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New Book: Managing Expatriates in China: A Language and Identity Perspective

Ling Eleanor Zhang, Anne-Wil Harzing, Shea Xuejiao Fan

Published by Palgrave, London, United Kingdom, 288pp. ISBN 978-1137489074

In Palgrave Studies in Chinese Management

Series editors: Yingying Zhang & Anne Tsui

Brief Description

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

Chapter 1:    Introduction

Chapter 2:    Setting the scene: expatriates, language and culture in China

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

Chapter 7:    Conclusion: Expatriate language and identity challenges and recommendations for expatriate management


Ling Eleanor Zhang is Lecturer of International Management at the School of Management, Royal Holloway, University of London, UK. A key focus of her research is interaction across boundaries, which is manifested in contexts such as boundary spanning of multicultural employees, social categorisation and conflict management between expatriates and host country employees, and the language challenges employees face within subsidiaries of multinational corporations. Her work has been published in outlets such as Journal of World Business, the International Journal of Human Resource Management, and Cross Cultural and Strategic Management. Her work on bicultural expatriates has been nominated for the British Academy Nayef Al-Rodhan Prize for Transcultural Understanding 2016.

Anne-Wil  Harzing is Professor of International Management at Middlesex University, UK.  Her research interests include international human resource management (HRM), headquarters-subsidiary relationships, the role of language in international business, and the quality and impact of academic research. She has written more than 100 books/book chapters and refereed journal articles in journals such as Journal of International Business Studies, Human Resource Management, Journal of World Business, Management International Review, Organization Studies, and Strategic Management Journal. Her work has received numerous awards and is highly cited: she has been listed on Thomson Reuter’s Essential Science Indicators top 1% most cited academics in Economics & Business worldwide since 2007. Since 1999, she has maintained an extensive website ( with resources for international management and academic publishing, including the Journal Quality List and Publish or Perish, a software program that retrieves and analyses academic citations.

Shea  Xuejiao Fan is Lecturer in International Business at the School of Management at the RMIT University, Australia. She is interested in research on identity and expatriate–host country employee interactions in multinational corporations (MNCs), and identifying the mechanisms when people with diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds interact in an organisational context, such as ethnic identity confirmation, cultural frame switching, and implicit theory related to ethnicity and race. Her work has been published in academic outlets such as Human Resource Management and Journal of World Business, and media outlets such as The Conversation and Australia China Quarterly. She was nominated for the International Theme Committee-Emerald Best International dissertation at the 2015 Academy of Management Annual Conference. Her paper on ethnic identity confirmation, a topic related to Chapter 6 in this book, received the Journal of Global Mobility Best Paper Award at the 2016 EURAM (European Academy of Management) Annual Conference.


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