New Technologies in China. An ambivalent impact on managerial control procedures

Master's Thesis 2014 61 Pages

Business economics - Industrial Management


Table of contents

1 Introduction

2. New technology in China : A specific framework
2.1Specificities of Chinese managerial practices
2.1.1 A strong Confucian heritage
2.1.2 Confucian thought and Bio power
2.2 Impact of New Technologies
2.2.1 An intensification of work
2.2.2 An increase in Stress
2.2.3 A blurred frontier between personal and professional life
2.2.4The blurring of sources of Power and Authority
2.3 Differences between China and the West while facing these impacts
2.3.1 The role of Authority
2.3.2 A very fast evolution
2.3.3 A different perception of New Technologies

3. Method
3.1 Sample method
3.2.1 population
3.2.2Groups of variables
3.3 Limits of the method

4. Results
4.1 Hypotheses testing
4.1.1 Intensification of work
4.1.2 Increase in stress
4.1.3 Work/life balance
4.1.4 Blurring of sources of Authority
4.2 Recapitulation of hypotheses
4.3 Managerial implication
4.3.1 New technologies to decrease stress
4.3.2 New technologies to increase workload
4.3.3 New technologies to decrease managerial cost


6. Appendices
6.2 Word cloud of “New Technologies”

7. Reference

1 Introduction

The working conditions of employees have changed tremendously within the last 10 years. Indeed, the apparition and implementation of new technological devices such as smartphones or tele-working devices can be said to have revolutionized the way people used to work. These new technologies make it easier to telecommute, work from virtual offices and communicate with businesses and individuals whatever the place they truly are on the globe. Flexible work schedules are popularized sincea large variety of tasks and responsibilities can be accomplished from an employee’s home or while the latter is traveling. The frontier between work life and personal life has been modified and has become more blurred.

As a logical consequence, remote reporting relationships have followed this generalized use of new technology. Team Managers who live and work in different cities or even countries than their subordinates isa phenomenon that is becoming more and more common. However this new type of managerscan not continue to use the same managing techniques as traditional managers.The aim of this paper is to study the impact of New Technologies and the effects of these new ways of managing employees.For example, we can wonder if a reprimand system implemented through emails, calls or text messages is as efficient as a one done with direct human-relationships. We can also ponder on how such practices are perceived by employees, if managing through the use of new technologies is increasing their stress for example.

This paper will focus on the situation in China, and on the analysis of how specific Chinese managerial features interact with the evolution of working conditions. The notion of Biopower developed by Michel Foucault will cast a light on the complexity of these interrelations and on the way they are felt by employees. I would like to test throughout this thesis the idea that traditional Chinese society and work environment is presenting an ambivalent exposure to the concept of Biopower, defined by Michel Foucault as "an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations". Indeed, some Chinese specific elements (importance of group, Confucianism, strong state power) contribute to make of China a unique case. However, the wider and wider spread use of new technologies nowadays in China, especially in a professional setting, might increase employees and customers’ sensibility to Biopower mechanisms that were traditionally more often occuring in western countries, and thus lessen the diversity of the Chinese working environment.

The research will aim at making clearer the ambivalent use of technology in modern society. By focusing on China, especially Shanghai, and its inhabitants who embrace newest technological products (iphone, e-commerce), I hope to get some insights on social trends and the new models of life/work in China. I also hope that this thesis will enable a better understanding of the impact of New technologies on supervision and control methods in China in a professional setting, both from an organizational and a managerial point of view.

2.New technology in China :A specific framework

2.1 Specificities of Chinese managerial practices

2.1.1 A strong Confucian heritage

Confucianism (Simplified Chinese: 儒学; Pinyin: Rúxué) is a complex system of moral, social, political, and religious thoughts which has had tremendous influence on China for more than 2400 years.It relies on a set of texts, called the “Four Books and Five Classics”. Still nowadays, its influence on Chinese culture and social life is preponderous. As Tu Wei-Ming wrote it in Confucianism in historical perspective,it “remains the defining characteristic of Chinese mentality”.[1] An important feature of Confucianism is the definition of specific duties someone has to abide by when he is dealing with different categories of person. These special relationships are listed below:

- Loyalty between king and subject
- Relationship between father and son
- Duty between husband and wife
- Obedience to Elders
- Mutual trust between friends

Striving to be loyal to your king is obviously difficult nowadays and should not be interpreted too literally. Here, this relation applies by analogy with a professional context. This relationship may embody the feeling of belonging to a company. A Chinese company influenced by Confucianism has the obligation of taking into account the well being of its employees; in return employees are dedicated to the success of the company and loyal. An example could be the sadly famous Foxconn, which is a group that manufactures ipod in China. Their plants boast of swimming pools, bookstores or even hospitals. In exchange of these facilities implemented for the well being of its employees, Foxconn wants flexibility from its workers and up to 12 hours of work a day, for 6 days each week. Foxconn was unfortunately known for a very high suicide rate among its employees, which in this case shows the limits of the king/subject relationship. This omnipresence of a company can also be rejected by employees to the point of committing suicide[2].

The relationship between a father and his son is based on filial piety. The father guides his son, teaches him what he knows and protects him. Therefore, the son respects his father/mentor and obeys to his requirements. Applied to the field of management, this relationship may explain why paternalistic leadership style is more frequently found in China[3]. The manager has to be a mentor for the employees. Like a father figure, he has to be a guide and a model. The role of the leader has been emphasized in China for many years, with a highly centralized decision-making process, either in the political sphere or in the business one.[4] For example, Mr. Zong in the Wahaha group or Jack Ma with Alibabaare very good illustrations of this phenomenon, and of the importance of a leading figure.[5]

The relationship between friends is also important in a professional setting since it advocates for mutual trust. From a managerial perspective, this implies a strong sense of solidarity between employees, and underlines the importance of justice. This sense of solidarity tends to favor group behavior[6]. Thus team building is important in China, and is likely to be more often used to reward good performance. In a similar way, uniforms, specific for each company (and especially the ones dealing with customers), are a way to implement a physical representation of this group dynamic. If one has to choose in China, knowing to manage a group is maybe more useful than knowing to manage an individual. Social network or community management thus take all their importance in this specific context. One can also wonder how Chinese employees may react to the unraveling ties between coworkers with the increase of practices enabling home-working and thus a diminution of human managerial contact. The hypotheses will also try to answer this question.

Last notion from Confucius that we will mention in this very incomplete overview is he “Gentleman” Of Confucius (Junzi). He is an ideal that everybody should try to reach. Gentlemen cultivate themselves morally and strive for improving the world they live in. Thus, Confucian managers are expected to be striving for this ideal in their professional life too. This “Gentleman” is supposed to be a model, and to live a life that could inspire people with whom he lives. In Confucian culture, managers are expected to display ren, meaning benevolence or humanism. Here is a quotation from the analects of Confucius that explains a bit more this concept : “At home, a young should behave with filial piety, and out in the world, with brotherly love. They should be prudent and trustworthy. They should love all people and be close to the benevolent.”[7]Ren” is sometimes translated as “goodwill” or goodness towards others. Therefore, a Confucian manager is supposed to be kind, and to listen to the persons he manages in order to improve their daily-life. He will be cordial and will try to build relationships that can favor his guanxi. Rather than being judged on his sheer performance, he will be evaluated on his dedication to the company and to the employee. Trustworthiness and loyalty are here qualities that indicate a good person, which is why they are very important for Chinese manager. Thanks to them, the manager can manage the differences in the group so that this one behaves at its best.

From a Confucian point of view, if harmony is well-established within a working group, each employee will be able to perform at his best. The differences of skills among the employees won’t be as important as in Europe for instance, what will matter is the result of the group. This lays the emphasis on the fact that for a Confucian culture, individual is not as important as the group. However, you have to perform benevolence with each individual in order to guaranty the global well being of the group.

The following table adapted from Cullen (1999) gives more numerical details on China’s specific context, and on the role of group/individualism:

illustration not visible in this excerpt

One aim of these Confucian guidelines is to bring social harmony. Indeed since every individual who follows them will know how to behave appropriately in the society, society is well regulated and manageable.

2.1.2 Confucian thought and Bio power

Biopower, as defined by Michel Foucault, is "an explosion of numerous and diverse techniques for achieving the subjugations of bodies and the control of populations". For Foucault, Biopower is a technology of power, which is a way of managing people as a group. The distinctive quality of this political technology is that it allows for the control of entire populations. What is important with Biopower is that one can never spot precisely where the authority is, the source of authority is diverse and it is hard to precisely identify. “Power is everywhere not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere.”[8] The authority is in a certain way interiorized by the employee or by the citizens. One is behaving the way he behaves because he thinks that it is the way he should behave, according to his own definition of what is good. Or, it is precisely Biopower which is influencing him without his knowledge and is defining what he believes to be good or moral. Thus, and here is the true strength of Biopower, a subject will behave according to the rules of the authority, and will be convinced that he behaves this way because it is what he himself wants. The subject will not want to change the way he behaves, and will even be reluctant and hostile to any entity trying to make him change his behavior. He becomes both the object to be supervised and the source of supervision. For Foucault “power is not hierarchical, but a diffused flow in which both the exercisers of power and its recipients participate”[9].

Confucianism on the other hand, as we saw in the previous part, is defining many models, the Gentleman for example, and the ways one should behave according to whom he is interacting with. One aim of these Confucian guidelines is to bring social harmony. The individual who follows these guidelines will know how to behave appropriately in the society. He will behave so even though no one is forcing him to do it. A Confucian person is convinced that he is the one choosing to respect these social guidelines. There is no distinct source of authority, nor direct repression system that forces him to respect them. However, tradition, social pressure, guilt and education all contribute to assure the permanence and survival of the Confucian moral. Chinese individuals have more or less unconsciously integrated within their own definition of individual the notions advocated by Confucianism. Individuals don’t even necessarily link the way they behave with Confucianismanymore. It is then blurring even more the source of authority. For example, respect towards the elders is a way to behave totally assimilated within most of Chinese individual, and one would with great difficulties go against it. However, nowadays, it is not directly related anymore with Confucianism. People do it because they consider it to be good for society, and they would be reluctant to change the way they behave. So, with the appearance of this mechanism of assimilation of the source of power/authority within the subject, we can say that to a certain extent, Confucianism may be considered as a form of Biopower.

With this point of view, it is interesting to look briefly at the relationships between political power and Confucianism. Indeed, these relationships have obvious social impacts and can be found by repercussion in a professional microcosm. Confucianism has been establishedas the state philosophy of China by The Emperor Wu of Han (156 – 87 BC), and since then, the study of Confucian classics became the core of the government examination system. It has deeply shaped the administrative system of China.However, after the creation of the Republic of China and especially with the Cultural Revolution, the voices of Anti-Confucianism movements became stronger in China.Here is a quotation from Ren Min RiBao in 1974 to illustrate the phenomenon :

“The doctrine of the Mean is an insidious and deadly ideological weapon. It is a reactionary philosophy employed by capitalist cliques to launch a vindictive comeback and to suppress the revolutionary people. It has the reactionary essence of stubbornly defending the old things in the disguise of eclecticism. It stands in opposition to revolutionary dialectics and the philosophy of struggle” [10]

It is worth noticing however that voices about Confucianism were not harmonious during this period since Liu Shaoqi, former president of People’s Republic of China from 1959 to 1968 himself said “Every communist who want to become a good, politically mature revolutionary [should] make great effort in self –cultivation” [11] by following Confucius’s example.

However,in the last decade, Confucianism seems to be much less controversial in China. Former President Hu Jintao has made numerous references to the Confucian ideals of Justice and honesty in order to fight against corruption in China. For instance, the "Eight Honors and Eight Disgraces" campaign whose aim was to limit the impact of corruption was relying heavily on Confucian thoughts. More recently, Xi Jinping visited in November 2013 the hometown of Confucius and said “Confucian thought can play a positive role in China's modern development”. He even picked up two Confucianism books and said that he would "read them carefully."

2.2 Impact of New Technologies

2.2.1 An intensification of work

The literature on the impacts of new technologies on the working environment is extremely important. Whatever the country in which these studies are based, they all show similar impacts on working behaviors, what is specific is the answer a given population or nationality is going to provide to this impact.

The first one can be described as anintensification of work. In his analysis in 2004[12], Green used the British Workplace Employee Relations Survey which hasinsights from both employers and workers’ representatives and found that technicalinnovation, new work organization and also high commitment practices have been followed byan intensification of work. It could appear surprising, however, the increase of flexibility that has been allowed by the implementation of new technological way of managing a company has been followed by the feeling that their work was becoming more intensive.

The gains of productivity are one of the reasons why New technological devices are implemented among professional organizations. Looking at the last two decades, authors agree to say that “the strong performance of productivity growth in the second half of the 1990s was in fact attributable to accelerating technical change” [13] However, one can wonder if this gains of productivity are also felt by the daily users, and not only by the managing team. The conception of new technologies for the user is crucial, it is therefore extremely important to know if :

H1:Chinese users perceive new technologies as making work time-efficient

2.2.2 An increase in Stress

The second one is a logical consequence of this intensification of work, it is an increase in stress for the employee. Indeed, with new technologies (job rotation, video conference…) individual workers are asked to be actively involved in other team members’ tasks and to be dedicated to the success of the company. According to management claims, such systems convey greater autonomy to workers: better communication in the whole organization thanks to 3G, or video conferencesthat enable tele-working and management at distance.

Adopting a new device or changing a practice because of the evolution of technology is another aspect that contributes to the stress of employee, especially among the older ones. This aspect is well-known, and is a key feature of Change Management which tries to decrease the factor of stress linked to the implementation of a new project for example. The literature focusing on this aspect is also very numerous and quite traditional. For example, using a survey on workers in car manufacturing plants in China, Lewchuk and Robertson[14] find that innovative practices tend to harm workers’ well being. Landsbergis[15] reach similar conclusions in their study of the same industry in the United-States. Fairris and Brenner[16] (2001) investigate the relationships between workplace transformation and the rise in cumulative trauma disorders.

Computer technology, the information highway, and the Internet have created what can be called“techno-stress[17]. Technostress is a result of altered habits of work and collaboration that are being brought about due to the use of modern information technologies at office and home situations.Users may have the impression that they are trying to juggle too many options with too little time. For example, users can become impatient with the "slower computers" (which are in fact amazingly fast) when they have to wait that extra few seconds for something to happen. Frustration and stress arrive as they wait for the monitor screen to change. The following hypothesis is thus primordial to grasp better the impacts of New technologies on the Chinese worker :

H2 : New technology perception has a negative effect on perceived stress linked to work

2.2.3 A blurred frontier between personal and professional life

This increase of stress is also linked to the fact that new technologies blur the frontier between private life and professional life. The impact of social networks for example has been revolutionizing the hiring process in the last decade. According to a 2010 survey commissioned by Microsoft Corporation, nearly eighty percent of surveyed United States hiring and recruiting professionals research applicants online[18] The survey focused on online reputation, which it described as “the publicly held social evaluation of a person based on his or her behavior, what he or she posts, and what others such as individuals, groups, and Web services) share about the person on the Internet.”[19] Recruiters are using online reputational information to discover if there is something about a candidate’s lifestyle that might be questionable or that might go against the core values of the hiring company[20] As a camp counselor recruiter noted, “You really get a lot of information that you can’t ask for in a job interview, but you go on the Web and it’s all there . . . .”[21]. However, this blurring of frontier between private life and personal one is not only a pre-hiring phenomenon; it keeps existing when individuals are employed by a company. Another aspect of this blurry frontier between work and personal life is the fact that employees can be reached home very easily thanks to smartphones. They are always connected and can check their emails at home, or on week end. According to the Pullman – IPSOS Survey released in 2013 that surveyed more than 2,200 seasoned international travelers, 60% of the Chinese browse online dating sites using their professional devices, 85% of the Chinese of the survey sample organizes holidays and weekend outings online during working hours[22]. These data were obtained by interviewing Chinese travelers abroad, the questionnaire of this thesis will try to know if the same trend can be observed with Chinese employees working in China.

Another interesting aspect is the fact that when what is perceived as a crossing of the frontier happens, whether someone works at home, or do personal tasks at work, a feeling of guilt can occur which is impacting the occurrence of the phenomenon.

According to these data, it is thus possible to formulate the two following hypotheses:

H3 Chinese users perceive New Technologies as improving their work/life balance

H4: A job perceived as interesting decreased the feeling of guilt when home-working

2.2.4 The blurring of sources of Power and Authority

The last impact I would like to analyze is the fact that new technologies are not only blurring the distinction between private and professional life but are also blurring the sources of authorities and power. An example among many, the software Salesforce which is used as a CRM software. In this software, there is a function that displays a ranking of the employees that are the most often connected on the software, or who use it the more often. However, there is also a wall of shame for the people who use it less. Here the source of authority behind the reprimand is very hard to identify since it is not even human. This analysis is made automatically by the software, and even if your direct manager can blame you for not using the software enough, he is not the one who is at the origin of the control system. The data is present automatically, and the manager is not responsible for it, he is just a user and not the source of power/authority behind this control mechanism. The data is here, can be sent on internet, and everybody, even people with whom the employee has never spoken or who are working in a different city can analyze his work and tell if they consider him to be efficient or not. For the employee, since this control mechanism is not human-based, but technologically-based, there is very little way of negotiating with it. Especially if the objectives of the employee are indexed to the indicator counting the time he is spending on the software, then his only possibility is to internalize this process of control [23] and to make sure that he spend enough time on it. The user himself is becoming the person in charge of controlling his behavior. The source of authority is more than blurred, it is internalized. The user, who is not able to spot who is directly controlling his activity has to be more careful while doing his tasks, thus he has to control himself more. This phenomenon is precisely a characteristic of the concept of Bio-power that we have seen in the previous paragraph.


[1] Tu, Weiming. (1989). Confucianism in historical perspective

[2] The CSR Dilemma: An analysis of the complicated relationship between firms and society Gutierrez Zarate 2012

[3] Transformational and Paternalistic Leaderships in Chinese Organizations by Vivian C. Sheer, Hong Kong Baptist University

[4] Bureaucracy, Economy, and Leadership in China David Bachman Princeton University, New Jersey

[5] A Cross Cultural Comparison of the Importance of Leadership Traits for Effective Low-level and High-level Leaders. Australia and China GianCasimir

[6] Conflict Management and Team effectiveness in China : The mediating Role of Justice Guoquan Chen, Tsinghua University

[7] Confucius, and Burton Watson. The Analects of Confucius. New York: Columbia UP, 2007

[8] The History of Sexuality Vol.1: The Will to Knowledge. London: Penguin Michel Foucault

[9] idem

[10] Ren Min RiBao 1974

[11] How to be a good communist July 1939 Liu Shaoqi

[12] Green F., 2004, ”Why has work effort become more intense”, Industrial Relations, vol.43(4), pp. 709-41.

[13] Productivity Growth in the 1990s: Technology, Utilization, or Adjustment by SusantoBasu , John Fernald , and Matthew Shapiro

[14] Lewchuk W. and D. Robertson, 1996, “Working Conditions Under Lean Production:A Worker-based Benchmark Study”. Asia Pacific Business Review, summer 1996,pp. 60-81.

[15] Landsbergis P.A., J. Cahill and P. Schnall, 1999, The impact of lean production andrelated new systems of work organization on worker health, Journal of OccupationalHealth Psychology, vol. 4 (2), pp. 108-130.

[16] Brenner Mark, David Fairris and John Ruser, 2004, “Flexible Work Practices and Occupational Safety and Health: Exploring the Relationship Between Cumulative Trauma Disorders and Workplace transformation”, Industrial Relations, vol. 43(1).

[17] IffatRabia “Impact of Electronic Services on Users: A Study” University of Florence

[18] CROSS-TAB, Online Reputation in a Connected World 6 (Jan. 2010), http://go.microsoft.com/


[19] See boyd& Ellison, supra note 1, at 214

[20] See Alan Finder, When a Risqué Online Persona Undermines a Chance for a Job, N.Y. TIMES,

June 11, 2006, at 1.

[21] Pam Belluck, Young People’s Web Postings Worry Summer Camp Directors, N.Y. TIMES, June

22, 2006

[22] “Blurring”, A Growing Trend Amongst International Travelers: Chinese And Brazilians At The Top Press release Paris, September 30, 2013

[23] Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison Michel Foucault 1975


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Title: New Technologies in China. An ambivalent impact on managerial control procedures