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Business ethics and workplace guanxi in Chinese SOEs: a qualitative study

Jessica Li (Department of Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana‐Champaign, Champaign, Illinois, USA)
Jean Madsen (Department of Educational Administration and Human Resource Development, Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas, USA)

Journal of Chinese Human Resource Management

ISSN: 2040-8005

Article publication date: 13 September 2011




The purpose of this paper is to examine Chinese employees' perceptions on their ethical decision making in relation to the workplace guanxi context in state‐owned enterprises (SOE).


Using a qualitative method, two rounds of interviews were conducted with 18 participants in two SOEs “to explore Chinese employees” ethical perceptions and experiences in the workplace. A qualitative thematic strategy was adopted to analyze and interpret the data.


The authors identified three major themes on SOE employees ethical decision making in relation to workplace guanxi: the ethical self; malleable ethical standards; and submission to authority. The authors derived a conceptual framework to outline the relationship between the invisible hand of guanxi and the SOE employees' ethical decision making.


The paper contributes to the business ethics literature by presenting a three‐dimensional profile and a conceptual framework for Chinese business ethics research. It provides an in‐depth understanding of a complex dynamics of guanxi and its impact on employees' ethical decision‐making behavior.



Li, J. and Madsen, J. (2011), "Business ethics and workplace guanxi in Chinese SOEs: a qualitative study", Journal of Chinese Human Resource Management, Vol. 2 No. 2, pp. 83-99.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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