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Alibaba (2018 – 2019)

“Even if the sky were collapsing, you could use it as a quilt.”

“Today’s best performance is tomorrow’s baseline.”

“I don’t need work–life balance because my work is all of my life.”

Previous research on the corporate culture construction in China primarily highlights how Chinese firms draw on its traditional culture and socialist heritages as two crucial intellectual resources. The highly marketised high-tech sector with declining employment security and changing political environment renders a new context and dual process for the ‘engineering’ of corporate culture in China’s platform economy. An ethnographic study of Alibaba unveils the resources the management draws on to construct its culture, including not only the founder’s entrepreneurial stories but also the economic and social changes allegedly brought by Alibaba’s platforms and technologies. This research theorises a new tripartite state–employer–employee relationship manifested through corporate culture by showcasing how the discourses of market meritocracy in China’s reform era and national renaissance based on technological progressivism have both fuelled the corporate culture construction, delineating its simultaneous yet paradoxical decoupling from and recoupling with the national political discourse in China’s high-tech industries.

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