Jade and Guanxi in China
Material-Social Congruity and Contingency
This article discusses how the gemstone jade mediates guanxi (‘personal relationships’), and how guanxi mediates jade trade in China. Outlining some affective, spiritual, moral and somatic meanings and efficacies of jade, especially as a gift, the article first discusses how jade materialities, cultural history and ontology influence human interactions with, and through, jade in contemporary China. Secondly, the article presents some more economically instrumental investments in, and exchanges of, jade and discusses why and how a national anti-corruption campaign engendered fluctuations in Chinese jade markets. Finally, the article discusses how guanxi ideally forges personal trust that facilitates transactions of jade, even though some younger jade traders consider guanxi insincere. Studies of guanxi in China’s reform era have conventionally given analytical primacy to how social relationships structure and give meaning to material exchanges. In contrast, this article argues that jade itself can be a catalyst for social relationships that span affect and instrumentality. Combining object–oriented, ontological and institutionalist approaches, the article conceptualises the outlined relations between jade and guanxi as material–social congruity and contingency in the Chinese context.
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