Manager Wang had not come to ask the Ni family to attend this year’s pilgrimage; no man of culture would come at the start of the Lunar New Year on such a crude mission. Instead, he was  paying a courtesy visit. A cynic might view this as the same thing, but this would be too narrow.

Personal contact is how life is organized in China, whether running a pilgrimage, business or political party. All of these have rules, regulations, or bylaws, but what really holds them together is a web of relationships that rarely fits on a flowchart. It includes who is related to whom and who has done whom a favor, when, and under what circumstances. It isa bout who has the personal charisma and prestige and who has donated the most money, but also it is about who is sincere in carrying out obligations — something even the poorest person can do.

— Ian Johnson The Souls of China


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