Simulated home: an effective cross-cultural adjustment model for Chinese expatriates

Published date27 April 2020
Date27 April 2020
AuthorHao Huang,Hong Liu,Xin Huang,Yusen Ding
Subject MatterHR & organizational behaviour,Industrial/labour relations,Employment law
Simulated home: an effective
cross-cultural adjustment model
for Chinese expatriates
Hao Huang, Hong Liu and Xin Huang
School of Journalism and Communication, Guangxi University, Nanning, China, and
Yusen Ding
Guangxi Institute of Political and Economic Studies on Southeast Asia,
Nanning, China
Purpose The purpose of this study is to explore the adjustment model of expatriates in overseas projects by
studying two overseas projects of a Chinese state-owned enterprise.
Design/methodology/approach Basedon the grounded theory, qualitative analysis was performed based
on data compiled from 116 pieces of project briefings, 105 questionnaires answered by expatriate workers and
21 interviews conducted to those workers based on briefings and questionnaires.
Findings The study found that the simulated home is a standard cross-cultural adjustment model for
expatriates in Chinese engineering projects, which are project-oriented and often inattentive to employees
individual rights. The simulated home creates a unique work-place and social environment similar to that of
expatriateshome country in the cultural setting of the host country, but it also establishes a cultural barrier,
limiting the communication between expatriates and the local people, which is not conducive to the cultural
exchange between the two sides, causing cultural clashes and consequently hindering the progress of projects.
Originality/value This research puts forward the model of simulated home.And this study bears
significance to the cross-cultural adjustment of expatriate workers in Chinese overseas projects.
Keywords Simulated home, Chinese expatriates, Expatriate management, Expatriate a Introduction
Paper type Research paper
After China joined the WTO in 2001, mainland companies are witnessing a rise in the
number of dispatching employees to overseas cooperative projects. Over the years,
workers being dispatched are shifting from predominantly labor workers and technicians
to highly skillful engineers, medical professionals and other workers specialized in
aviation maintenance, software development and application, engineering design
consultation, supervision, and other senior management. According to data published
by the Ministry of Commerce, by the end of December 2017, China had sent a total of 9.022
million workers to international cooperation. These workers were mainly engaged in three
major industries: construction, manufacturing, and transportation, accounting for 73.3%
of the total number (Ministry of Commerce of the PRC, 2018). The rest were involved in
hospitality, science, education, culture, health and sports, agriculture, forestry, animal
husbandry and fishery, computer services and software industries. Host countries include
mainly Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Sudan, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Panama, Angola and
Drawing from the past projects, it is worth mentioning that expatriates adaptation to the
environment in the host country has positive correlation with their performance at work.
Research has shown that expatriates face a variety of challenges related to life and work
during their tenure abroad (Black et al., 1991). Michael Harvey and Nick F
orster show that
cultural adjustment is an essential aspect of success in working abroad (Forster, 1997;
Harvey, 1996).
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
Received 29 September 2019
Revised 20 January 2020
19 March 2020
Accepted 25 March 2020
Employee Relations: The
International Journal
Vol. 42 No. 4, 2020
pp. 1017-1042
© Emerald Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/ER-09-2019-0378
Meanwhile, scholars in mainland China focus more on the cross-cultural adaptation of
Chinese immigrants and Chinese international students (Bierwiaczonek and Waldzus, 2016).
Cross-cultural adaptation of international students in China is another research direction (An
and Chiang, 2015). In recent years, with the going out of Chinese enterprises and the
implementation of ChinasBelt and Road Initiative,the cross-cultural adjustment of
Chinese enterprisesexpatriates has gradually attracted the attention of scholars. However,
the current research of Chinese scholars mostly focuses on testing and analyzing existing
theories (Haasis and Liefner, 2019), and innovation based on Chinas social conditions is
rarely seen (Fei and Liao, 2019;Lai et al., 2019).
Most of the previous studies are based on Black et al., and the psychological adjustment of
expatriates is another research focus. However, few people pay attention to the cross-cultural
adjustment strategies adopted by Chinese expatriates or Chinese enterprises in host
countries. Chinese culture is considered to be based on Confucianism. Confucian ethics is
essentially humanistic, obligation-based, and collectivist (Ip, 1996,2009). In addition, the
Chinese tend to solve problems in small societies or family groups (Chataway and Berry,
1989;Lin and Zhao, 2016). Due to the differences between Chinese cultural norms and western
ones (Ai-li and Freedman, 1970;Brewer and Chen, 2007;Chuang et al., 2015;Markus and
Kitayama, 1991), cross-cultural adjustment should be dealt with differently (Lin and
Zhao, 2016).
The design of this study had been based on the pursuit of a special cross-cultural
adjustment model in the overseas project departments of Chinese enterprises. By analyzing
the cross-cultural adjustment status of expatriates and enterprisescross-cultural adjustment
strategies, a cross-cultural adjustment model of expatriates was proposed, and its functions
were analyzed.
In this study, it was found that to make overseas projects successful, Chinese enterprises
would generally simulate the domestic environment or create a simulated homein the host
country. Studies have also shown that social support systems can relieve individual stress
(Blue and Blue, 1983;McCrae, 1984). Chinese state-owned enterprises have a tradition of
undertaking social responsibility. The enterprise provides necessary support for the life
needs of employees. Social support can be found in many large companies in China. For
example, Chinese state-owned enterprises would set up family quarters, schools, hospitals,
and markets near the factory so that employees could meet all their daily needs without
leaving the factory. Workers can be working in the factory for a long time without feeling
alienated. Similarly, for expatriate workers, being in a simulated domestic environment
enables them to adapt in groups through social support.
The subject of this study is a subsidiary of a state-owned top five electric power company.
Since 2009, before the unveiling of Belt and Road Initiative,the company has been
searching for project opportunities overseas, because it encountered disguised
unemployment in its domestic market and had to seek overseas projects to maintain the
regular operation of the company. The company has completed projects in Turkey, Sudan
and Indonesia and is working on projects in Bangladesh. In this study, the Sudan project and
Indonesia project were selected owing to the fact that ChinasBelt and Road Initiative
makes substantial investment in Africa and Southeast Asia, and consequently a large
number of expatriate workers were sent to Sudan and Indonesia. Therefore, the projects in
these two countries are selected in this study as representative.
In the research of expatriate workers by western scholars, workers were considered to be
living in expatriate bubblewhere they could have psychological acclimatization and cross-
cultural adjustment. Meanwhile, studies on Chinese immigrants and international students

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