Ascribed and Achieved Relationship

There are two fundamental categories of guanxi: ascribed and achieved. In Confucian terms, ascribed relationships are the cornerstone of human order and more often than not have primacy over achieved relations. Ascribed relationships are part of the wulun (five orders), denoting the fun- damental ties based on a priori principles such as Mandate of Heaven and blood ties that the individual has no choice but to honor. These five orders include relations between emperor and ministers, father and son, husband and wife, one brother and another, and also between kin and friends. One is born or placed into the first four of these relationships, which are therefore ascribed. They help ensure that one’s family and the country’s leaders will command supreme loyalty. As to the fifth relationship, which is achieved, the relationship between kin and between friends must also be conducted according to predetermined proper principles and codes. These five rela- tionships are the stable building blocks of human society and are the main obligations of every individual. In upholding these relationships, definite values and principles apply. The medium being exchanged in these relations must rise above the mundane concerns of economic or material benefit. It is essentially an exchange of goodwill, of human compassion (renqing). In thus exchanging acts of goodwill—in the form of gifts, help, favor, under- standing, kind words, and so forth—mutual compassion among individuals and toward society as a whole can be better consolidated. In this way, Con- fucian ideals such as loyalty, filial piety, honesty, and agnatic ties are artic- ulated into concrete social dynamics.

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