2005 - Volume 46 > Numéro 3

ISSN 0035-2969

Legitimacy and illegitimacy judgments : normative life in the new Chinese workplace
Isabelle THIREAU Linshan HUA

pp. 529-558


This article aims to analyze the emergence of labor regulations in the new types of business being developed in China today. It studies both the internal codes and regulations established by employers and the legitimacy and illegitimacy judgments expressed upon implementation of these regulations. The data collected pertain to privately operated Chinese factories, Chinese factories working under subcontract for foreign businesses, and factories whose owners, originally from Hong Kong or Taiwan, have handed over factory management to an entirely mainland-Chinese workforce. What unifies these three types of business is that none of them fits into either the industrial system that has been in place for several decades in state and collective-run Chinese businesses or the arrangements in foreign businesses of the sort that have imported a variety of well-established management modes into China. Two ways have been observed of legitimating the highly detailed but often unstable prescriptions that function as internal regulations : 1) political categories are used to try to legitimate factory bosses’ authority and stated expectations of employees ; 2) the validity of certain rules is affirmed with reference to efficiency, i.e., it is claimed that the stated rules contribute to the smooth functioning of the business, though such functioning is not defined in any greater detail. When these prescriptions are interpreted and implemented, however, they give rise to highly diverse illegitimacy judgments, this time based on moral principles. Such judgments are expressed by migrant employees who today often have access to supervisory posts and are therefore called upon to apply the rules ; the effect is to foster the emergence of shared ways of doing things. Rules and regulations are thus gradually being developed in the observed factories ; factories are being forced to do this not only by unilateral prescriptions of the sort that some bosses seek to impose, but also because of the validity tests that migrant employees make on a daily basis.



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