The Author(s) 2020. Social network dynamics are complex in the context of Chinese overseas migration because of the unique dynamics of guanxi, which are distinctly different from 'Western' social capital. The few migration studies comparing guanxi and social capital suggest that the former largely consists 'strong ties', while the latter is comprised of 'weak ties'. However, most apply only a cursory comparison of one network facet. We review core literature in the two fields to contrast what each says about network norms, structures and practices. We find that: (i) guanxi is characterised by dynamics of 'face' and renqing; (ii) guanxi has core and peripheral aspects that grant it bonding and bridging qualities; (iii) weak ties in social capital networks are more beneficial for acquiring non-redundant resources, and for joining civic/voluntary associations; (iv) while strong, face-based guanxi ties better mobilise valuable resources, these ties are rarely transformed into social capital.