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From Organized Dependence to Disorganized Despotism: Changing Labour Regimes in Chinese Factories*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  12 February 2009

Extract

Like opening Pandora's box, Chinese reforms have unleashed institutional and social forces which have led to a variety of production regimes co-existing under the permissive banner of “market socialism.” The industrial scene of Guangdong, which boasts of itself as one of the first, the most and the best reformed provincial economies, bears witness to the profound and wide-ranging transformation in production politics. Compared to the era of state socialism, a restructuring of industrial employment has evidently occurred. The 740 state-owned industrial enterprises in Guangzhou, for instance, now account for only 15 per cent of a total of 4,903 industrial establishments, and the 307,000 employees in the state industrial sector account for one-third of the city's 940,000-strong industrial workforce. Twenty-one per cent and 46 per cent of all industrial employees are found respectively in 2,005 collective enterprises and 2,158 private, foreign and joint ventures. As recently as 1985, the state industrial sector was still dominant, employing 65 per cent of the city's industrial workforce, and producing 68 per cent of industrial output. The composition of the work force has also significantly changed: among the 2.03 million urban (including non-industrial) employees in Guangzhou, 700,000 are “registered” migrant workers, of whom 280,000 work in state and collective enterprises. For the province as a whole, registered migrant workers numbered 3.6 million in 1996, while a generally-accepted estimate for the entire migrant labour population reached a staggering 11 million. In the pre-reform days, this massive pool of rural labour was sequestered in the countryside by the hukou system and the number of those who found employment in state factories as temporary contract workers was estimated to be only about 6 per cent of all employees in urban state enterprises by 1978. Complexity is further induced by a new round of deepening reform measures in the 1990s, targeting enterprise ownership, scientific management and labour laws.

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Focus on Employment Issues
Copyright
Copyright © The China Quarterly 1999

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References

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101. However, it must be emphasized that the so-called privileges supposedly enjoyed by the Chinese state workers were relative and uneven. The absolute standard of living and quality of life have always been low, sometimes bordering poverty, and not all SOEs were able to provide the encompassing set of social and welfare services to their employees. In Guangzhou, for the past half-century, the problem of substandard and inadequate housing has been perennial, afflicting urban residents – state workers included. See survey reports by Guangzhou chengshi diaochadui (Guangzhou City Survey Team), Guangzhoushi zhigong jumin jiatingshenghuo diaochazhuanji 1936–1985 (Collection of Surveys on Family Life of Workers and Residents in Guangzhou 1936–1985) (Guangzhou: Guangzhou Statistical Bureau, 1986).Google Scholar

102. An excellent collection of essays on the changing danwei institution is Calhoun, Craig and Perry, Elizabeth J. (eds.), Danwei: the Changing Chinese Workplace in Historical and Comparative Perspective.Google Scholar

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105. See, for example, Calhoun, Craig, “The Chinese work unit and transient labour in the transition from socialism,” Modern China, Vol. 21, No. 2 (1995), pp. 155183Google Scholar; various chapters by Calhoun, Craig, Calhoun, Craig and Calhoun, Craig in Greg, O'Leary (ed.), Adjusting to Capitalism: Chinese Workers and the State (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 1998)Google Scholar. For English translations of the Chinese press and scholarly reports on conditions in private and foreign-funded factories, see the special issue of Chinese Sociology and Anthropology, Vol. 30, No. 4 (1998), on “The conditions of Chinese workers in east Asian-funded enterprises,” edited by Anita Chan.Google Scholar

106. The return rate of migrant workers in major exporting provinces like Sichuan, Jiangxi, Hubei and Anhui reaches 36.4%. In some counties, between one- and two-thirds of newly established rural enterprises are set up by returned migrants. See Huasheng shibao, 6 November 1996.Google Scholar

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