The Strength of Weak Institutions: Communist Party Cells in Private Firms in China

This talk will discuss the goals, functions, and consequences of Chinese Communist Party (CCP) cells in private firms in Guangdong Province, one of China’s vibrant manufacturing hubs. Since 2012, the central government has encouraged local party branches to establish party cells in the private sector. Using firm-level interviews, survey research, and official documents, Mary Gallagher finds that there is quite a disjuncture between the stated goals of the policy and their actualized role thus far. Because of the Party’s weak organizational base in the private sector, party cells often need to rely on the enterprise trade-union branch, borrowing resources and institutional power in order to function. In a rather contradictory way, the externally much stronger organization, the CCP, needs to rely on the externally much weaker institution, the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU). Gallagher explores how this inverted relationship affects party activists, working conditions, and relations with enterprise managers and owners.