Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 108, Issue 3, pp 313–324 | Cite as

Supervisor–Subordinate Guanxi and Trust in Supervisor: A Qualitative Inquiry in the People’s Republic of China



In the People’s Republic of China (PRC), we investigated the relationships between supervisor–subordinate guanxi and trust in supervisor in firms with different types of ownership from both supervisor and subordinate’s sides. Utilising a qualitative approach, the findings of this study showed there was a direct relationship of superior–subordinate guanxi on trust in supervisor. The findings were discussed in the theoretical context of—social exchange theory, social identity theory and the theory of reasoned action as the theoretical foundations on the relationships between superior–subordinate guanxi and trust in supervisor.


Supervisor–subordinate guanxi Trust in supervisor China 


  1. Ahlstrom, D., Bruton, G. D., & Lui, S. S. Y. (2000). Navigating China’s changing economy: Strategies for private firms. Business Horizons, 43, 5–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Ajzen, I., & Fishbein, M. (1980). Understanding attitudes and predicting social behavior. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  3. Bailey, J., Chen, C. C., & Dou, S. G. (1997). Conceptions of self and performance-related feedback in the U.S., Japan and China. Journal of International Business Studies, 28(3), 232–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bartunek, J. M., & Seo, M.-G. (2002). Qualitative research can add new meanings to quantitative research. Journal of Organisational Behaviour, 23, 237–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baruch, Y., & Holtom, B. (2008). Survey response rate levels and trends in organisational research. Human Relations, 3, 11–17.Google Scholar
  6. Blau, P. M. (1964). Exchange and power in social life. New York: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  7. Bolino, M. C. (1999). Citizenship and impression management: Good soldiers or good actors? Academy of Management Review, 24(2), 82–98.Google Scholar
  8. Bontempo, R., & Rivero, J. C. (1992). Cultural variation in cognition: The role of self-concept in the attitude-behaviour link. Paper presented at the August meetings of the Academy of Management, Las Vegas, Nevada.Google Scholar
  9. Bozionelos, N., & Wang, L. (2007). An investigation on the attitudes of Chinese workers towards individually-based performance related reward systems. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 18(2), 284–302.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brewer, M. B. (1979). Ingroup bias in the minimal intergroup situations: A cognitive-motivational analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 86, 307–324.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bu, N., & Roy, J. (2005). Career success networks in China: Sex differences in network composition and social exchange practices. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 22(4), 381–403.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Chemers, M. M. (1997). An integrative theory of leadership. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  13. Chen, C. C., Chen, Y. R., & Xin, K. (2004). Guanxi practices and trust in management: A procedural justice perspective. Organisation Science, 15(2), 200–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chen, Z. X., & Francesco, A. M. (2003). The relationship between the three components of commitment performance in China. Journal of Vocational Behaviour, 62, 490–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Chen, Y. F., & Tjosvold, D. (2006). Participative leadership by western managers in China: The role of relationships. Journal of Management Studies, 43(8), 1727–1752.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Chen, Y. F., & Tjosvold, D. (2007). Guanxi and leader member relationships between American managers and Chinese employees: Open-minded dialogue as mediator. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 24, 171–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cheung, M., Wu, W.-P., & Chan, A. W. (2009). Supervisor–subordinate Guanxi and employee work outcomes: The mediating role of job satisfaction. Journal of Business Ethics, 88, 77–89.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dirks, K. T., & Ferrin, D. L. (2002). Trust in leadership: Meta-analytic findings and implications for research and practice. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87, 611–628.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Dukerich, J. M., Golden, B. R., & Shortell, S. M. (2002). Beauty is in the eye of the beholder: The impact of organisational identification, identity, and image on the cooperative behaviours of physicians. Administrative Science Quarterly, 47, 507–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Duriau, V. J., Reger, R. K., & Pfarrer, M. D. (2007). A content analysis of the content analysis literature in organisation studies: Research themes, data sources, and methodological refinements. Organizational Research Methods, 10, 5–34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Farh, J. L., Tsui, A. S., Xin, K. K., & Cheng, B. S. (1998). The influence of relational demography and guanxi: The Chinese case. Organisation Science, 9, 471–488.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fu, P. P., & Tsui, A. (2003). Utilising media to understand desired leadership attributes in the People’s Republic of China. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 20(4), 423–446.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Gabrenya, W. K., Jr., & Hwang, K. K. (1996). Chinese social interaction: Harmony and hierarchy on the good earth. In M. H. Bond (Ed.), The handbook of Chinese psychology (pp. 232–249). Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  24. Giessner, S., Sleebos, E., & van Knippenberg, D. (2003). License to fail? Leader prototypicality, leader performance, and leadership endorsement. Paper presented at the EAESP Small Group Meeting on New Directions in Leadership Research, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.Google Scholar
  25. Hall, E. T. (1976). Beyond culture. New York: Anchor Press.Google Scholar
  26. Han, Y., & Altman, Y. (2009). Supervisor–subordinate Guanxi: A grounded investigation in the People’s Republic of China. Journal of Business Ethics, 88, 91–104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Han, Y., & Altman, Y. (2010). Confucian moral roots of citizenship behaviour in China. Asia-Pacific Journal of Business Administration, 2, 35–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Han, Y., Kakabadse, N., & Kakabadse, P. A. (2010). Servant leadership in the People’s Republic of China: A case study of the public sector. Journal of Management Development, 29, 265–281.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Hosking, D. M., & Morley, I. E. (1991). A social psychology of organizing. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
  30. House, R. J., Wright, N. S., & Aditya, R. N. (1997). Cross-cultural research on organizational leadership: A critical analysis and a proposed theory. In P. C. Earley & M. Erez (Eds.), New perspectives on international industrial/organizational psychology (pp. 535–625). San Francisco: The New Lexington Press.Google Scholar
  31. Huang, X., & Iun, J. (2006). The impact of subordinate–supervisor similarity in growth-need strength on work outcomes: The mediating role of perceived similarity. Journal of Organisational Behaviour, 27, 1121–1148.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hwang, K. (1987). Face and favour: The Chinese power game. American Journal of Sociology, 13(2), 944–974.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hwang, K.-K. (1999). Filial piety and loyalty: Two types of social identification in Confucianism. Asian Journal of Social Psychology, 2, 163–183.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Kramer, R. M. (1999). Trust and distrust in organisations: Emerging perspectives, enduring questions. Annual Review of Psychology, 50, 569–598.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Krippendorff, K. (1980). Content analysis: An introduction to its methodology. Beverly Hills: Sage.Google Scholar
  36. Kyriakidou, O., & Ozbilgin, M. (2004). Individuals, organizations and careers: A relational perspective. Career Development International, 9(1), 7–11.Google Scholar
  37. Law, K. S., Wong, C. S., Wang, D., & Wang, L. (2000). Effect of supervisor–subordinate guanxi on supervisory decisions in China: An empirical investigation. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 11(4), 751–765.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Lehman Brothers. (2005). Reports. New York.Google Scholar
  39. Luo, Y. (1997). Guanxi: principles, philosophies and implications. Human Systems Management, 16(1), 43–52.Google Scholar
  40. Mayer, R., Davis, J. H., & Schoorman, E. D. (1995). An integrative model of organizational trust. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 709–734.Google Scholar
  41. Montano, D. E., Kasprzyk, D., & Taplin, S. H. (1997). The theory of reasoned action and the theory of planned behavior. In K. Glanz, F. M. Lewis, & B. K. Rimer (Eds.), Health behavior and health education: Theory, research and practice (pp. 39–62). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  42. Neuendorf, K. A. (2002). The content analysis guidebook. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  43. Organ, D. W., & Konovsky, M. S. (1989). Cognitive versus affective determinants of organizational citizenship behavior. Journal of Applied Psychology, 74, 157–164.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Pandit, N. R. (1996). The creation of theory: A recent application of the grounded theory method. The Qualitative Report, 2(4), 1–14.Google Scholar
  45. Redding, S. G. (1990). The spirit of Chinese capitalism. New York: Walter de Gruyter.Google Scholar
  46. Rousseau, D. M., & Fried, Y. (2001). Location, location, location: Contextualizing organisational research. Journal of Organisational Behaviour, 22, 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rousseau, D. M., Sitkin, S. B., Burt, R. S., & Camerer, E. (1998). Not so different after all: A cross-discipline view of trust. Academy of Management Review, 23, 393–404.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Rousseau, D. M., & Wade-Benzoni, K. A. (1995). Changing models of attachment. In A. Howard (Ed.), The changing nature of work (vol. 5, pp. 290–322). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  49. Saunders, M., & Lewis, P. (2003). Research methods for business students (3rd ed.). London: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  50. Song, L. J., & Werbel, J. (2007). Guanxi as impetus? Career exploration in China and the United States. Career Development International, 12(1), 51–67.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Sue, C., Sirgy, M. J., & Mitchell, R. (2002). Enabling guanxi management in China: A hierarchical stakeholder model of gunaxi. Journal of Business Ethics, 71(3), 301–319.Google Scholar
  52. Sue, E., Diener, E., Oishi, S., & Triandis, H. C. (1998). The shifting basis of life satisfaction judgments across cultures: Emotions versus norms. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 482–493.Google Scholar
  53. Triandis, H. C. (1995). Individualism and collectivism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Inc.Google Scholar
  54. Tsui, A. (2006). Contextualization in Chinese management research. Management and Organization Review, 2(1), 1–13.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Tsui, A., & Farh, J. L. (1997). Where guanxi matters. Work and Occupations, 24, 56–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Tsui, A. S., Farh, L. J., & Xin, K. (2000). Guanxi in the Chinese context. In J. T. Li, A. S. Tsui, & E. Weldon (Eds.), Management and organizations in the Chinese context. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  57. Tsui, A. S., Porter, L. W., & Egan, T. D. (2002). When both similarities and dissimilarities matter: Extending the concept of relational demography. Human Relations, 55, 899–929.Google Scholar
  58. Tyler, T. R., & Lind, E. A. (1992). A relational model of authority in groups. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 25, 115–191.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Weber, R. (1990). Basis content analysis (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  60. Wei, L., Liu, J., Chen, Y., & Wu, L. (2010). Political skill, supervisor–subordinate guanxi and career prospects in Chinese firms. Journal of Management Studies, 47, 437–454.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Whitener, E., Brodt, S., Korsgaard, M., & Werner, J. (1998). Managers as initiators of trust: An exchange relationship framework for understanding managerial trustworthy behaviour. Academy of Management Review, 23, 513–530.Google Scholar
  62. Willmott, H. (2003). Organization theory as a critical science? Forms of analysis and organizational forms. In H. Tsoukas & C. Knudsen (Eds.), Organization theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Wong, Y. T., Ngo, H., & Wong, J. M. (2003). Antecedents and outcomes of employees’ trust in Chinese joint ventures. Asia Pacific Journal of Management, 20, 481–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Wu, W. P. (1996). Transaction cost, cultural values and chinese business networks: An integrated approach. Paper Presented at the International Academic Workshop on Chinese Business Connections in Global and Comparative Perspective, Beijing.Google Scholar
  65. Xin, K. R., & Pearce, J. L. (1996). Guanxi: Connections as substitutes for formal institutional support. Academy of Management Journal, 39(6), 1641–1658.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Yang, K. S. (1993). Chinese social orientation: An integrative analysis. In F. M. C. Cheng, C. N. Cheung, & L. Y. Chen (Eds.), Psychotherapy for the Chinese: Selected papers for the first international conference. Hong Kong: The Chinese University of Hong Kong.Google Scholar
  67. Yang, K. S. (1995). Chinese social orientation: An integrative analysis. In T. Y. Lin, W. S. Tseng, & E. K. Yeh (Eds.), Chinese societies and mental health (pp. 19–39). Hong Kong: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  68. Yin, R. K. (2003). Case study research. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  69. Zhang, Y., & Zhang, Z. (2006). Guanxi and organisational dynamics in China: A link between individual and organisational levels. Journal of Business Ethics, 67(4), 375–392.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Economics and ManagementTongji UniversityShanghaiPeople’s Republic of China
  2. 2.Guangxi Institute of Public AdministrationNanningPeople’s Republic of China
  3. 3.Centre for International EducationGuangxi University of Finance and EconomicsNanningPeople’s Republic of China

Personalised recommendations