China's labour-management system reforms : Breaking the 'three old irons' (1978-1999)

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-334
Journal / PublicationAsia Pacific Journal of Management
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2001


This article systematically examines the fundamental changes that have taken place in China's labour-management system since China embarked on its economic reforms in 1978. The system was, from the 1950s onwards, characterized by what were called the 'three old irons', i.e. life-time employment (the 'iron rice bowl'), centrally administered wages (the 'iron wage'), and state-controlled appointment and promotion of managerial staff (the 'iron chair'). This study reviews the degree to which the reform process is breaking these 'three old irons' and is arguably replacing them with a 'hybrid' human resource management model, albeit with 'Chinese characteristics', that reflects the influence of foreign multinational corporations (MNCs) that have invested in China. © 2001 Kluwer Academic Publishers.