Producing “global” corporate subjects in post-Mao China: Management consultancy, culture and corporate social responsibility


  • Kimberly Chong University College London



Corporate social responsibility, morality and ethics, culture, China, shareholder return


China’s rampant economic modernization―much discussed, vaunted, and criticised―has led to an influx of foreign corporations. Along with substantial investment they usher in new problems of modernity. Most pressing, at least from the perspective of Western managers, is how to “reengineer” the Chinese knowledge worker to think and behave in accordance with global business norms. Drawing on 16 months fieldwork inside the China arm of global management consultancy, this article examines the ways in which the internal practice of corporate social responsibility (CSR) is used to ”civilize” Chinese employees in a global ethics. Through ethnographic analysis of various ”corporate citizenship” initiatives, I track the ways in which these performances of morality feed into an ”imaginary of a moral self.” I also point out the discursive limits to these processes and argue that CSR, which has been criticized as a modern re-incarnation of Western paternalism and corporate imperialism, is a discursive formation which is incompatible with the post-Mao context where economic development and morality is mainly controlled by the state. Furthermore, I show that corporate ethicizing, although often characterised as an extra-financial disposition, is subsumed into the work of making “engaged employees”―defined as those who are productive of shareholder return.