Faces of Chinese Labor Regimes: Case Studies in Beijing and Shenzhen

TitleFaces of Chinese Labor Regimes: Case Studies in Beijing and Shenzhen
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsWang, Ting, and Chan, Chris King- Chi
EditorWong, Pak Nung, and Cheng, Yu-shek Joseph
Book TitleGlobal China: Internal and External Reaches
Pagination75 - 103
PublisherWorld Scientific Publishing Company
KeywordsChina, labor relations, production politics, workplace management

China has been under the spotlight in the different disciplines of the social sciences. Having maintained high economic growth and relative social stability for more than 30 years, China has become another miracle of the East Asian development model (Fukasaku et al. 2005). The success of China in recovering from the recent global economic recession has further attracted research interest on its state-led development strategy (Cheng 2012; Hsu, Wu and Zhao 2011; Lardy 2012). Together with India, China has been regarded as one of the two rising powers in Asia that provide an alternative challenge to the Western dominated global political economy and exert significant impacts on the developing world (Ikenberry 2008, 23–37; Kaplinsky and Messner 2008, 197–209). Nevertheless, 30 years after its reform, the Chinese state remains authoritarian in nature, although it has suffered from escalating challenges from below. Although political mobilization has been constrained after the repression of the 1989 student movement, the privatization reform in the public sector and the expansion of an export-oriented economy since the early 1990s have dramatically widened the income discrepancy in the country and given rise to a series of socio-economic changes. This chapter focuses on the question of labor relations. It will investigate the impact of the reform on different components of the Chinese working class and the prospect of a labor movement in China. In the past decade, China labor studies have either focused on migrant workers in Foreign-Invested Enterprises (FIEs) in South China or downsized workers from State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) in North China, with little attention paid to contemporary labor practices inside domestic enterprises, including the SOEs after privatization as well as the new emerging domestic Privately-Owned Enterprises (POEs). As China is generally regarded as a rising power that will reshape the global political economy, it is important to revisit the labor politics of Chinese factories with different forms of ownership so that a comprehensive picture of the Chinese labor movement and its implications can be drawn. With original data collected from interviews in two factories, an SOE in Beijing and an FIE in Shenzhen, this chapter compares Chinese global and domestic factories in terms of production politics and working class experiences. Through an analysis of the changing labor relations and workplace management with respect to various forms of ownership, the implication for the prospect of a labor movement in the country will be discussed. We will reflect whether the Chinese working class is convergent or differentiated, and its implications for the labor movement and Chinese development model. The factory case studies were conducted from fieldwork in Beijing from 2011 to 2012 and in Shenzhen from 2012 to 2013. This chapter has also benefited from our intensive studies of Chinese labor relations in the past 10 years.