The dormitory labour regime in China as a site for control and resistance

Chris SMITH, Ngai PUN

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

106 Citations (Scopus)


The paper uses research into industrial dormitories in Southern China to examine the role performed by employer-controlled accommodation in the management of human resources. The current rapid industrialization in China has been fuelled by the over 100 million internal migrants who move around the country on an annual basis and are housed in industrial dormitories within or close to production facilities. The paper argues that having labour supply 'on tap' facilitates management extending the working day, responding rapidly to fluctuations in product demand and functions as a form of coercive control, whereby employers have power not only over employment but also the housing needs of employees. The paper examines the history and contemporary use of employer-controlled accommodation, and argues that in both scale and systematic application, the current Chinese case is unique in the history of human resource management. Drawing on a case study of a large factory and dormitory, 'China Wonder Electronics' based in the Southern city of Shenzhen, the paper outlines the ways in which by working and living together, workers are able to develop collective resources that can be mobilized against managerial prerogatives, and challenge what is structurally a weak employment relationship for labour faced with the combined forces of big business and the state. The paper concludes by discussing the strengths and limitations for workers in what we are calling a dormitory labour regime.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1456-1470
Number of pages15
JournalInternational Journal of Human Resource Management
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2006
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding for the fieldwork reported in this paper is provided by the Hong Kong Research Grant Council support ‘Living with Global Capitalism: Labour Control and Resistance through the Dormitory Labour System in China’ (research period, 2003 to 2005).


  • China
  • Dormitories
  • Labour process
  • Labour regime


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