Liu, Xiaohong and Alan C. McKinnon

Theory development in China-based supply chain management research: A literature review

The International Journal of Logistics Management, 27 (3): 1001-972, (2016).

Copy reference link   DOI: 10.1108/IJLM-07-2015-0119

Abstract: Purpose Although well established in North America and Europe, the study of supply chain management (SCM) is still at a relatively early stage in its development in China. The transformation and rapid growth of the Chinese economy has, nevertheless, created major supply chain challenges for the country making SCM a very fertile area of business research. In Western countries, research on SCM is now mature and underpinned by a solid body of theory. The purpose of this paper is to examine the extent to which research on SCM in China has also developed a theoretical basis. Design/methodology/approach The research involved a systematic review of 150 papers published in 18 journals in the fields of SCM, logistics, operations management and marketing during the period 2004-2014. A three-step process was adopted to select appropriate journals, identify relevant articles and classify them in terms of their theoretical content. Findings The study has confirmed that, because of its unique economic, political and cultural setting, supply chain development in China has presented new research challenges. Many examples were found of researchers conducting quasi-experiments to test the applicability of established theories to Chinese supply chains while others have tried to develop new ones that are more closely aligned with the Chinese economy and management practices. Researchers have exhibited a heavy reliance on existing theories, with relatively few attempting to customise them to the Chinese context or to construct new ones. Research limitations/implications Given the broad scope of SCM, it is possible that the journal and paper selection processes have accidentally screened out relevant papers. The total sample of papers is, nevertheless, large for an explorative study of this type and should, therefore, give an overall impression of the level of theory development in Chinese SCM research. Practical implications This study provides a general framework within which to assess the application and development of theories in the Chinese SCM context. It is principally concerned with three components: the SCM phenomena studied, the Chinese business environment and the theoretical contribution of the research. The paper is targeted more at an academic audience than practitioners, though provides an overview of the research so far undertaken on SCM in China that should be of wider interest. Originality/value This study is the first of its kind to review China-based SCM research systematically from the perspective of theory development. It should support the evolution of SCM theory not only in China but also more generally.

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