06 July 2016

Strauss Center Distinguished Scholar Huaiyin Li recently contributed to the July issue of Modern China with the article "Worker Performance in State-Owned Factories in Maoist China - A Reinterpretation." In his article, Dr. Li reexamines worker performance in state-owned enterprises under the policies of Mao Zedong, and challenges conventional assumptions of worker inefficiency in China during this period.

Previous studies on worker performance in Chinese state-owned firms attribute worker inefficiency to a lack of material incentives. Dr. Li disputes this argument by analyzing the issue of work incentives in a larger context, incorporating the economic, social, and political factors that created an environment where workers were either motivated or constrained. As part of his research, Dr. Li conducted in-depth interviews with 97 retirees in different cities, which illuminated several aspects of the labor atmosphere in Maoist China not examined in previous studies.

In this article, Dr. Li argues that state-firm workers were “subject to not only the pressure of political conformity, disciplinary regulations, and peer-to-peer surveillance at the workplace but also the incentives embedded in their shared consciousness as a privileged group, their identity as members of a work unit, and, most important, the opportunities for upward mobility that motivated them in the absence of material stimuli.” He concludes that the performance of workers in these state-owned firms varied and depended on the mechanisms of motivation and control in each state-controlled factory.

The full article can be accessed here.