Few societal norms are as important to understanding Chinese culture as guanxi, or the potency of one’s family, academic, social, and professional relationships. Guanxi influences everything in China, from negotiating potential business deals to cutting through red tape on the way to securing a housing permit. And in a country with a bureaucracy as large and cumbersome as China’s, the value of powerful connections cannot be underestimated.
Few entities have proven more pivotal in helping me develop my guanxi across the country than the Global China Connection (GCC), the premier student organization for promoting ties between promising young Chinese people with aspiring leaders across the globe. GCC’s mission to “build relationships that will change the world,” may seem overly ambitious for any student organization, particularly one in its early stages like GCC, which was founded in 2007.
But given the organization’s leadership team, which reads like an all-star lineup of Ivy League universities and top institutions in Beijing, with students from Harvard, Columbia, Yale, Tsinghua, and Peking Universities, GCC offers its members a more potent and prestigious network than most student groups. After a month of learning from its members, both American and Chinese, I believe that the organization is well on its way to realizing its lofty statement of purpose.
The president of the GCC Alumni Association, Tyler Godoff, first introduces me to the organization. A good friend from Vanderbilt with a wealth of charisma and a natural capacity for leadership, Tyler works in Beijing for a Chinese state-owned shipping and logistics firm, a job he landed through his contacts in GCC.
From the moment I enter the airport terminal and find Tyler greeting me with a “Beijing Welcomes You” sign, I begin learning the importance of networking in China. Just days after arrival, I am invited to participate in a student government forum at Tsinghua University, China’s top college and the breeding ground for its leadership class. There, I meet a range of talented young people across China, including Jacky Zhang, the student union chairman at Tsinghua University, and a number of leaders at Peking, Beijing Normal, and Tsinghua Universities.
Caught off guard, I am asked to deliver some remarks to the assembled students about my experiences hosting conferences in the United States. I don’t fall completely on my face, as the assembled group nods along while I speak. But although it’s my first speech in China, it’s not my first speech in Chinese. I still have a bit more practicing to do on that end.
As my time in China continued, GCC’s executive team continued to impress with their relationships among some of China’s brightest young minds. Their Chinese campus directors are knowledgeable, welcoming students with bright futures. And all are eager to network with Western students, in the hopes that they might utilize these relationships to add to China’s growth and development in the years ahead.
Members of their leadership team not only opened new doors for me, they also helped me develop insight into the types of questions I needed to ask in order to grow my understanding of China. After learning about my opportunity to interview former president George W. Bush, Aaron Kiersch (senior vice president) willingly offered his opinion on the types of big-picture questions to pose, and Eric Glyman (director of initiatives) introduced me to a major health care executive in China so that I would develop a more well-rounded perspective on the Chinese economy.
Global China Connection’s co-founder and president, Columbia student Gavin Newton-Tanzer, shared his views on the importance of building relationships with Chinese students in this way: “Chinese people place a very high value on friendship, particularly with those who they meet during their formative years. Over time, they become less likely to branch out and add to their professional networks, partly because of their loyalty to the friendships made during their formative years.”
“And that’s where GCC offers value,” Gavin says. “We are providing opportunities for American college students to build relationships with some of the most talented young leaders in China. Given the importance of the U.S.-China relationship to our generation, these contacts will be invaluable for our members in their future business, trade, and policy relationships with the world’s fastest growing power.”
Gavin, Tyler, Eric, Aaron, and their colleagues in GCC’s leadership corps are wasting no time in advancing these relationships and growing their organization’s impact. A few weeks before my arrival, they met with U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman, Jr. to discuss President Obama’s 100,000 Strong Initiative, a bold vision for sending American students abroad to study at Chinese universities and strengthen ties for the future. GCC will likely play a major role in marketing this project to college students across the United States.
From meeting many of these young people over dinner to singing with them at one of Beijing’s famed KTV karaoke houses, I learned much about the norms and expectations governing relationships from the leaders of GCC. I recommend anyone interested in building connections in China to look up their organization online: http://www.gccglobal.org/. It’s a great way to get connected for the future.