Managing Expatriates in China: A Language and Identity Perspective

Full information about our research monograph in the Palgrave Studies in Chinese Management series

Managing Expatriates in ChinaManaging Expatriates in ChinaManaging Expatriates in ChinaManaging Expatriates in China

© 2018 Ling Eleanor Zhang, Anne-Wil Harzing, Shea Xuejiao Fan. Published by Palgrave, London, United Kingdom, 225pp. ISBN 978-1137489074 - contact the authors.

Providing fresh perspectives on managing expatriates in the changing host country of China, this book investigates expatriate management from a language and identity angle. The authors’ multilingual and multicultural backgrounds allow them to offer a solid view on the best practices towards managing diverse groups of expatriates, including Western, Indian, and ethnic Chinese employees.

With carefully considered analysis which incorporates micro and macro perspectives, together with indigenous Chinese and Western viewpoints, this book explores topics that include the importance of the host country language, expatriate adjustment, ethnic identity confirmation, acceptance and identity.

The book presents a longitudinal yet contemporary snapshot of the language, culture, and identity realities that multinational corporation subsidiary employees are facing in China in the present decade (2006-2016). It will thus be an invaluable resource for International Management scholars, those involved in HRM and other practitioners, as well as business school lecturers and students with a strong interest in China. 

Table of contents

Contact the authors

  • Front matter: Download from Palgrave website
  • Chapter 1: Introduction, read on Google Books
  • Chapter 2: Setting the scene: expatriates, language and culture in China, read on Google Books
  • Chapter 3: Host country language: why it matters, and why expatriates need to learn it
  • Chapter 4: The impact of host country language skills on expatriate adjustment and the expatriate-local relationship
  • Chapter 5: Gaining acceptance from local colleagues: Evidence from Indian expatriates in China
  • Chapter 6: The double-edged sword of ethnic similarity. One minute video presentation about this work
  • Chapter 7: Conclusion: Expatriate language and identity challenges and recommendations for expatriate management
  • Back matter: Download from Palgrave website    

Book launch

Book launch in Helsinki at the Confucius Institute, University of Helsinki, April 17, 2018.

Journal reviews

The work should mainly appeal to third year management studies undergraduates, MBAs, PhD students, as well as HR professionals, who happen to be interested in China. A good deal of the book is not particularly technical and it is relatively easy to read. This reviewer would strongly recommend this book to anybody interested in the topic of expatriates and expatriation cross-culturally more generally. See here for full review.

Professor Malcolm Warner, Cambridge Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, UK in Asia Pacific Business Review, 24(3): 405-406, 2018.

Overall, this is a timely study and the authors have done a commendable job. The book contributes to an understanding of a range of issues in IB and international HRM, especially with respect to the management of expatriates in MNC subsidiaries in China from the view of both expatriates and local staff. Incorporating extensive references and a detailed index to relevant concepts and theories, this book contains highly interesting theoretical and empirical findings and makes a most useful contribution to research in the field. See here for full review.

Professor Cherrie Jiuhua Zhu, Department of Management, Monash University, Australia, in Asia Pacific Journal of Human Resources, 57(2): 247-248, 2019.

For anyone wondering what life is like to work as an expatriate in China today, this book offers vivid portraits of struggles in language and identity as expatriates interact with the locals within and outside the workplace. Drawing on the practical insights collected from expatriates of different ethnic backgrounds, Zhang, Harzing and Fan present ‘expatriation’ through the lived experiences of those dispatched by multinational corporations (MNCs) to work in China. The narratives are rich and thought-provoking. See here for full review.

Dr. Yu Zheng, School of Management, Royal Holloway University of London, in Journal of International Management, 25(3): 100663, 2019.

As Zhang and her colleagues note, the overarching theme of their research has to do with change—changes in China, changes in expatriation, and the changing identities of expatriates. Building on their research findings and the reality that change is an inherent part of the expatriate experience, they offer several recommendations for MNCs, expatriates, and local managers. Thus, in addition to the research implications stemming from this work, the authors offer valuable sug- gestions for how each of these stakeholders can ensure that expatriates and their local colleagues can successfully work together. I strongly recommend this book for researchers, HR managers of MNCs, and expatriates—especially those who are on assignment in China. See here for full review.

Prof. Margaret A Shaffer, University of Oklahoma, USA, in International Journal of Cross Cultural Management, 19(1) 105–111, 2019.


Like ’peas in a pod’ or not, that could be the background of a host of language and identity problems for expatriates and locals in China, as superbly demonstrated by Managing Expatriates in China: a Language and Identity Perspective on Expatriation Success which is the new book by Ling Eleanor Zhang, Anne-Wil Harzing and Shea Xuejiao Fan. Having researched these issues myself in China and having lived and worked for almost two decades as an expatriate academic in Chinese dominated societies, I can attest to the high relevance and authenticity of the core problem areas dealt with in this volume. And, the concluding recommendations for MNCs, expatriates and local employees are indispensable reading.

Professor Jan Selmer, Founding Editor-in-Chief, Journal of Global Mobility: The Home of Expatriate Management Research

A book about expatriates’ language and identity struggles when working in China has been needed for a long time. My own experience living and working in Shanghai as a visiting scholar in 2011-12 attests to the difficulties non-Asians face in managing their work life in a contemporary Chinese context. At last, Zhang, Harzing and Fan – experts with a genuinely global background and extensive experience - tackle this important topic with an impressive array of research and practical insight. This is a groundbreaking book, essential for anyone studying expatriation in Asia, and China more specifically, and for those considering to live there. A timely and much-needed book, this is a worthy and significant addition to the bookshelves of scholars and managers alike.

Dr. Yvonne McNulty, Singapore University of Social Sciences, and Founder of Expat Research (

This is an interesting, excellent and informative book which has succeeded in unravelling the challenges both expatriates and MNCs experience operating in the Chinese context. It should be of great interest to both students and practitioners.

Professor Pawan Budhwar, 50th Anniversary Professor of International HRM, Aston University, United Kingdom

This book is a delightful read. With a mix of survey results and detailed examples the authors give voice to expatriates of different ethnic backgrounds in China. They also analyze expatriate-local interactions, which I found truly illuminating and insightful. This book shows that language remains a critical component of expatriate management in various host countries.

Professor Rebecca Piekkari, Aalto University, Finland

Drawing on several studies based on data collected from expatriates, local employees, and HR managers, the book discusses a number of important but unexamined issues at the forefront of contemporary management in a global context. The authors offer a fascinating and thoughtful exploration of the role of language and identity for expatriates’ integration and acceptance, and their broader implications for interactions among employees and MNC functioning. Focusing on MNCs and their employee operating in China, the findings of this research offer both contextual insights and universal lessons on managing mobility. It is an essential read for all readers interested in global HRM.

Associate Professor Mila Lazarova, Canada Research Chair, Simon Fraser University, Canada

In a world of increasing cross-border exchange, especially with the fast global expansion of Chinese economy and enterprises, this book offers timely and deep insights on how expatriates can effectively function in China. To which extent should expatriates need to learn local languages to be effective? How should expatiates manage one’s “ambiguous identities” in intercultural interaction? These important questions have generated interests and debates for IB scholars and practitioners alike, yet have not been convincingly answered so far. Building on solid research with data collected from a wide range of sources and countries, the authors elegantly shed light on these important themes with well-balanced academic rigor and practical advice. I strongly recommend it to individuals and organizations that are interested in managing expatriates in a changing China.

Associate Professor Yih-teen Lee, IESE Business School, Spain

This book challenges assumptions about the role language plays in the multinational organization. Through a rich dataset, the authors open our eyes to the complex social and psychological functions of language. They uncover the deeper meanings of language choice held by expatriates and host country nationals that, until now, have been overlooked. This research is sure to be a conversation-changer for scholars and global managers!

Associate Professor Soo Min Toh, University of Toronto, Canada

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