English Issue > 2007

An Annual English Selection - 2007 - 48 - Supplement

Judgments of Legitimacy and Illegitimacy : Normative Life in the New Chinese Workplaces

Isabelle THIREAU
Linshan HUA



pp. 73-99


This article analyzes the emergence of labor regulations in the new types of businesses being developed in China today. It studies both the internal codes and regulations established by employers and the legitimacy and illegitimacy judgments expressed when these regulations are implemented. The information collected pertains to privately operated Chinese factories, Chinese factories contracted by foreign businesses, and factories whose owners come from Hong Kong or Taiwan but have handed over factory management to an entirely mainland-Chinese workforce. These three types of business have in common the fact of not fitting into either the industrial system that has been in place for several decades in state and collective-run Chinese businesses or the various but well-established management modes imported by foreign businesses into China. Two ways were observed of legitimating the highly detailed but often unstable prescriptions that make up these internal regulations : political categories are used to try to legitimate factory managers’ authority and what is expected of employees ; the validity of certain rules is affirmed by merely citing their efficiency, i.e., that they help keep the business running smoothly, though what that means is not further explained. However, interpretation and implementation of these prescriptions give rise to highly diverse judgments of illegitimacy, judgments based on moral principles. These judgments are expressed by migrant employees –many of whom have acceded to supervisorial posts and are therefore called upon to apply the rules– and they foster the emergence of shared ways of doing things. Rules and regulations are thus gradually being developed in the observed factories, determined not only by unilateral prescriptions of the sort some bosses seek to impose, but also by the validity-testing that migrant employees practice on a daily basis.



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