Cover image for Dragon in a three-piece suit : the emergence of capitalism in China
Dragon in a three-piece suit : the emergence of capitalism in China
Guthrie, Doug, 1969-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Princeton, N.J. : Princeton University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiv, 302 pages ; 24 cm
Reading Level:
1550 Lexile.
Format :


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HD58.8 .G87 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Dragon in a Three-Piece Suit is an innovative sociological examination of what is perhaps the main engine of economic reform in China, the large industrial firm. Doug Guthrie, who spent more than a year in Shanghai studying firms, interviewing managers, and gathering data on firms' performance and practices, provides the first detailed account of how these firms have been radically transformed since the mid-1980s.

Guthrie shows that Chinese firms are increasingly imitating foreign firms in response both to growing contact with international investors and to being cut adrift from state support. Many firms, for example, are now less likely to use informal hiring practices, more likely to have formal grievance filing procedures, and more likely to respect international institutions, such as the Chinese International Arbitration Commission. Guthrie argues that these findings support the de-linking of Western trade policy from human rights, since it is clear that economic engagement leads to constructive reform. Yet Guthrie also warns that reform in China is not a process of inevitable Westernization or of managers behaving as rational, profit-maximizing agents. Old habits, China's powerful state administration, and the hierarchy of the former command economy will continue to have profound effects on how firms act and how they adjust to change.

With its combination of rigorous argument and uniquely rich detail, this book gives us the most complete picture yet of Chinese economic reform at the crucial level of the industrial firm.

Author Notes

Doug Guthrie is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Global Activities, Office of the Provost, at New York University.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Based primarily on his 1994-95 field study of 81 industrial firms in Shanghai, Guthrie (sociology, New York Univ.) takes on a number of central issues in contemporary Chinese industrial sociology. He makes a strongly affirmative case that the operations of large manufacturing firms have indeed been undergoing constructive reform over the past 15 years. Contrary to received wisdom, formal rational bureaucracies in the Weberian sense are emerging in Chinese firms, the oft-proclaimed importance of quanxi (personal "connections") has significantly diminished in business transactions, and Sino-foreign contractual negotiations have had a positive impact on Chinese enterprises. Guthrie's most interesting finding stresses the role of emulation--Chinese firms tend to imitate the successful behavior of their Western counterparts, a telling argument (he contends) in favor of delinking trade policy and human rights issues. This monograph's strength derives from its 155 intensive interviews with factory managers in Shanghai's chemical, electronics, food, and garment industries. While necessarily limited in scope, Guthrie's research is stimulating, significant, and engagingly presented. Economic historians may not be fully satisfied--the book is rather weakly attuned to current scholarship on pre-1949 Chinese business and legal history--but other social scientists as well as the general reading public should applaud it. R. P. Gardella; United States Merchant Marine Academy

Table of Contents

Figuresp. vii
Tablesp. ix
Preface and Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Dragon in a Three-Piece Suitp. 2
1 Firm Practices in China's Transforming Economy: Efficiency or Mimicry?p. 3
2 Path Dependence in China's Economic Transitionp. 24
3 Formal Rational Bureaucracies in Chinese Firms: Causes and Implicationsp. 42
4 Changing Labor Relations in the Period of Market Reformp. 75
5 The Politics of Price Setting in China's Transition Economyp. 101
6 Economic Strategies in the Face of Market Reformsp. 121
7 Institutional Pressure, Rational Choice, and Contractual Relations: Chinese-Foreign Negotiations in the Economic Transitionp. 150
8 The Declining Significance of Connections in China's Economic Transitionp. 175
9 Conclusions and Implicationsp. 198
Appendix 1 Methodology and Samplingp. 219
Appendix 2 Interviews and Informantsp. 228
Appendix 3 Complete Interview Schedulep. 235
Appendix 4 Sample Characteristics and Variablesp. 240
Notesp. 249
Referencesp. 281
Indexp. 299