The influence of geographical indications on quality in the Chinese agrifood system
: how power relationships influence agrifood quality development processes in China when GIs are present

  • Xing Zhao

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    In the last two decades, the production of agrifood products in China has increased dramatically. However, accompanied with rapidly rising quantity, many food scandals were reported. For example, nearly 53,000 children in China were made ill by contaminated milk powder with the industrial chemical melamine in 2008 and an illegal additive used to make some soft drinks for more than ten years was exposed in 2011. To support consumer confidence in the safety of the food supply following numerous “food scares” and to protect rural incomes, developing a “quality” strategy in the contemporary Chinese agrifood market is becoming a topic of political argument and of the focus of research. Firstly, in the face of many food scandals over the last two decades, Chinese consumers are looking for “quality” agrifood products to meet their daily needs. Secondly, Chinese farmers have struggled to adopt a viable way to increase their incomes, pressured by strong market competition. Thirdly, the Chinese government has realised that improving rural incomes and thus reducing the urban and rural income gap may be essential for China’s long-term economic security and social stability. Against this backdrop, the GI system which links agrifood quality and production origins tightly has become an attractive issue in the Chinese agrifood sector.

    Attention paid to the GI system often relates to the notion of “quality” as GI schemes are often perceived as a means of helping producers to receive higher incomes through raising product quality in the market. Therefore, the emphasis on quality is central to this thesis. In particular, the aim of this research is to evaluate the effectiveness of GIs in terms of developing agrifood quality in contemporary China. As little similar research has been undertaken, this thesis makes a conceptual, methodological and empirical contribution to knowledge in this research area.

    By tracing the historical root of the “quality” concept from a management perspective and reviewing different researchers’ opinion on agrifood quality, the thesis draws a key conceptual framework for “agrifood quality” based on socio-economic theory, a network approach and concentrating on power relationships between diverse actors. It indicates that “agrifood quality” cannot be defined based only on production or consumption aspects but can be understood or analysed through exploring power relationships between different actors within quality forming processes based on a given context. Accordingly, focusing on the power relationships, three agrifood systems, namely the industrial agrifood system, the alternative agrifood networks and GI networks, and three GI networks in developed countries, namely Cassis wine, Parma ham and Florida citrus, demonstrate how power relationships influence quality meanings and quality forming processes in different agrifood sectors.

    After reviewing the relevant literature and examining the context of the Chinese agrifood sector, the thesis uses three cases to analyse the quality forming process in the Chinese GI system by adopting documentary techniques and conducting semi-structured interviews. Following the three GI networks, the results show the development of Chinese GI networks is driven by a government with the intention to raise farm and rural incomes rather than in response to consumers’ quality requirements, and consequently there remains a focus on economic rather than quality concerns. “Basic” GI standards, inappropriate GI issuing procedures and weak government enforcement on securing quality based on GI standards are becoming unavoidable results. Therefore, an overall conclusion argues that the quality of Chinese GI products cannot be secured by Chinese GI schemes alone.
    Date of Award2012
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University
    SupervisorDonald Finlay (Supervisor), Moya Kneafsey (Supervisor) & Jeff Clowes (Supervisor)


    • GIs
    • Quality
    • Power Relationships
    • Chinese agrifood sector
    • Chinese GI system

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