Business ethics and workplace guanxi in Chinese SOEs: a qualitative study

Jessica Li, Jean Madsen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose The purpose of this paper is to examine Chinese employees' perceptions on their ethical decision making in relation to the workplace guanxi context in stateowned enterprises (SOE). Design/methodology/approach Using a qualitative method, two rounds of interviews were conducted with 18 participants in two SOEs “to explore Chinese employees” ethical perceptions and experiences in the workplace. A qualitative thematic strategy was adopted to analyze and interpret the data. Findings The authors identified three major themes on SOE employees ethical decision making in relation to workplace guanxi: the ethical self; malleable ethical standards; and submission to authority. The authors derived a conceptual framework to outline the relationship between the invisible hand of guanxi and the SOE employees' ethical decision making. Originality/value The paper contributes to the business ethics literature by presenting a threedimensional profile and a conceptual framework for Chinese business ethics research. It provides an indepth understanding of a complex dynamics of guanxi and its impact on employees' ethical decisionmaking behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-99
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Chinese Human Resources Management
Issue number2
StatePublished - Sep 13 2011


  • Business ethics
  • China
  • Decision making
  • Employee attitudes
  • Employee behaviour
  • SOE employees
  • SOE organizations
  • Stateowned enterprises
  • guanxi

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


Dive into the research topics of 'Business ethics and workplace guanxi in Chinese SOEs: a qualitative study'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this