Subsistence crises, managerial corruption and labour protests in China

Feng Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review

180 Citations (Scopus)


This paper identifies two critical factors that shaped workers' sense of injustice and drove them to protest: a subsistence crisis and managerial corruption. A subsistence crisis means here a situation in which workers have incomes far below local minimum wages or no incomes at all for a period of time. Not all laid-off workers necessarily confront such a crisis. Those who do are ones who have been denied a minimum living allowance and lack alternative employment. Such workers, desperate to retain their subsistence, have a strong motivation to protest. The motivation increases if they believe that their economic plight is exacerbated by managerial corruption at the workplace-that is, that managers are enriching themselves by stripping the assets of enterprises that workers depend on for a living. However, this paper will argue that while both a subsistence crisis and managerial corruption cause discontent among workers, their roles in explaining protests are quite different. A subsistence crisis is the underlying force behind the collective actions China is witnessing, while managerial corruption only works upon an existing subsistence crisis. Workers tend to acquiesce in corruption in their factory so long as they do not see it as affecting their own lives in a significant way.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-63
Number of pages23
JournalChina Journal
Publication statusPublished - 2000

Scopus Subject Areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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