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

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.

Download as .RIS



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Please note you might not have access to this content

You may be able to access this content by login via Shibboleth, Open Athens or with your Emerald account.
If you would like to contact us about accessing this content, click the button and fill out the form.
To rent this content from Deepdyve, please click the button.