Time Perception and Industrialization: Divergence and Convergence of Work Ethics in Chinese Enterprises in Africa

Journal Article
Published on 1 June 2019


As Chinese investors set up business operations in Africa, disagreements between Chinese and Africans regarding work attitudes have emerged. A prevailing view is that cultural differences cause tensions between groups with regards to the meaning of “hard work,” “discipline” and “eating bitterness.” However, we argue that conflicting perceptions of work ethics between Chinese and Africans are instead caused by evolving notions of time that accompany a transition from a pre-capitalist manner of production to that of industrial capitalism. First, we refute the assumption that culture determines work ethics. Second, we show that when a society industrializes, its notions of work ethics and time perception change; we then show how China’s industrialization impacts its approaches to operations in Africa. Third, we use two case studies of Chinese investments in Tanzania and Ethiopia to illustrate how Chinese managers are changing African workers’ attitudes through time discipline. Finally, we discuss the implications of a convergence of work ethics between Chinese and Africans.


Tang Xiaoyang

Tsinghua University

Janet Eom