Goudui and Yingchou (China)

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Goudui and Yingchou 🇨🇳
China map.png
Location: China
Definition: Ways entrepreneurs form informal ties with state officials – through banqueting, karaoke, brothels etc.
Keywords: China East Asia Entrepreneurship Ties Personal connections Influence Favour Public service
Clusters: Domination Motivational ambivalence Co-optation Patron-client networks
Author: John Osburg
Affiliation: Department of Anthropology, University of Rochester, USA
Website: Profile page at UR

By John Osburg, Department of Anthropology, University of Rochester, USA

The formal dictionary definition of goudui (pronounced go-dway) (勾兑) refers to the mixing of different types of wine or spirits to alter the taste of liquor (ABC Chinese-English Dictionary[1]). For most speakers of standard Mandarin Chinese this is what the word connotes. But in Southwestern dialects of Mandarin Chinese spoken in the provinces of Sichuan, Yunnan, Guizhou, Hubei, and Chongqing, goudui refers to the practice of courting someone, often in a position of power, for an instrumental purpose. Instead of altering the taste or alcohol content of liquor, through goudui one seeks to alter a relationship with a distant or casual acquaintance into a ‘thicker’ bond held together with both sentiment and mutual interest. Once the relationship has been altered through goudui practices, asking for favours, solidifying partnerships, or securing a deal or promotion are thought to be easier to achieve.

No simple English equivalent exists for goudui. Depending on the context, to ‘charm’, ‘court’, or ‘wine and dine’ could be substituted in its place. The term ‘condition’ used to describe the Sicilian mafia (Schneider 2003) perhaps most accurately serves to explain goudui practices. As noted by Peter and Jane Schneider, the Sicilian mafia strove to create ‘many stranded relationships of intertwined interest and affect’ that ‘transcend quid pro quo exchanges’ (Schneider 2003:123[2]). This nicely captures the key element of goudui: one doesn’t simply endeavour to create a relationship of indebtedness in the intended target of goudui but rather to render the relationship ‘thick’, durable, and imbued with affect. Through goudui techniques, which include banqueting, drinking, gift-giving, and various forms of entertaining, one seeks to transcend the transactional, interested nature of the relationship and embed it in social norms, reciprocity, and morality. Even though the term goudui is limited to the southwest, goudui practices are found throughout China.

Since the introduction of economic reforms in China beginning in the late 1970s, goudui practices have been most prevalent in the context of business, where entrepreneurs deploy goudui to win the favour of clients, partners, and important officials. Because of the power and influence government officials exert over many facets of the Chinese economy, goudui practices are most closely associated with the wining and dining of government officials by businesspeople to obtain permits, contracts, and insider access to state-controlled land and assets (Zhang 2001[3]). In the 1990s and 2000s the most common goudui repertoire included dinner in an exclusive restaurant featuring extensive drinking, followed by a trip to a nightclub for karaoke singing, followed by more drinking in the company of paid female hostesses. Sometimes one of these hostesses would accompany the recipient of goudui for sex as well, or the group would collectively visit a brothel or sauna at the end of the evening (Zheng 2009[4]). Because many businessmen are competing for the patronage of a few powerful officials, goudui practices have been subject to inflationary pressure over the past few decades, resulting in entertainment venues offering ever more expensive and elaborate services. In addition to these forms of entertaining, goudui practices also include gift giving, forms of flattery, and the strategic invocation of kinship terms. Supplicants sometimes refer to their goudui targets with fictive kin terms such as ‘elder brother’ (大哥 dage) or ‘brother’ (兄弟 xiongdi), attempting to frame their relationship around mutual care and concern. While women can serve as both initiators and recipients of goudui, many of the practices (drinking and commercial sex) and spaces (nightclubs and saunas) associated with goudui are implicitly masculine, and women (other than staff or hostesses) are largely excluded. The importance of the informal networks established through masculinised goudui practices has thus served to help perpetuate the marginalisation of women in certain arenas of business and government in China (Osburg 2013[5])

Goudui is closely associated with two other more widespread Chinese terms: guanxi (关系) and yingchou (应酬). Guanxi (see Mayfair Yang’s entry) refers to the social connections through which people in China strive to accomplish various tasks (Yang 1994[6]; Gold, Guthrie, and Wank 2002[7]). Goudui can be understood as the work and techniques one employs to establish a mutually beneficial guanxi-type relationship. When successfully employed, goudui techniques imbue a relationship with a modicum of affect and ethics, thus priming it for a reciprocal guanxi exchange. Without the work of goudui, the favour-seeker would be likely to appear too interested in a short-term benefit, and the relationship would run the risk of being reduced to a mere transaction. Outside of southwest China, where the term goudui is well-established, Mandarin speakers would probably use the phrase ‘gao guanxi’ (搞关系to do or to establish guanxi) in its place.

The parallel practice of Yingchou (pronounced ing-choh) refers to the ritualised entertaining that is an integral component of workplace, business, and bureaucratic relationships in China. Unlike goudui, the term yingchou is used throughout China. The forms of yingchou are largely analogous to those of goudui and involve banqueting, drinking, karaoke singing, and occasionally commercial sex. Yingchou is often used to refer to any work or career related social engagement and thus may include instances of goudui. What distinguishes goudui from yingchou is that goudui implies a narrow focus on deepening a particular relationship for an instrumental end, whereas evenings of yingchou may simply involve maintaining good relationships with one’s colleagues, partners, clients, or superiors without a specific person or favour in mind. Despite the appearance of leisure or fun to an outside observer, yingchou is considered an essential component of work. One entrepreneur memorably remarked (Author’s interview) that, as a businessman, ‘Yingchou is my job’ (yingchou jiushi wode gongzuo). Given the importance of yingchou to career advancement and business deals, entrepreneurs and government officials often have nightly yingchou obligations. Elanah Uretsky (2016) has documented the toll this constant drinking, eating, smoking, and commercial sex has taken on elite men’s health, resulting in a high incidence of chronic and sexually transmitted diseases among this group. In addition to the physical impact of yingchou and goudui, many of the businessmen (Author interviews) in the early 2000s complained of feeling overburdened by nightly social obligations that kept them away from their families and devoid of leisure time (Osburg 2013[8]).

While goudui practices undergird the majority of relationships and exchanges largely thought of as corruption in China, goudui should be distinguished from bribery. While a bribe is typically an impersonal transaction, goudui techniques are an attempt to transform a relationship into one imbued with affect and governed by the norms of friendship, if not kinship. In interviews conducted in the early 2000s businessmen stressed that engaging in goudui was often the precondition for offering a bribe: only when a relationship of trust and friendship was established through goudui could one frame a bribe in a tactful manner, as a ‘gift’ or a token of friendship (see Smart and Hsu 2007[9]). While commodified forms of expenditure—dinners, bribes, gifts, etc.— are available to all, only those who could successfully marshal these objects in service of deepening ties have succeeded in goudui.

Shortly after assuming the presidency of China in 2012, Xi Jinping launched an extensive official austerity and anti-corruption campaign. This campaign targeted the very practices—banqueting, drinking, gift exchange—at the core of goudui and yingchou. Soon after the start of the campaign, many entrepreneurs complained (Author interviews) that officials will no longer accept dinner invitations and have even returned gifts out of fear of being targeted in the crackdown. Thus, goudui and yingchou practices appear to be in decline (perhaps temporarily) in officialdom, but they continue to constitute a key means of forging and maintaining informal networks in business and other bureaucratic organisations throughout China.


  1. ABC Chinese-English Dictionary. 2003. J. DeFrancis, ed. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.
  2. Schneider, J., Schneider, P. 2003. Reversible Destiny: Mafia, Anti-Mafia, and the Struggle for Palermo. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  3. Zhang, E. 2001. ‘Goudui and the state: constructing entrepreneurial masculinity in two cosmopolitan areas of post-socialist China’, In D.L.Hodgson (ed.), Gendered Modernities: Ethnographic Perspectives, New York: Palgrave: 235–266
  4. Zheng, T. 2009. Red Lights: The Lives of Sex Workers in Postsocialist China. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
  5. Osburg, J. 2013. Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China’s New.
  6. Yang, M. M. 1994. Gifts, favors, and banquets: the art of social relationships in China. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
  7. Gold, T., Guthrie, D., Wank, D. 2002. Social connections in China: institutions, culture, and the changing nature of guanxi. New York: Cambridge University Press. Rich. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  8. Osburg, J. 2013. Anxious Wealth: Money and Morality Among China’s New.
  9. Smart, A., Hsu, C. 2007. ‘Corruption or Social Capital: Tact and the Performance of Guanxi in Market Socialist China.’ In Monique Nuijten and Gerhard Anders, (eds.) Corruption and the Secret of Law. Burlington, VT: Ashgate.