guanxi through ‘expressing an intention or even a promise to engage in future exchanges, collaborations, or joint ventures’ (Chen and Chen 2004: 311).

Kinship ties are the most widespread and useful way for gangland bosses to create guanxi with government officials in small towns. However, a kinship guanxi base was not a major way for most gang bosses in Chongqing—a large city in China—to establish guanxi with police chief Wen Qiang or Wen’s subordinates (Journalist A 2011; Journalist D 2011). Under Wen’s umbrella, there was only one criminal organization—Xie Caiping’s gang—creating links with Wen Qiang and his subordinates through kinship ties. Xie Caiping, Wen’s sister-in-law, was known as the ‘godmother’ of the Chongqing criminal underworld. Although the guanxi between Wen and Xie was bad,[1] Xie had a good affection-based relationship with Wen’s wife, so family ties still worked very well in Xie’s criminal business (Journalist A 2011; Journalist D 2011). Thanks to Wen’s influence, this kinship guanxi base also facilitated Xie to create and maintain good guanxi with local police officers, including Wen’s subordinate Zhao Liming, and two other police officers, Guo Sheng and Gan Yong. The establishment of extensive guanxi networks with local police officers enabled Xie not only to be an influential female gang boss, but also to be an effective protector who safeguarded the illegal businesses of other gangsters; for example, she offered protection to Xia Ping’s gang (Li et al. 2010).

Most locally based gang bosses in Chongqing did not have kinship ties with Wen and his subordinates, but because all these gang bosses possessed extensive guanxi webs in Chongqing’s underworld and overworld, they were still able to establish guanxi with these corrupt police officers by identifying common social identities and a common third party, or by creating anticipatory bases. An example of identifying common social identities might work as follows: a gang boss would identify the police officer who took charge of a criminal case his gang members were involved in, and get familiar with that officer by finding mutual friends and common experiences.

Being a member of a people’s congress or a people’s political consultative conference provides a valuable guanxi base for gangland bosses to enter into other members’ guanxi networks, allowing them to infiltrate the Chinese political system (Xia 2004). In contemporary mainland China, local economic development is inseparable from the entertainment businesses owned by gangland bosses, such as nightclubs, casinos, and the ‘red light’ districts (Wang 2012b). This makes the relationship between the local governments and nightclub managers harmonious rather than hostile. Moreover, illegal entrepreneurs can buy off senior officials and be admitted into people’s congresses or people’s political consultative conferences (Government official A 2012; Manager A 2012). For instance, Chen Mingliang, a billionaire and notorious gang boss operating prostitution rings, was a member of the People’s Congress in Chongqing’s Yuzhong District before he was arrested in June 2009. Taking part in people’s congresses not only provided Chen with a legitimate cover, but also enabled him to develop friendly relationships with senior government officials, including two former police chiefs: Wen Qiang and Peng Changjian.

  • [1] Wen Qiang perceived that Xie Caiping’s involvement in gambling businesseswas a discredit to his family, so the personal relationship between Wen and Xie wasnot good.
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