Humanized management? Capital and migrant labour in a time of labour shortage in South China

Susanne YP Choi*, Yinni Peng

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


This article explores changing strategies of managerial control in a labour-intensive factory in South China at a time of labour shortage. It describes power relationships between capital and migrant labour under changing labour market conditions, migrant cohorts and global business environment, and analyses a new paternalist managerial strategy named ‘humanized management’ and workers’ reactions to it. Although ‘humanized management’, as part of East Asian paternalism, advocates mutual respect, care and reciprocity between management and labour, it constructs workers as irresponsible, spoiled children needing to be led, moved, touched, taught and ruled. Its human focus notwithstanding, the new strategy did not result in substantial reforms of managerial despotism, nor did the factory institute any welfare programs for workers. Because of these discrepancies between the ideological avowals and practical application of ‘humanized management’, the new approach was disregarded by workers, who preferred to rely on individual measures such as threats to quit, or collective action, to win concessions from management. The study provides new insight into the changing relationship between capital and migrant workers in South China and informs the debate in industrial sociology and human resource management research about the efficacy of East Asian paternalist management in improving capital–labour relationships.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)287-304
Number of pages18
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 5 Feb 2015

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation

User-Defined Keywords

  • humanized management
  • labour shortage
  • managerial control
  • migrant labour
  • South China


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