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The characteristics and historical development of labour disputes in China

Jie Shen (Department of Management, Faculty of Economics and Business, Monash University, Clayton, Australia)

Journal of Management History

ISSN: 1751-1348

Article publication date: 11 April 2008




The purpose of this paper is to analyse the historical development and characteristics of labour disputes in China, including their growth, collective disputes, regional differences, direct causes and the impact of economic ownership on labour disputes.


This paper critically reviews the existing literature and analyses official government statistics.


Individual and collective labour disputes have been on the rise since 1978 when China embarked on market‐oriented economic reforms. The considerable regional variations in labour disputes are closely associated with regional economic growth, the restructuring of state‐owned enterprises (SOEs) and development of non‐SOEs. While non‐payment or delayed payment, job losses and industrial accidents resulting from poor labour protection are the three major causes of labour disputes, management corruption and mismanagement sometimes fuel the anger of already disgruntled workers. The nature of economic ownership also impacts on how labour conflicts occur.


This paper investigates labour disputes in China, an important phenomenon which is currently increasing but has not been much studied. It therefore develops a better understanding of their historical development and characteristics. Such an understanding is critical to resolving labour disputes and preventing them from occurring in the future.



Shen, J. (2008), "The characteristics and historical development of labour disputes in China", Journal of Management History, Vol. 14 No. 2, pp. 161-173.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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