RESEARCH AND PRACTICE
IN HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT

Book Reviews:

The Changing Face of Management in China
Authors: Rowley, C. & Cooke, F. L.

Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics: Entrepreneurship and the State
Author: Huang, Y.

Gender and Chinese Development: Towards an Equitable Society
Author: Chen, L.

Rowley, C. & Cooke, F. L. (2009). The Changing Face of Management in China London and NY: Routledge

Huang, Y. (2008). Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics: Entrepreneurship and the State Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Chen, L. (2008). Gender and Chinese Development: Towards an Equitable Society London and NY: Routledge

Reviewed by: Malcolm Warner

Broadly speaking, China’s economy has come a long way since Deng Xiaoping reformed its economy since 1978. It has indeed become an ‘economic superpower’, soon to overtake Japan in its level of GDP. Yet it hovers between socialism and capitalism, being neither fully one or the other.

The fundamental changes introduced by Deng have, of course, transformed the landscape of economic life, its enterprise management and its people management and said to have improved the wellbeing of hundreds of millions of Chinese workers and peasants, even creating a new bourgeoisie, a subset of a mass of urban consumers. GDP per capita, in purchasing power terms has been boosted considerably over the last three decades. But how much have the Chinese people become better off on the one hand as between city and countryside, as well as west and east, and how far has the country become more unequal in the distribution of both wealth and income, on the other is moot. More rural workers flood into the cities. More workers from the interior, some skilled some less so, move east and south, into the more prosperous areas. More youngsters go to college and university, and become part of the emerging skilled elite. What is the impact on human resource management (HRM)?

A new text on Chinese management gives us some pointers. The editors are Professors Chris Rowley and Fang Lee Cooke; they teach at the Cass Business School and the Manchester Business School, respectively. This edited collection covers a wide range of management from strategy to HRM. There are a number of excellent pieces on people management. Management’s diversity in the PRC is also well brought out by the editors’ selection of both themes and authors. They point to new industries, new product and labour markets and so on. It is competently put together and will be of great appeal to MBA students.

HRM is clearly an adjunct of economic reform and we have to get the economics right before we can fully understand the consequences for people management.

Professor Yasheng Huang’s new book, Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics: Entrepreneurship and the State, helps us some part of the way here. He poses many interesting and difficult questions. He asks challenging ones, like ‘Just how capitalist is China?’. This clearly has implications for HRM adoption. He is well qualified to give a verdict on the new economic superpower, as he is very experienced researcher in the field. His book comprises of five, long, often difficult to plough through, chapters, although these are broken up by subsections.

Professor Huang, who teaches political economy and international management at the Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a wealth of experience. He was previously also in faculty positions at the University of Michigan and at the Harvard Business School, as well as a consultant to the World Bank. But he is not convinced by what he sees on the surface. He thinks the heyday of the Chinese reforms was in the 1980s - when the entrepreneurial spirits were unleashed especially in the rural sector - but were compromised by the move in the 1990s to bring back urban inspired, top down state capitalism. In the 1990s, the Chinese state the book argues turned back many of its rural experiments like the Town and Village Enterprises (TVEs), with long lasting detriment to the economy and society. After this, a ‘weak financial sector, income disparity, rising illiteracy, productivity slowdowns, and reduced personal income growth’ were the consequence. This has many consequences for HRM as the more entrepreneurial firms have few links with the ‘iron rice bowl; model associated as it was with the old State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs) and their mode of people management and heavy trade union membership concentration. But he does not fully explore the HRM implications as much as he might have in this tome. The model China uses as its future template has important consequences as to whether HRM becomes the dominant mode in its enterprises. The author does, however, contrast what has been called the ‘Zhejiang’ entrepreneurial model - with the ‘Shanghai’ state capitalist variety. The former firms are less likely to have high union density. Indeed, many SMEs have little or no union organisation at all, or indeed, much HRM at all.

Looking at how has benefitted from the reforms, the author believes the rural areas were relatively better off with the former model than with the latter, which benefited those in the cities, like Shanghai. He questions whether household income has increased as much as has been claimed. In his last chapter, he argues that in the 1990s, personal income growth began to slow down. The reduction in equity does not surprise Huang (p. 256 to 257). He praises other economies, such as India’s and the East Asian model. He concludes this is not a story of “rapid growth with equity” (p. 281).

This reviewer perhaps found the author a little ‘over the top’ and that his study less than wholly persuasive in parts and perhaps rather relentless in its argumentation. Perhaps, too, some of the manuscript could have trimmed and better edited, as it is often repetitious. The book will of course no doubt appeal to critics of the PRCs so called ‘economic miracle’. Huang has a not overly concealed ‘agenda’. But the book is most likely to be read, to advantage, only by China watchers, such as economic commentators, doctoral students, researchers and teachers. It is probably too advanced for undergraduates, except those specialising in Chinese economy in the third year. It will also not be ‘music in the ears’ of Chinese officialdom!

‘Women hold up half the world’ is an old Chinese saying. Professor Lanyan Chen’s book on gender goes to the heart of what constitutes HRM in China. She teaches at Tianjin Normal University and indeed knows her stuff on the macroeconomics of gender. The author takes a distinct feminist viewpoint which may not be endorsed by some readers. Even so, this book covers a wide range of gender issues and will be highly informative for both scholars and managers for instance, interested in human resources and HRM in the PRC. This is a book for both undergraduates and postgraduates on courses involving Chinese economics, management and society.

High quality books on China roll off the presses in droves. Some are better than others. We can only be impressed that specialist writers on the Chinese economy, its management and human resources should continue to produce such interesting and intellectually challenging books and provoke such lively debates, even if we may disagree with their central ‘message’. While this reviewer is highly impressed with China’s achievements, one should never suspend critical judgement. The time has passed when we can be uncritical about China now that there is so much with which to be impressed. But given the onset of the worldwide economic recession of 2008/9, we all need to be on our guard as we can meaningfully interpret about what China has achieved in economic terms and its implications for HRM, as well in the broader arena, globalisation. Only time will tell.

Professor Malcolm Warner
Judge Business School
University of Cambridge
United Kingdom