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A systematic review on the internationalization of Chinese SMEs: thematic expansion, new impulses and potential avenues for future research

Fabian Hänle (Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium; Antwerp Management School, Antwerp, Belgium and Blickle Castors (Taicang) Co. Ltd., Suzhou, China)
Bart Cambré (Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium; Antwerp Management School, Antwerp, Belgium and Blickle Castors (Taicang) Co. Ltd., Suzhou, China)
Stefanie Weil (Faculty of Business and Economics, University of Antwerp, Antwerp, Belgium; Antwerp Management School, Antwerp, Belgium and Blickle Castors (Taicang) Co. Ltd., Suzhou, China)

Journal of Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies

ISSN: 2053-4604

Article publication date: 16 September 2021

Issue publication date: 1 December 2022

293

Abstract

Purpose

Supplementing an earlier review paper on the internationalization of Chinese small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) (ICS) that covers the period 1991–2012, the purpose of this paper is to examine how research on this topic has thematically expanded in recent years. Specifically, the authors aim to examine the literature between 2013 and 2020, highlight advancements and synthesize potential avenues for future research.

Design/methodology/approach

Based on the systematic literature review method (Denyer and Tranfield, 2009; Kraus et al., 2020), the authors considered more than 5,700 peer-reviewed journal articles, of which 107 were included in the narrative synthesis.

Findings

Research on the ICS has become more widespread and mature in the period since 2013. First, there are more papers investigating firm-level characteristics and sources of internal capabilities. Second, the state of knowledge regarding social networks and institutional contexts in the internationalization process has increased. Consequently, new knowledge exists regarding push and pull patterns and the role China’s institutional environment is playing. Third, growing interest can be noted in studying entrepreneurship in the context of Chinese SMEs’ global expansion. Additionally, the paper exposes promising areas for future research and suggests more than 20 potential research questions.

Originality/value

This review in the growing debate on the ICS is the first of its kind that consciously drives the work of a previous review study forward. This enables tracking the progress of research (“mapping of the field”) and identifying important avenues for future research that can further advance the debate. The comprehensive review also discovered one relatively new variable – the role of Chinese returnee entrepreneurs – which shows the significant influence on SME internationalization and attracts growing scholarly attention.

Keywords

Citation

Hänle, F., Cambré, B. and Weil, S. (2022), "A systematic review on the internationalization of Chinese SMEs: thematic expansion, new impulses and potential avenues for future research", Journal of Entrepreneurship in Emerging Economies, Vol. 14 No. 6, pp. 1188-1228. https://doi.org/10.1108/JEEE-05-2021-0197

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2021, Emerald Publishing Limited

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