The paper presents the results of a survey of Italian firms in China, with particular reference to the automotive industry. The analysis focuses on the province of Guangdong and includes the characteristics of the local labour market, the selection of employees and working conditions. These factors are explored using case studies of two plants, Piaggio in Donguann and Magneti Marelli in Guangzhou (Canton). Taking the experience of these two companies as our starting point, we describe the evolution of the presence of Italian companies in Guangdong over the last twenty years. The case studies seek to ascertain the role of work organisation as a factor favouring localisation of production in China, above and beyond considerations relating to the low cost of labour and growth targets for local markets.