IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this paper

Labour Market Changes, Labour Disputes and Social Cohesion in China


  • Fang Cai
  • Meiyan Wang


Jobs are important in maintaining social cohesion. Employment provides income, but also a sense of self-worth and a meeting place for social interactions that weave the social fabric. With over 200 million unemployed globally, the number of jobs created has taken centre stage, especially in countries hit hard by the economic crisis. And yet, labour relations have become tense in many parts of the world, including those still experiencing economic growth. In 2010, China witnessed a marked increase in strikes, labour disputes and even suicides in the workplace. Understanding the economic and institutional determinants of good labour relations matters for designing and implementing better labour market policies.The increase in labour disputes in China coincided with the end of the era of surplus labour. While labour was abundant in rural hinterlands, manufacturing firms could rely on cheap labour as migrant workers would still be better off than if they stayed at home. As it became increasingly difficult for manufacturing firms in urban centres and the coastal provinces to recruit labour, wages were bid up throughout the economy. This process however, was all but smooth, as the increase in labour disputes shows. What is needed is a set of labour market institutions that help the transition in labour markets to be not only efficient, but also peaceful and equitable.This paper by Cai Fan and Wang Meiyan, from the Institute of Population and Labour Economics of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, documents the increase in labour disputes in China and seeks to understand their determinants. The main finding is that the increase in disputes is linked to a change in regime in the labour market with the end of surplus labour. The paper therefore calls for further advances in establishing labour market institutions to adapt to the new labour market situation. The paper finds that disputes result from a better awareness of rights on the part of workers and that they are more common in thriving and export-oriented areas. The authors go on to discuss the Chinese government’s responses to the growing problem, from pro-active labour market policy to increasing the importance of collective contracts. In doing so, this paper provides an important building block in the understanding of the role of labour market institutions for social cohesion.

Suggested Citation

  • Fang Cai & Meiyan Wang, 2012. "Labour Market Changes, Labour Disputes and Social Cohesion in China," OECD Development Centre Working Papers 307, OECD Publishing.
  • Handle: RePEc:oec:devaaa:307-en

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: no

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Rose, Andrew K. & Yellen, Janet L., 1989. "Is there a J-curve?," Journal of Monetary Economics, Elsevier, vol. 24(1), pages 53-68, July.
    2. Michael P. Dooley & David Folkerts-Landau & Peter Garber, 2004. "The revived Bretton Woods system," International Journal of Finance & Economics, John Wiley & Sons, Ltd., vol. 9(4), pages 307-313.
    3. Maurice Obstfeld & Kenneth Rogoff, 2007. "The Unsustainable U.S. Current Account Position Revisited," NBER Chapters,in: G7 Current Account Imbalances: Sustainability and Adjustment, pages 339-376 National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    4. Willem Thorbecke & Gordon Smith, 2010. "How Would an Appreciation of the Renminbi and Other East Asian Currencies Affect China's Exports?," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 18(1), pages 95-108, February.
    5. Guillermo A. Calvo & Carmen M. Reinhart, 2002. "Fear of Floating," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 117(2), pages 379-408.
    6. Andrew Berg & Yanliang Miao, 2010. "The Real Exchange Rate and Growth Revisited; The Washington Consensus Strikes Back?," IMF Working Papers 10/58, International Monetary Fund.
    7. Pinelopi Koujianou Goldberg & Michael M. Knetter, 1997. "Goods Prices and Exchange Rates: What Have We Learned?," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 35(3), pages 1243-1272, September.
    8. Chinn, Menzie D. & Lee, Jaewoo, 2009. "Three current account balances: A "Semi-Structuralist" interpretation," Japan and the World Economy, Elsevier, vol. 21(2), pages 202-212, March.
    9. Bussière, Matthieu & Saxena, Sweta C. & Tovar, Camilo E., 2012. "Chronicle of currency collapses: Re examining the effects on output," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 31(4), pages 680-708.
    10. Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2004. "The Modern History of Exchange Rate Arrangements: A Reinterpretation," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 119(1), pages 1-48.
    11. Valerie Cerra & Sweta Chaman Saxena, 2008. "Growth Dynamics: The Myth of Economic Recovery," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 98(1), pages 439-457, March.
    12. Michael P. Dooley & David Folkerts-Landau & Peter M. Garber, 2005. "An essay on the revived Bretton Woods system," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Feb.
    13. Christina D. Romer & David H. Romer, 2010. "The Macroeconomic Effects of Tax Changes: Estimates Based on a New Measure of Fiscal Shocks," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 100(3), pages 763-801, June.
    14. Menzie D. Chinn & Shang-Jin Wei, 2008. "A Faith-based Initiative: Does a Flexible Exchange Rate Regime Really Facilitate Current Account Adjustment?," NBER Working Papers 14420, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    15. Joshua Aizenman & Jaewoo Lee, 2008. "The Real Exchange Rate, Mercantilism and the Learning by Doing Externality," NBER Working Papers 13853, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    16. Korinek, Anton & Servén, Luis, 2016. "Undervaluation through foreign reserve accumulation: Static losses, dynamic gains," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 64(C), pages 104-136.
    17. Arvind Subramanian, 2010. "New PPP-Based Estimates of Renminbi Undervaluation and Policy Implications," Policy Briefs PB10-8, Peterson Institute for International Economics.
    18. Michael Dooley & David Folkerts-Landau & Peter Garber, 2009. "Bretton Woods Ii Still Defines The International Monetary System," Pacific Economic Review, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 14(3), pages 297-311, August.
    19. Peter Montiel, 2000. "What Drives Consumption Booms?," World Bank Economic Review, World Bank Group, vol. 14(3), pages 457-480, September.
    20. Menzie D. Chinn, 2004. "Incomes, Exchange Rates and the US Trade Deficit, Once Again," International Finance, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 7(3), pages 451-469, December.
    21. Campa, Jose & Goldberg, Linda S., 1995. "Investment in manufacturing, exchange rates and external exposure," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 38(3-4), pages 297-320, May.
    22. Kaivan Munshi & Nicholas Wilson, 2010. "Identity and Mobility: Historical Fractionalization, Parochial Institutions, and Occupational Choice in the American Midwest," Department of Economics Working Papers 2010-20, Department of Economics, Williams College, revised Dec 2010.
    23. Krugman, Paul & Taylor, Lance, 1978. "Contractionary effects of devaluation," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 8(3), pages 445-456, August.
    24. Christopher Garroway & Burcu Hacibedel & Helmut Reisen & Edouard Turkisch, 2012. "The Renminbi and Poor‐country Growth," The World Economy, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 35(3), pages 273-294, March.
    25. Ilan Goldfajn & Rodrigo O. Valdés, 1999. "The Aftermath of Appreciations," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 114(1), pages 229-262.
    26. Òscar Jordà & Moritz Schularick & Alan M Taylor, 2011. "Financial Crises, Credit Booms, and External Imbalances: 140 Years of Lessons," IMF Economic Review, Palgrave Macmillan;International Monetary Fund, vol. 59(2), pages 340-378, June.
    27. Morris Goldstein, 2006. "Renminbi Controversies," Cato Journal, Cato Journal, Cato Institute, vol. 26(2), pages 251-266, Spring/Su.
    28. Devereux, Michael B. & Genberg, Hans, 2007. "Currency appreciation and current account adjustment," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 26(4), pages 570-586, June.
    29. Michael B. Devereux & Charles Engel, 2003. "Monetary Policy in the Open Economy Revisited: Price Setting and Exchange-Rate Flexibility," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(4), pages 765-783.
    30. Niall Ferguson & Moritz Schularick, 2011. "The End of Chimerica," International Finance, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 14(1), pages 1-26, April.
    31. Martin Feldstein, 2008. "Resolving the Global Imbalance: The Dollar and the U.S. Saving Rate," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 22(3), pages 113-125, Summer.
    32. Ethan Ilzetzki & Carmen M. Reinhart & Kenneth S. Rogoff, 2017. "Exchange Arrangements Entering the 21st Century: Which Anchor Will Hold?," NBER Working Papers 23134, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    33. Shaghil Ahmed, 2009. "Are Chinese exports sensitive to changes in the exchange rate?," International Finance Discussion Papers 987, Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (U.S.).
    34. Kwack, Sung Yeung & Ahn, Choong Y. & Lee, Young S. & Yang, Doo Y., 2007. "Consistent estimates of world trade elasticities and an application to the effects of Chinese Yuan (RMB) appreciation," Journal of Asian Economics, Elsevier, vol. 18(2), pages 314-330, April.
    35. Gupta, Poonam & Mishra, Deepak & Sahay, Ratna, 2007. "Behavior of output during currency crises," Journal of International Economics, Elsevier, vol. 72(2), pages 428-450, July.
    36. Nucci, Francesco & Pozzolo, Alberto F., 2001. "Investment and the exchange rate: An analysis with firm-level panel data," European Economic Review, Elsevier, vol. 45(2), pages 259-283, February.
    37. Jaime Marquez & John Schindler, 2007. "Exchange-rate Effects on China's Trade," Review of International Economics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 15(5), pages 837-853, November.
    38. Feldstein, Martin, 2008. "Resolving the Global Imbalance: The Dollar and the U.S. Saving Rate," Scholarly Articles 2792081, Harvard University Department of Economics.
    39. Qiao, Hong, 2007. "Exchange rates and trade balances under the dollar standard," Journal of Policy Modeling, Elsevier, vol. 29(5), pages 765-782.
    40. Hong, Kiseok & Tornell, Aaron, 2005. "Recovery from a currency crisis: some stylized facts," Journal of Development Economics, Elsevier, vol. 76(1), pages 71-96, February.
    41. repec:hrv:faseco:34721963 is not listed on IDEAS
    42. Bernardina Algieri & Thierry Bracke, 2011. "Patterns of Current Account Adjustment—Insights from Past Experience," Open Economies Review, Springer, vol. 22(3), pages 401-425, July.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Gary-Bobo, Robert J. & Jaaidane, Touria, 2014. "Strikes and slowdown in a theory of relational contracts," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 36(C), pages 89-116.

    More about this item

    NEP fields

    This paper has been announced in the following NEP Reports:


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:oec:devaaa:307-en. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.