Reinventing Chineseness: Corporate social responsibility reporting in Chinese Confucian companies

Wang, Yuheng (2022) Reinventing Chineseness: Corporate social responsibility reporting in Chinese Confucian companies. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Prior accounting studies have examined how CSR discourses are intertwined with institutional pressures and market demands in non-Western contexts, but only a few studies have focused attention on the interaction between global CSR discourses and non-Western local cultural systems. Taking a set of Chinese Confucian companies as the empirical case, therefore, this study explores the ways the dialectics between the global and the local produce and reproduce a particular corporate social responsibility reporting regime (CSRR).

This study draws on Robertson`s (1995) glocalisation theory. Accounting scholars have used various theoretical frameworks to explore how global-local duality implicates accounting and accountability, including CSRR. Examples include the use of Gidden’s globalisation theory, Edward Said’s Orientalism and Homi Bhabha’s concept of hybridity. While such social theories tend to view the global and globalisation as competing counterparts of the local and localisation, Robertson’s (1995) theory of glocalisation provides an alternative view in that the two seemingly opposite tendencies of globalisation and localisation are inter-reinforcing and interpenetrating in the construction of the “glocal”. The “glocal” then provides a political-cultural condition in which the supportive or reinforcing elements of the global and the local are highlighted and materialised while contradictions between the global and local are mitigated. Accordingly, this study explores how Chinese companies mobilise a concept of Confucianism to translate and adapt global discourses of CSR to Chinese cultural conditions so that a “glocalised” version of CSR is produced amid the political demands of the Chinese political state.

In methodological terms, this study contains two mutually inclusive data collection and methods of analyses: a qualitative content analysis and a couple of interview-based case studies. A qualitative content analysis of 11 Confucian companies’ CSR reports was conducted to give a basic understanding of the contents and forms of the CSR reports. The qualitative content analysis also helped me to select 2 Confucian companies where I conducted 60 interviews. A document analysis, including of external and internal documents, was conducted to generate understanding about how Chinese political reforms shape and reshape Confucian companies` behaviours.

Empirically, the glocal is understood as a political-cultural space covering both monophonic sameness and polyphonic variances, reflecting the co-presence of the global homogeneous and the local heterogeneous, universalising and particularising tendencies. Monophonic sameness means that there are some principles which CSR and Confucianism have in common. The polyphonic variances signify the different but not opposite ideas between CSR and Confucianism. Both CSR and Confucianism enjoy and celebrate the existences of differences because they treat their differences as a source of learning new knowledge. Thus, glocalised accounting regimes reflect the co-presence of the global and the local, homogenisation and heterogenisation, and particularisation and universalisation.

To be more specific, Company A encountered the CSR concepts before becoming a Confucian company. Company A started its business by mimicking Western CSR practices and aligning with global CSR guidance such as the Global Reporting Initiative on Sustainability Reporting. After China’s policy of Cultural Confidence was issued in 2012, this company started adapting global CSR practices to Confucian principles. In this process, I found that CSR knowledge facilitates the adoption and adaptation of Confucian ideology as CSR and Confucianism have many ideas in common. For example, providing a comfortable workplace for employees is a requirement of global CSR guidance, and treating employees as family members also reflect the Confucian principle of benevolence. Thus, when Company A acquired knowledge of CSR, understanding the Confucian ideology become smooth.

Moreover, the universal (i.e., CSR discourses) not only facilitates the adoption of the particular (i.e., Confucianism) but also gets reinforced by Confucian wisdom. For example, Confucian companies treat people as part of nature and they respect other non-human objects of nature. This is a Confucian idea being added to the CSR discourses; hence, the latter is being enriched by the former. This phenomenon demonstrates a key difference between localisation and glocalisation. While localisation emphases the role of local actors in reshaping global accounting discourses, glocalisation focuses attention on how the global and the local inter-penetrate and inter-reinforce each other.

Company B, however, became a Confucian company before it encountered the CSR concepts. Even though CSR accounting was a Western concept, it was smoothly adopted and adapted into this non-Western context. In Company B, its acquired Confucian knowledge helped employees understand the CSR principles, so the local culture of Confucianism expedited the adoption and adaptation of global CSR concepts.

Also, the universal (i.e., global CSR discourses) penetrate and reinforce the particular (i.e., Confucianism). In practice, Confucianism cannot provide specific behavioural guidance for Company B because Confucianism is an abstract ethical framework. The advent of global CSR knowledge thus gave Company B concrete guidance. An example is that Company B learnt from the CSR activities of global leading companies and set up a baby care room on the second floor of its headquarters. Thus, the CSR concepts are not excluded, rejected or resisted but welcomed and accepted by this Confucian company.

Being glocal is a strategic act and a disposition in a contemporary political context, where a company faces the challenges of simultaneously satisfying certain political-economic and market demands and impositions by global forces and certain local political-cultural imperatives created by local forces. In this work’s cases, the Chinese government played an important role in shaping the CSR practices in Confucian companies. I found that Xi aimed to make China great again and build China as a cultural superpower. He promoted the Cultural Confidence policy to revitalise Chinese cultural foundations within their political and economic systems. Following this policy, traditional Confucianism and Confucian business became reawakened. The central government then asked local governments and institutions to set up Confucian-related conferences and forums to find a way of linking Confucianism with Western technologies and ideologies, or the local with the global. To seek political-cultural legitimacy, some Chinese companies tended to attend the conferences, become Confucian companies and engage their accounting practices with Confucianism. I saw this as a process of reinventing Chineseness: incorporating Confucian principles into business activities while satisfying global forces such as global stakeholders and customers.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Corporate social responsibility reporting, glocalisation, glocal, globalisation, localisation, Confucianism, China.
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > Adam Smith Business School
Supervisor's Name: Alawattage, Professor Chandana, Ahn, Dr. Paul and Gallhofer, Professor Sonja
Date of Award: 2022
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2022-83161
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 06 Oct 2022 10:23
Last Modified: 06 Oct 2022 10:25
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83161

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