This article examines globalized knowledge flows through a case study of the treatment of the Chinese concept of guanxi in social and management science journals. Three forms of concept– theory relations are postulated which effectively correspond with different patterns of knowledge flow. The treatment of this concept in 214 refereed journal articles published from 1999 to 2009 indicates that the concept guanxi, which possesses capacity for theoretical development, is predominantly treated merely as an object of study rather than the basis of theoretical elaboration. A continuing dominant pattern of knowledge flows from the metropole to the periphery is thus indicated. The mechanisms of continuing asymmetrical knowledge flow are discussed, including language used, site of publication, channel of transmission and method as factors generating this outcome.