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Labor law and workers' rights in China: what labor standards are we talking about?

Labor law and workers' rights in China: what labor standards are we talking about?

Muriel Périsse

Volume : 77-2 (2022)



The study of labor law restored during the Chinese economic transition shows us that, as elsewhere in history, it accompanies capitalist development. Using an approach borrowed from the institutionalist economist J. R. Commons, we seek to show the importance of the economy-law link applied to the construction of the labor market. The latter does not emerge from spontaneous mechanisms (which produce conflict and disorder, as demonstrated by the fate of rural migrant workers) but needs the terms of exchange to be defined by law. Yet labor law reflects the choices made by the state in the rights of the worker to be protected. In the context of an authoritarian regime such as China, these rights are subordinated to the project of a "harmonious society" promoted by the Communist Party, a society without conflict where the right to development is put forward as an alternative to the contested universal norm of human rights. However, faced with the permanence of social conflicts and the doubt as to the right to ensure a peaceful society, it is not in the search for a better application of labor law that the solutions are sought (ensuring freedom of association and collective bargaining), but in the development of an extensive and invasive system of social control (the "social management") which ends up turning against the workers In fine, this study illustrates how the new labor institutions are configured, both dependent on the particular context and heir to China's socialist history.


  • China,
  • Institutional Economics,
  • Labour market,
  • Labour Law,
  • Commons


Photo by Kin Li on Unsplash

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