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Special Feature

The Garment Industry in South China

Practising Relational Work
Chong Gao and Khun Eng Kuah-Pearce
p. 25-32


Since the implementation of China’s economic reform and opening-up policy at the end of the 1970s, garment manufacturing for both the domestic and global markets has developed and proliferated quickly in Guangzhou-centred South China. It is believed to be the result of the industrial restructuring of the global apparel commodity chain and a large domestic consumer demand from the Chinese people. Compared with other industries, the garment industry has long been subject to the strong impact of a transitional market economy and, more recently, the increasingly rapid process of marketisation in China. In order to provide a clear sociological conceptualisation of the market economy in the reform era, this paper aims to apply the relational work approach to analysing economic transactions in the garment business, particularly business dealings between garment producers and wholesalers. The focus is on their continued efforts to make appropriate economic arrangements in accordance with specific sets of social relations through continuous relational work. This paper will examine three categories of relational work and the associated economic forms in the making. First, it will explore families and the household economy; second, it will examine relatives and friends and the favour-based economy; and third, it will study strangers and the market economy. Through the use of this relational work framework, this paper will shed light on how the different sets of relational work help us to understand relationships and embeddedness between garment producers and wholesalers in China’s rapidly evolving garment economy.

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Bibliographical reference

Chong Gao and Khun Eng Kuah-Pearce, « The Garment Industry in South China », China Perspectives, 2015/3 | 2015, 25-32.

Electronic reference

Chong Gao and Khun Eng Kuah-Pearce, « The Garment Industry in South China », China Perspectives [Online], 2015/3 | 2015, Online since 01 January 2017, connection on 11 May 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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About the authors

Chong Gao

Chong Gao is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Hong Kong Shue Yan University.Department of Sociology, 10 Wai Tsui Crescent, Braemar Hill, North Point, Hong Kong (

Khun Eng Kuah-Pearce

Khun Eng Kuah-Pearce is professor and head of the School of Arts and Social Sciences at Monash University, Malaysia Campus.School of Arts and Social Sciences, Jalan Lagoon Selatan, 47500 Bandar Sunway, Selangor Darul Ehsan, Malaysia (

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