This contribution explores the complex impact of ‘Renqing’ (human feelings) on conducting elite interviews in China. Over 50 intensive semi-structured interviews relating to the procurement shifts by leading retail transnational corporations (TNCs) in the Chinese market had been carried out between 2010 and 2011. As the majority of interviewees were reached by the recommendation of the researcher’s social networks, reflections on the relationships among the researcher, researched and recommenders are necessary. As a particular guide of social behaviours in the Chinese society, Renqing is therefore proposed as the theoretical framework to explain the challenges and issues occurred in the fieldwork process, from access to respondents, undertaking interviews to follow-up communications, writes Yue Wang.
When considering undertaking interviews with business people while conducting international business research, most research focuses on two aspects (Harvey, 2010). On the one hand, attention is paid to the techniques of preparing for and conducting interviews. These techniques include how to gain access to interviewees and carry out interviews in particular places as well as instructions about how to handle difficulties and challenges when interviewing elites. On the other hand, keen attention is also paid to the complex and dynamic power relationships between researchers and the researched during the interview process. From this perspective, it is important to examine the interplay of power between researchers and interviewees in different social identities such as gender, class, race and nationality relations. This paper seeks to utilise Renqing (human feelings), a very important guide tool for the Chinese people to maintain and enhance their relationships with others, in order to demonstrate and reflect on the cultural implications in carrying out interviews with Chinese business people. This blog begins by introducing the research design for the fieldwork that deals with retailing business people in China. Then it focuses on the complex role of Renqing in interview processes, from accessing interviewees and conducting interviews to follow-up contacts after interviews. The final section draws the paper to a close.
My research examined how the arrival of retail transnational corporations (TNCs) in China has transformed the supply network and upgraded the local market. The research was conducted during two fieldwork periods in Shanghai, China. During the first period between November 2010 and January 2011, I had brief contacts with retailers and food suppliers in order to gain background information on the Chinese retailing market, as well as to identify the appropriate food cases informing the research. Ten interviews were undertaken and among them eight were with retail representatives. The second period of fieldwork between April and August 2011 focused on the specific procurement shifts adopted by retail TNCs and in turn, the responses made by suppliers/wholesalers and logistics providers across three selected food types. 44 interviews were carried out with academic scholars, business consultants, retailers and, in particular, logistics providers and suppliers. These interviews allowed the researcher to overcome the limitation of interviews largely conducted with retailers in the initial fieldwork, and to derive different accounts by a variety of actors undergoing the supply network transformations. Continue reading