Hu_RunfengHu_Runfeng ・ Feb. 1, 2024
Guandan: The "New Darling" of Shanghai Financial Circle's Social Life
Now that Texas Hold'em has lost its luster, it seems Wall Street has nothing left to teach the Shanghai financial circle. What underline Texas Hold'em bowing out and Guandan’s stunning debut are the decline of dollar funds and the rise of renminbi funds, especially government-guided funds.

BEIJING, February 1 (TMTPOST)—The card game Guandan, which has taken the financial circles by storm, has been made an official sport in Shanghai. The Shanghai Guandan Sports Association was established on January 27. The Director of Shanghai Administration of Sports attended the inauguration ceremony, and Qi Shi, the Chairman of East Money, serves as the president of the first council.

Qi is a local Shanghainese, and according to people familiar with him, he used to love playing Wild Escape Wild Escape, also known as daguai luzi or the joker's way, is a card game originating in Shanghai, China. The shift of a Shanghai financial heavyweights from playing Wild Escape to Guandan might reflect a personal change in interests, as well as the transformation of the times.

Wild Escape is a card game unique to Shanghai. In the 1990s depicted in the bestselling novel "Blossom," people would gather under the street lamps in the alleys on summer nights to play Wild Escape, which was once a distinctive culture of enjoying the cool in Shanghai.

Wild Escape is a team game for six players and played with three decks of cards.The players sit in alternating order, so no team members are sitting next to each other. If this is the first round, the offense leader is determined randomly. Each player draws a random card and the player with the highest card is the offense leader.. Wild Escape is arguably the card game most demanding on team coordination; teams that have played together for a long time can easily defeat newly formed teams of experts.

Across the vast land of China, mahjong and card games have unique variations in different regions, and carry distinctive regional characteristics. Wild Escape has a high barrier to entry, and it is difficult to learn and master; with strict rules and a strong sense of order, the game relies less on cards a player get, which reduces uncertainty; but the game requires extremely high team coordination, making it hard to win the game alone. These traits are reflective of the characteristics of Shanghainese.

However, as times change, young people have less exposure to Wild Escape. It's hard to find this game on major gaming platforms, and those who still play it are mostly born in the 1960s and 1970s. Unfortunately, fewer people will enjoy this “outdated” game.

Some local financial executives from Shanghai and recently retired officials find it increasingly hard to organize games in private, despite their impressive card skills. Qi, who is skilled in Wild Escape, often feel a sense of loss.

Guandan was invented in Huai'an, Jiangsu in the 1960s. From there, it spread to neighboring cities of Huai'an such as Nanjing in the 1990s. It is estimated that there are over 20 million people who play this game in Jiangsu and Anhui province. 

 In 2023, the game went viral in the financial circles, creating many memorable moments: top fund companies organized "Who is the Guandan Champion" competitions; major brokerages sent "Guandan Gift Boxes" to clients; a well-known venture capitalist publicly declared to "learn Guandan for fundraising." 

Guandan is played by four players, who will sit around a square table. The two people who sit opposite to each other will form a team to beat the team formed by the other two. In other words, for a certain player, the two people who sit beside the player will be the player's opponents in this game.

Why has Guandan become so popular in the financial circles? Some say it reveals a person's intelligence and character, as well as reflects a team's coordination, cooperation, and resource allocation. "Playing Guandan well shows intelligence; playing it skillfully shows a clear mind; not fearing bombs shows courage; no boasting upon winning shows shrewdness."

But this explanation is not the key. Is Guandan the only game to reveal intelligence and character?

When Texas Hold'em gained popularity in the Shanghai financial circle, players often mentioned Peter Lynch's classic line "Texas Hold'em can teach you more than all of Wall Street". Now that Texas Hold'em has lost its luster, it seems Wall Street has nothing left to teach the Shanghai financial circle.

What underline Texas Hold'em bowing out and Guandan’s stunning entrance are the decline of dollar funds and the rise of renminbi funds, especially government-guided funds.

Reports show that in Q3 of 2023, funds raised in Renminbi accounted for 98% of the market; the local government funds GP remain strong, with government-backed direct investment funds accounting for 61% of state-owned leading funds. Jiangsu and Anhui, the two economically developed provinces, have recorded many successful investment cases in new energy and advanced manufacturing in recent years, making their government-guided funds a focus for investors.

Business negotiations are not just about PowerPoint presentations and meetings; wherever you do business, you need to socialize and network. Guandan, as the networking vehicle in Jiangsu and Anhui, has gradually spread from the primary market to the secondary market, and finally became the must-have skill in the entire financial community.

This is not an exception; the social games of the Shanghai financial circle have always been changing, with new trends constantly emerging.

During the heyday of Japanese and South Korean capital in China, the Shanghai financial  professionals spent weekends playing golf with them, leading to the booming of various member clubs.

After the rise of dollar funds like Hillhouse and Sequoia, people would say that if an entrepreneur does not know how to play Texas Hold'em, they are not qualified to enter the circle.

When government-led funds gained the power of discourse, the saying becomes “Guandan dethrones Texas Hold'em and red wine.”

Whether it's golf, Texas Hold'em, or Guandan, the essence is all about social networking. The rules of the game come from where the money comes from. The decline of the unconventional ways is like the once romantic era of the Shanghai financial circle, "It didn't disappear with a bang, but faded away quietly like a whisper."

Recently, going global has become a consensus for Chinese companies to find a way out of the domestic rat race. The current preferred directions for overseas expansion are the Middle East and North America. Perhaps, the next wave of social games in the financial circle will come from the interests of the Middle Eastern tycoons.

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