abstract In a qualitative interview study, 20 Hong Kong Chinese informants were asked to report stories about colleagues who were either ‘good soldiers’ or ‘good actors’. In stories about good soldiers, informants attributed their colleagues' organizational citizenship behaviour (OCB) primarily to prosocial or pro‐organizational motives. Informants' stories about good actors broke down into three major subcategories of citizenship‐related impression management: OCB attributed primarily to impression management motives; alleged pseudo‐OCB concomitant with minimal compliance; and alleged pseudo‐OCB concomitant with counterproductive behaviour. When distinguishing good soldiers from good actors, informants adopted two criteria for attribution: wilful behavioural inconsistency, i.e. low... generality of behaviour across contexts; and alleged false pretence, i.e. discrepancy between claims or allusions and actual deeds. Our findings partially supported a prior hypothesis from attribution theory, that consistency was a criterion for attribution, but indicated that consensus, i.e. correspondence between the focal colleague's behaviour and other employees' behaviour, failed to differentiate good soldiers from good actors. Informants generally regarded OCB as socially desirable only when it was attributed primarily to prosocial/pro‐organizational motives.