The China Quarterly

Research Article

Between the State and Labour: The Conflict of Chinese Trade Unions' Double Identity in Market Reform a

Feng  Chen 


Chinese official union's reactions to labour contentions can be explained by its double institutional identity as both a state apparatus and the labour organization. Before the reform, the union did not confront tense conflicts between its double identity, as its representation function was absorbed by the paternalist state. As the state retreats from socialist paternalism, the union finds that its double identity becomes contradictory. What role the union is apt to play in any particular dispute issue is determined by whether and to what extent its double institutional identity is in conflict. Specifically, three patterns of the union's roles can be identified: representing, mediating and pre-empting. State corporatism remains the fundamental institutional parameter that shapes the union's behaviour. A combination of state corporatism binding the union and rampant capitalist assaults on workers tends either to produce more spontaneous protests or to force workers to seek independent organizing outside the ACFTU framework.


a For generous financial support, I would like to thank the Research Granta Council, Hong Kong and Faculty Research Grants at Hong Kong Baptist University. I am also grateful for Chen Shengluo's research assistance.