Accepted Paper:

Emotional work: Chinese Corporate Personhood in the West  
Sacha Cody (Hong Kong University of Science & Technology)

Paper short abstract:

This paper analyses a Western Europe subsidiary of a Chinese MNC. Using the notion of 'emotional work' as a framing device—highly emotional practices designed to elicit emotion—it discusses significant tensions between Chinese corporate culture and post-Fordist affective practices such as branding.

Paper long abstract:

Corporate culture in China is an assemblage of Chinese 'tradition' (e.g. Confucian hierarchy and loyalty), western management practices (e.g. productivity responsibilities falling on the individual), and Chinese Communist Party authority (e.g. Party cells). But less is known about international Chinese enterprises and the extent to which they replicate what is observed in China. This is an important topic because today there are approximately 8,000 Chinese enterprises operating in 164 countries. They employ 2.8 million staff, 1.2 million of which are non-Chinese.

Drawing on participant observation fieldwork and 30 in-depth interviews, this paper analyses how employees and partners of a Chinese multinational corporation called ZG discuss and execute corporate reputation and brand image programs in Western Europe. It examines, in short, how ZG tries to be 'liked' by Western European consumers and build an 'emotional connection' with them.

This work of fostering emotion is highly emotional for those involved. It explicates deep divisions across ZG, the key one being the tension between Chinese corporate culture and technonationalism with the prevalence of post-Fordist affective labour industries such as branding and marketing and notions of corporate personhood.

One way this plays out inside ZG is for the firm to try to present itself to Western Europeans as an unassuming lifestyle brand while keeping at arm's length—or trying to—corporate identities that serve them well in China. Yet this only reveals deeper divisions concerning how different groups inside ZG imagine—and try to realise—China's place in the world.

Panel P23
Feeling Capitalism