Interns or workers? China's student labor regime

Jenny CHAN, Ngai PUN, Mark SELDEN

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


In the summer of 2010, Taiwanese-based Foxconn Technology Group—the world's largest electronics manufacturer—utilized the labor of 150,000 student interns from vocational schools at its facilities all over China. Foxconn is one of many global firms utilizing student intern labor. Far from being freely chosen, student internships are organized by the local state working with enterprises and schools, frequently in violation of the rights of student interns and in violation of Chinese law. Foxconn, through direct deals with government departments, has outsourced recruitment to vocational schools to obtain a new source of student workers at below minimum wages. The goals and timing of internships are set not by student educational or training priorities but by the demand for products dictated by companies. Based on fieldwork Asian Studies, 1(1), September 2015 70 in Sichuan and Guangdong between 2011 and 2012 and follow-up interviews in 2014, as well as analysis of the Henan government's policies on internships, we find that the student labor regime has become integral to the capital-state relationship as a means to assure a lower cost and flexible labor supply for Foxconn and others. This is one dimension of the emerging face of Chinese state capitalism.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-98
Number of pages30
JournalAsian Studies (Official Journal of the Asian Studies Association of Hong Kong)
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

An earlier draft of this paper entitled “Student Interns in China: Foxconn Internship through Government and School Mobilization” was presented at the Pennsylvania State University in March of 2013 for the symposium “Global Workers’ Rights: Patterns of Exclusion, Possibilities for Change”.
The authors acknowledge academic funding support from University of Oxford, University of London, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and Hong Kong Research Grant Council.


  • asian studies
  • china
  • internship
  • management
  • political science
  • state capitalism


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