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Balancing between organizations and society: exploring Chinese organizations’ legitimacy efforts

Shuo Yao (School of Communication, Radford University, Radford, Virginia, United States.)
John Brummette (School of Communication, Radford University, Radford, Virginia, United States.)
Yi Luo (School of Communication, Radford University, Radford, Virginia, United States.)

Corporate Communications: An International Journal

ISSN: 1356-3289

Article publication date: 2 February 2015




Based on the literature on organizational legitimacy, organizations must adhere to the value-driven standards inherent in the cultures in which they operate. Organizations’ Web sites help increase the public’s awareness and understanding of their values and culture. The purpose of this paper is to examine the strategic legitimation efforts of Chinese organizations through their Web content.


To identify the core values and cultures communicated by Chinese organizations, a systematic content analysis was conducted on the Web contents of Chinese Fortune 500 companies (n=500) as listed by the 2010 Chinese Fortune 500 online magazine.


The major findings included the following: over half (i.e. 62.2 percent) of the Chinese Fortune 500 companies communicated their organizational values on their Web sites; this study identified some key value clusters (e.g. such as trustworthiness, propriety, benevolence, or self-regulation) for Chinese organizations’ legitimacy; Confucianism exerted a strong influence on these Chinese organizations’ values; and Chinese organizations relied on cooperation and coordination to achieve harmonic relationships with others.

Research limitations/implications

The current study only focussed on the most profitable and successful Chinese organizations. Future studies could extend this analysis to examine differences between the values communicated by privately owned and non-profit organizations in China. Since the current study adopted a strategic organizational legitimacy framework, future research should use an institutional legitimacy framework by actively assessing the relational networks of Chinese consumers to identify the societal standards that make up organizational legitimacy from the consumer perspective. Focus groups or in-depth interviews with various consumers and employees would help identify these expectations and their corresponding values and provide an in-depth examination of how these standards are created.

Practical implications

This study suggested two key implications. First, Chinese organizations believe that the values (e.g. harmony, truth-seeking, or unity) held by employees have formed the foundation of organizational behavior or image. Second, individual and cultural values have guiding roles in the standards that constituents establish for organizations. Global communication practitioners must counsel managers conducting business with Chinese organizations to recognize the cultural influence on how Chinese companies conduct business.


This study represents a pioneering study in a series of studies focussed on conceptualizing organizational legitimacy in Chinese cultures.



Yao, S., Brummette, J. and Luo, Y. (2015), "Balancing between organizations and society: exploring Chinese organizations’ legitimacy efforts", Corporate Communications: An International Journal, Vol. 20 No. 1, pp. 90-110.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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