Work and Organizationsin China Afterthirty Years of Transition: Volume 19


Table of contents

(19 chapters)

Thirty years of rapid development and economic change have created organizations and work relations in China that would have been unthinkable at the start of transition. In December of 1978, the Chinese Communist Party agreed with Deng Xiaoping to allow agricultural privatization, a stark contrast to the communes of Mao Zedong's era. This change established the financial foundation that would lead to development in eastern, coastal cities and that would ultimately fuel an extraordinary transformation of China's economy and its global position. As a result, organizational structures have changed, and new organizational forms have emerged. There have also been dramatic changes in the way work organizations behave and in the nature and implications of work. This volume provides a glimpse into the state of organizations and work at the 30-year mark. The contributors are top scholars in the field, including many who have observed and studied China's transition for decades, who are drawing on some of the most up-to-date and innovative data sources available. The chapters are samples of the current work of these researchers that, taken together, provide a snapshot of the state of research on China's organizations and work behaviors as transition enters its fourth decade.

Market transition theory has specified general mechanisms to explain change in the balance of power between political and economic actors in transition economies. These mechanisms drive the endogenous construction of informal institutions of a market society; moreover, it is within the context of an ongoing change in relative power that the formal institutions of the emerging market economy arise. The theory makes clear predictions on the declining value of political capital as a consequence of progressive marketization, which incrementally results in transformative change in the direction of more relative autonomy between the political and economic spheres, not dissimilar from established market economies (Kornai, 1995; Evans, 1995; Nee, 2000; Lindenberg, 2000; Ricketts, 2000). In sum, the predicted change in relative power between redistributors and producers explains not only bottom-up entrepreneurial activity, but also the emergence of a market economy in departures from state socialism.

In the spring of 1995, the Electronics Bureau of Shanghai [Shanghai Dianziju] changed its name to “Shanghai Electronics State-Owned Asset Management Company” [Shanghai dianzi guoyou zichan jingying gongsi]. As one official in the former Bureau explained, it had changed its name and its function: It was no longer set up to “govern” or “manage” [guan] Shanghai's electronics sector; instead it was now an asset management company whose function was to manage the assets of the firms that it owned.1 At the time, the transformation seemed purely cosmetic. Calling itself an asset management company instead of a government bureau was one thing, but actually acting like an asset management company was quite another. Would firms under this former Bureau be any more productive as a result of the change? Would the work-life experiences of the people actually working in these firms change at all as a result?

Interfirm contracts are a ubiquitous economic institution in market economies. In this study, we examine the determinants of one important aspect of interfirm contracts – contract duration. We begin with Joskow's (1987) study that demonstrated that contract duration is governed by mechanisms that economize transaction costs. Our study extends Joskow's study in several ways: First, while Joskow's study focuses on one particular area of extreme resource dependence, between the coal mine and the power company, we examine patterns of contract duration and their determinants across broader economic sectors, thereby providing a more general test of the key ideas in transaction cost economics. Second, we investigate the role of social institutions as a distinct mechanism underlying the design of contract duration, especially in terms of mitigating risks and transaction costs. Finally, by situating our study in China, we extend the research context beyond industrialized market societies to a transitional economy where interfirm contracts are an emerging economic institution. The empirical study is based on the analyses of information on 877 contracts from 620 firms collected in two Chinese cities, Beijing and Guangzhou, in 2000.

Using the 1995 Third Industrial Census data in China, I explore the impact of inward FDI on the productivity performance of domestic SOEs. Multilevel analyses of city- and firm-level data show that presence of FDI-related firms (sanzi qiye) in a city significantly improves the total factor productivity of SOEs that are located in the same city but not affiliated with FDI. I interpret the effects as not only technology spillovers but also as FDI-induced institutional innovations and reforms.

Innovation is critical to organizational survival, competitive advantage, and economic development. Yet the process by which innovative strategic behavior occurs is not well understood. This paper takes advantage of rapidly changing corporate governance structures and environmental conditions during China's economic transition to explore the role of corporate ownership in shaping firm innovation. We argue that managers draw on internal strengths within external constraints to develop strategies and that the nature of corporate ownership determines the degree to which internal or external factors are salient. We capitalize on differences between Chinese state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and collective enterprises and other non-state firms (CNFs) in the adoption of firm strategies during transition. Analyzing data from 1994 to 1999 on 800 Chinese firms, we study the effect of ownership type on the adoption of four key organizational innovations and identify major strategic groups that developed during reform. The findings provide important insight into the role of corporate governance in influencing strategy formation and adaptation, outcomes that are increasingly important in all economies.

We examine, from an institutional perspective, labor management structures in China's foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs). Focusing on the adoption of two Chinese-style and two Western-style labor structures, we seek to understand the influences of global capitalism vis-à-vis those of China's domestic institutions which themselves are undergoing market-oriented transformations. Our empirical analysis is based on data collected in a national survey of FIEs conducted in 1996. The results show that a significant proportion of FIEs localize their labor practices by adopting Chinese-style structures and that the extent of localization is shaped by both institutional processes and strategic considerations. We also find that the two Chinese-style structures effectively reduce tension and conflict between labor and management, whereas the two Western-style structures do not appear to serve such function. These findings underscore the potency of the Chinese institutional environment and reveal how organizational interest interacts with institutional forces, giving rise to a distinctively “local” mixture of managerial structures and practices in the era of globalization.

One of the leading themes emerging out of recent management and organization research on China is the work on the micro–macro link – specifically, the connection between micro, interpersonal connections, ties, and networks on the one hand, and macro, interorganizational relationships, firm strategies, and performance on the other hand. This chapter provides an overview of the literature on the micro–macro link during China's institutional transitions. Based on a systematic search of the literature, we review 22 papers in nine leading journals that have empirically investigated the micro–macro link, with a focus on the antecedents, contingencies, and outcomes of managerial ties and interlocking directorates. We also propose how the network structure of managerial ties will evolve from cohesion to structural holes in different phases of China's institutional transitions. We conclude with a brief overview of the influence of China studies on research in other contexts and with a call for future research deepening our understanding of the crucial micro–macro link during institutional transitions.

The paper advances the argument that social capital operates on both the supply and demand sides of the labor market. Organizations have significant needs for employees with social capital capacity and skills as they do with human capital. We articulate a theory on why organizations have such needs and how social capital may be differentially and strategically deployed to different positions. Specifically, three types of positions (the top positions, the edge positions, and the exchange-oriented positions) are identified with such needs. We formulated two hypotheses derived from the theoretical articulation: (1) the deploying hypothesis – organizations are expected to strategically recruit and deploy workers with social capital capacity and skills to such key internal and edge positions and (2) the institutional contingency hypothesis – organizations in the more competitive environment (e.g., the private sector) are more likely to show such differential deployment than those in the less competitive environment (e.g., the state sector). The hypotheses were subjected to an empirical examination with a set of firm data from China. Both hypotheses were confirmed. Further, we also found evidence for differential deployment of human capital (education and experience) and hierarchical capital (statuses of prior positions and organizations) in different sectors. We discuss the implications of the theory and findings for future research on organizations in different economic sectors beyond China and how a theory of deploying various types of capital – social capital, human capital, and hierarchical capital – in different economic sectors may be developed.

Information and influence are distinct network resources that are embedded in and mobilized from networks of personal contacts. A five-city survey shows that Chinese job changers obtain both kinds of network resources from social ties of varying strengths. During the first 20 years of China's market reforms, job changes were increasingly network facilitated; despite the growth of labor markets network allocation of labor had reached dominance by 1992. Job changers using information and influence networks to search for new employment were more likely to increase both job search time and job–worker matching; however, those using influence networks, not information networks, were likely to move into jobs of higher earning opportunity. These results are interpreted in a dynamic context of increasing market competition and growing allocative efficiency.

Prior research showed that danwei, the work unit, was very important in determining workers' social, economic, and political lives in pre-reform urban China. In this chapter, we argue that danwei continues to be an agent of social stratification in contemporary urban China. Using data from a 1999 survey that we conducted in three large Chinese cities, Wuhan, Shanghai, and Xi'an, we assess the extent to which workers' socioeconomic well-being depends on the financial conditions of their danwei. Results show that the financial situation of danwei remains one of the most important determinants of earnings and benefits. However, the explanatory power of danwei's financial situation is much greater for earnings than for benefits.

The cities, for the most part, appeared up until the middle of the 1990s to be islands within the larger Chinese political economy in which job-secure workers could be certain that their livelihood, health, education, and living abodes would evermore undergird their and their children's sustenance. At least until the late 1980s, urbanites who stuck with the state sector even considered good treatment on the job a kind of birthright, an entitlement that was sure to be enforced. In the cities, true, there had always been the disadvantaged after 1949 – those without offspring or spouses, the disabled, and people unable to support themselves. But this relatively tiny batch of individuals generally survived in the shadows and out of sight, subsisting – but just barely – as members of the “three withouts” on a mere pittance, in the form of meager “social relief” disbursed by civil affairs departments.8

In China's urban context of labor retrenchment, women are faring poorly relative to their male counterparts. Is the same true in China's incipient, dynamic, and expanding legal profession? Findings from four sources of quantitative data suggest that gender inequality in China's private and highly market-driven legal profession is a microcosm of larger patterns of female disadvantage in China's evolving urban labor market. Although employment opportunities for women lawyers have greatly expanded quantitatively, their careers are qualitatively less successful than those of their male counterparts in terms of both income and partnership status. In the Chinese bar, women's significantly shorter career trajectories are perhaps the most important cause of their lower incomes and slimmer chances of becoming a law firm partner. Future research must identify the causes of this significant career longevity gap between men and women in the Chinese legal profession.

The assumption that the family migrates as a unit downplays migrants’ circularity. This chapter focuses on China's rural–urban labor migrants that travel back and forth between the sites of work and home community and between places of work. I argue that migrants and their households pursue work flexibility in order to obtain the best of the urban and rural worlds, by gaining earnings from urban work and at the same time maintaining social and economic security in the countryside. Work flexibility demands flexibility in household organization, in the form of division of labor and collaboration between genders, generations, and households. Based on a study in Sichuan, I examine household biographies and narratives to identify migrants’ work and household strategies.

Migrants change jobs frequently, switch from one type of work to another and one location to another readily, and often return to the home village for months or even years before pursuing migrant work again. Not only are migrants ready to split the household between the city and the countryside, but also they frequently change from one form of division of labor to another. The inside–outside model, where the wife stays in the village and the husband does migrant work, used to be the dominant arrangement. Over time, the outside–outside model, where both the husband and wife migrate to work and leave behind other family members, is increasingly popular. This is facilitated by intergenerational and interhousehold division of labor in the form of assistance by the extended family. Intergenerational division of labor takes place when the second generation is replacing the parents in migrant work. This research's findings support the notion that rural–urban migrants are fast becoming a hybrid segment of Chinese society, playing dual roles of farmers and urban workers and straddling the peasant and urban worlds.

The structural perspective on China's prospect of democratization has three variants. The first emphasizes the structural requisites for the survival of the authoritarian state. It argues that the conditions, such as the governing capacity of the state and support from the Chinese people that used to sustain the authoritarian state, have deteriorated significantly and the authoritarian state cannot escape a collapse in the near future (Chang, 2001). The second focuses on the structural requisites for democratization. It holds that the rise of the middle class and the emerging spread of education in China will create favorable conditions for the country to head toward democratization (Gilley, 2004). The third stresses the resilience of China's authoritarian regime. It argues that the rise of democratic polity in Europe resulted from the special social structures of the continent in the feudal period. Since China's social structure in its premodern period was quite different, democracy did not become a solution even after the middle class emerged in China. For the same reason, China's political change will be most likely to move toward rule by law rather than democratization in the future (Pan, 2006).

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Book series
Research in the Sociology of Work
Series copyright holder
Emerald Publishing Limited
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