Guanxi 2.0: the exchange of likes in social networking sites

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Few studies have examined how non-verbal functions are implicated in online communication and in non-Western contexts. Addressing these lacunae, this article analyzes interviews with Hong Kong youth to interrogate how likes are exchanged in online interactions within the context of guanxi. This article discovers that likes are reimagined as a digital gift of renqing representing targeted attention from specific giver-identities that generates circuits of likes exchanged between participants for tie-maintenance and tie-formation. For weak ties, lower frequency of reciprocity and sense of obligation were reported, whereas strong ties engendered reports of higher frequency of reciprocity and sense of obligation. However, across all dyadic guanxi ties, participants felt a constant renqing debt demanding repayment. As such, participants felt the need for some baseline frequency of like exchange and offended when alters neglected reciprocity altogether, yet continued giving likes for fear of damaging their reputation and relationship. Thus, mianzi is reconceptualized as embedded in interpersonal evaluations of one’s reputation based on how well they maintain relationships and bound up in the social interactive tendency to exchange renqing over time. These webs of meaning and exchange encircle the objective of maintaining relationships by invigorating their emotional content. Here, the non-verbality of likes deepened their ability to replicate the raw, emotive charge of renqing: stripped of the burdensome complexities of verbal communication, likes convey a simple, one-dimensional, powerful sentiment of agreement that, in participants’ experiences, is useful to generating future exchanges of likes and improving online relationships enough to create relationships offline as well.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1891-1906
Number of pages16
JournalInformation Communication and Society
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2021


  • China
  • Guanxi
  • likes
  • online communication
  • social networking sites

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Communication
  • Library and Information Sciences


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