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Seminar: The Erosion of Participatory Paternalism in Chinese Factories

Professor Joel Andreas, Johns Hopkins University

Date: Friday 1 October 2010
Venue: Room 529, Ligertwood Building, The University of Adelaide
Time: 1.10 – 2.30 pm

After the Chinese Communist Party came to power in 1949, it made “democratic management” a central legitimating slogan of its workplace administration. I examine what democratic management has actually meant in practice in Chinese factories. I first describe labor relations under the work unit system that ex-isted from the 1950s through the early 1990s, which we call “participatory paternalism.” Under this sys-tem, workers were permanent members of a work unit and they were encouraged to participate in man-agement. The system’s democratic potential, however, was thwarted because the party controlled the entire apparatus and stifled workers’ autonomous activity. I then examine the dismantling of this system as a result of the recent market-oriented restructuring of state-owned enterprises. I argue that by eroding workers’ membership rights, including permanent employment, recent market reforms have undermined conditions for workers’ participation. Although remnants of the old system survive, the overall result has been much more coercive labor relations.

Professor Andreas studies political contention and social change in contemporary China. His recent book, Rise of the Red Engineers: The Cultural Revolution and the Origins of China’s New Class (Stanford University Press, 2009), analyzes the contentious process through which old and new elites coalesced during the decades following the 1949 Communist Revolution. He is currently investigating changing labor relations in Chinese factories between 1949 and the present.

Presented in conjunction with the Centre for Asian Studies Seminar Series

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