Chinese workers’ history: passive minds docile bodies

Elly Leung (Business School, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia)
Donella Caspersz (Business School, University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia)

Journal of Management History

ISSN: 1751-1348

Publication date: 19 June 2019



This paper aims to describe an exploratory study that has sought to understand how an institutionalised docility rather than resistance has been created in the minds of Chinese workers by the Chinese State. The study proposes that this docility has been crucial in enabling China to become a world leading economic powerhouse.


The paper draws on Foucault’s concept of governmentality and uses the genealogical method to examine the historical events that have shaped the mentalities of today’s Chinese workers. Original interviews (n =74) with everyday workers across industries and locations illustrate this.


It was found that the utilisation of centuries-long Confucian hierarchical rules by successive regimes has created a cumulative effect that has maintained workers docility and their willingness to submit themselves to poor working conditions that – ultimately – benefit the Chinese State and business, though this is at their expense. This finding is in juxtaposition to current research that claim that their working conditions are fostering a rising consciousness and resistance among Chinese workers.


This paper provides a novel explanation for why Chinese workers accept their poor working conditions and thus critiques current perspectives about Chinese worker resistance.



Leung, E. and Caspersz, D. (2019), "Chinese workers’ history: passive minds docile bodies", Journal of Management History, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.

Download as .RIS



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald 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.