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Instrumental Guanxi Culture and Inbound Urban Migration in China: A Prefecture-level Analysis Using Online Search Data

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  22 March 2024

Zhihui Fu
Department of Sociology, Nanjing University, Nanjing, China,
Shukai Liu
Department of Sociology, Nanjing University, Nanjing, China,
Guodong Ju
Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), London, UK
Wen Ma*
Department of Sociology, Nanjing University, Nanjing, China,
Yunsong Chen*
Department of Sociology, Nanjing University, Nanjing, China,
Corresponding authors: Wen Ma; Email:; Yunsong Chen; Email:
Corresponding authors: Wen Ma; Email:; Yunsong Chen; Email:


The socioeconomic role of guanxi networks among individuals has been widely recorded, yet macro-level analysis has been sparse in empirical research. This research fills that gap by presenting the first nationally representative evidence illustrating the connection between regional guanxi culture and population mobility among cities in China, with a particular focus on instrumental guanxi culture. To quantify guanxi culture, we employ online search indices related to gift giving, a measure which is challenging to capture through traditional survey data. Applying matched prefecture-level data spanning from 2011 to 2019, the panel model reveals a strong negative correlation between a city's instrumental guanxi culture and inbound migration, while sentimental guanxi culture exhibits a positive correlation with inbound mobility. This research not only adds to the existing theories by exploring the macro-level effects of both instrumental and sentimental guanxi practices but also introduces an innovative method for quantifying guanxi culture through big data analysis.



个体层面关系网络的社会经济作用已经被广泛研究,但其宏观层面的实证分析仍然较少。本研究首次通过具有代表性的研究证据,阐明了中国各城市的地区性关系文化与人口流动之间的联系,特别关注工具性关系文化。我们采用与赠送礼物相关的在线搜索指数量化难以通过传统调查数据捕捉的关系文化,并运用 2011 年至 2019 年的市级社会经济数据与关系文化指数构成面板模型,揭示了工具性关系文化与国内人口流动之间显著的负相关关系,而情感性性关系文化则与国内人口流动呈显著的正相关关系。本研究探讨工具性和情感性关系实践的宏观效应,在做出理论贡献的同时,引入了一种基于大数据的新型关系文化测量方法。

Research Article
Copyright © The Author(s), 2024. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of SOAS University of London

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