Japanese Bosses, Chinese Workers: Power and Control in a Hong Kong Megastore

Japanese Bosses, Chinese Workers: Power and Control in a Hong Kong Megastore

Lyman, Stanford M

Japanese Bosses, Chinese Workers: Power and Control in a Hong Kong Megastore. By Wong Heung Wah. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1999. Pp. 232. $45.00.


Florida Atlantic University

This book presents a study of the rise, movement overseas, and the ultimate descent into bankruptcy of a Japanese kaisha. Kaisha is the Japanese term for a corporate entity that, in terms of Japanese cultural understandings, combines an association of shareholders – seeking profit from its production of goods and services – with the quasi-religious sense of an immortal social being, and which demands, and usually obtains, loyalty, service, and obedience from all who serve it. In the particular case presented by the author, the kaisha is the “Fumei” corporate entity, operating at a regional level in Japan, but, under the guidance of the “Ogawa” family that controls it – and, especially, the ambitious family head, “Ogawa Minoki,” – which expands into Brazil, Hong Kong, and the Chinese mainland, only to be forced into a bankruptcy brought about by its all-too– rapid growth. In keeping with the anthropological tradition within which he writes, Dr. Wong has given both the principals and the corporate entity pseudonyms.

Divided into nine chapters and an Afterword, Dr. Wong delineates the nature, character and cultural function of kaisha in general and the Fumei corporation in particular. Topics include the uses, modifications, and abuses of corporate and store space; the manipulation of religious ceremonies and sacred beliefs in managerial practices of worker control; the distinctively different cultures of Chinese and Japanese employees; and the character of family-worker (oyabun– kobun) relations in two quite different societies. Combining the concepts of cultural anthropology with those of economics, sociology and cross-national analysis, the author provides the kind of study that speaks to the new anthropology, i.e., a discipline that must forego its earlier concentration on nonindustrial peoples and cultures in the face of their decline on the present world scene and turn to see whether it has something to say about the globalizing corporatism that seems to be spreading everywhere. His monograph is proof that it does!

Dr. Wong shows that such once-powerful conceptualizations as cultural determinism, bourgeoisification as an unmodified force for development, and de-individuation (or any of its synonyms) are no longer applicable to a world in which the econo-culrural entities of one society move into the socioeconomic space of another. Not only are there adaptations as well as latent consequences to such migrations, but, also, there arise new and diverse modes of resistance that can and will modify the original corporate leaders’ aims and objectives. At the same time – as shown in how the Ogawa family both adopted and adapted one of japan’s “new religions” to aid the enforcement of their corporate authority over their employees – Dr. Wong emphasizes the roles of both power and resistance in any human situation.

Written with clarity, incisiveness and a comprehensive attention to both theory and the facts of the situation, Japanese Bosses, Chinese Workers is a model for all students and scholars of development in the twentyfirst century.

Copyright Center for Migration Studies Summer 2001

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