Leading school change in China: A review of related literature and preliminary investigation

Shaobing TANG, Jiafang LU, Philip HALLINGER

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlespeer-review

27 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Like other nations in Asia, mainland China has undergone continuous reforms in its economic, political and social institutions over the past two decades. These changes are also reflected in its education system, which has been both the target of government reforms and an agent for social change. In this context, China’s Ministry of Education has cast school principals as key actors in leading and managing change in schools at the local level throughout the country. The purpose of this paper is to explore how Chinese school leaders successfully respond to the implementation of educational reform. Design/methodology/approach: In this paper the authors explore how school leaders in one city in South China perceive their roles and actions in fostering successful change. The study employed extensive literature review with qualitative interviews of five school principals who had demonstrated success at leading change in their schools. Findings: The findings of both the literature review and interview study unexpectedly found more similarities than differences between how leaders contribute to successful change in China as compared with the Western literature. Research limitations/implications: The research findings are limited by two main features. First, the sources analyzed in the literature review were of highly varying quality. Moreover, relatively few employed replicable analytical methods capable of generalization. These limitations of the literature mean that the results of the review can only be interpreted as suggestive rather than conclusive. Second, the interview study was framed as an effort to further explore the trends of the literature review. Although the findings from the small-scale interview study were consistent with the broader Chinese literature, the research design suffers form the same limitations as the general literature. Therefore, these findings must also be treated as emergent rather than explanatory. Practical implications: The paper identifies directions for future research and discusses implications for school leaders in implementing educational change in China. Originality/value: The originality of this study lies in its attempt to synthesize a previously inaccessible literature on change leadership in Chinese schools. Despite China’s rising role as a global leader, the literature in educational leadership and management remains sparse and largely unknown to Western scholars. Therefore, the study’s limitations are balanced by the need to provide better descriptions of current practices employed by leaders as they attempt to improve China’s schools. Copyright © 2014 Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)655-675
JournalInternational Journal of Educational Management
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2014


Tang, S., Lu, J., & Hallinger, P. (2014). Leading school change in China: A review of related literature and preliminary investigation. International Journal of Educational Management, 28(6), 655-675.


  • China
  • Asia
  • Leadership
  • School change
  • Educational reform
  • Principal
  • School improvement


Dive into the research topics of 'Leading school change in China: A review of related literature and preliminary investigation'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.