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A changing arena of industrial relations in China: What is happening after 1978

Kan Wang (Renmin (People's) University of China, Beijing, China)

Employee Relations

ISSN: 0142-5455

Article publication date: 4 January 2008




The purpose of this paper is to study the evolution of Chinese industrial relations after the market reform of 1978, while basing its arguments and conclusion on analysis of the interactions of key actors in the labour arena in China. The significant phenomena in the evolution of industrial relations are the coming of transnational capital and the emergence of self‐organising protests by migrant workers.


The paper uses a case study approach.


The Labour Contract Law and the local political economy experience strong effects from TNCs and other business players. Meanwhile, globalisation has introduced the civil society movement to China, which has given rise to an increasing number of NGOs working for labour rights. Tight financial and technical connections between grassroots NGOs and international donor organisations make it possible for bottom‐up labour activities to counteract the unilateral influence of the state and market over the Chinese workforce. Since the ACFTU, the official trade union umbrella, has many institutional constraints to undertake a thorough transition towards labour in the near future, workers' representation is diversified.


One implication for further theoretical studies is that tripartism cannot fully disclose the reality of Chinese labour, and that labour representation derives from both unions and self‐organisation of workers, such as NGOs, which opens more room for the entrenchment of the grassroots labour movement to sustain the balance of power among the state, ACFTU, firms, international market forces and individual workers in the long term.



Wang, K. (2008), "A changing arena of industrial relations in China: What is happening after 1978", Employee Relations, Vol. 30 No. 2, pp. 190-216.



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Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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