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Chinese corporations’ conception of sustainable development: an innovative view of corpus analysis

Xin Huang (School of English for International Business, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, Guangzhou, China)
Wenzhong Zhu ( School of Business, Guangdong University of Foreign Studies, Guangzhou, China)

Chinese Management Studies

ISSN: 1750-614X

Article publication date: 3 April 2017



After over 30 years’ reform and opening-up, China as the second largest economy is now facing the most essential transformation of management philosophy and the biggest challenging issue of business sustainable development, with people’s increasing worry of the deterioration of environmental pollution, food security and human health. It can be said that what China needs urgently today is business ethical value and long-term sustainable development concept, rather than rapidly growing GDP. The purpose of this paper is to assess how the term “sustainable development” is constructed and valued in the sustainability reports or corporate social responsibility (CSR) reports of Chinese corporations, so as to interpret these Chinese firms’ conception of sustainable development in their real business practices.


A corpus of sustainability reports collected from 30 Chinese corporations totaling 247,311 tokens is first of all compiled to realize the objective of study. Then the authors use the AntConc, a corpus analysis toolkit, to generate word lists, key-word-in-context concordances and collocation lists, as well as calculating statistical significance measures for collocates, of which the mutual information (MI) score 3 is most relevant to the paper’s purposes. Based on the key-word-in-context concordance and collocation list, the authors can find what context “sustainable development” usually appears in sustainability reports, thus inferring Chinese corporations’ conception of sustainable development.


The result indicates that Chinese corporations use the rhetoric of weak sustainability, indicating that sustainable development is compatible with further economic growth, which means that Chinese corporations in current China, strongly promoting the concept of new normal economy, still put economic growth as a dominant goal, on which other dimensions of sustainability like environmental protection depend.

Research limitations/implications

The data gleaned in current corpus are limited to the sustainability reports in 2014 thus the study provides no hints as to diachronic trends. However, this study increases our understanding of how Chinese corporations attach value to sustainable development from the view of corpus analysis.


Different from traditional discourse analysis, which usually carries out qualitative analysis to analyze how a word or phrase is constructed in a small number of texts, the authors’ study innovatively introduces the method of corpus analysis to explore how Chinese corporations construct “sustainable development” in their sustainability reports. Thus, the number of texts analyzed is larger in the authors’ study and their findings are more representative and convincing. The authors create a more qualitative understanding of what the reports are actually saying on their reports and prove that corpus methods can bring new application to the discourse analysis of the biggest challenging issue of China’s future economic growth, suggesting a potential novel way to work out the meaning and implication of sustainable development in Chinese real business world.



Huang, X. and Zhu, W. (2017), "Chinese corporations’ conception of sustainable development: an innovative view of corpus analysis", Chinese Management Studies, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 180-190.



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