Doing Business in China 2020 - Harvard Business School MBA Program

Doing Business in China

Course Number 1575

Professor William C. Kirby
Spring; Q3; 1.5 credits
14 Sessions

As China rebalances from an investment- to a consumption-driven economy, what are the opportunities for entrepreneurs? How do foreign businesses succeed and fail in what is still the world's most dynamic economy? How do Chinese entrepreneurs move across private and public sectors? How do Chinese firms (private and state-run) "go global," and what are the opportunities for their international partners? What are the different roles of government-local, provincial, and national-in shaping the business landscape? How have family businesses come to thrive in an economy where the state still plays a large role? What are the opportunities in Hong Kong and Taiwan, as the world of "greater China" grows more integrated economically? And what difference will the 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-2020) make in all these areas? In short, where is China going-economically and politically-and how can you take part in its continued rise?

Course Overview

This course addresses these and other questions as it prepares Harvard Business School students for a lifetime of inescapable engagement with China. It is built around a sequence of new field cases, ranging from internet startups to revitalized SOEs, across a wide range of geographical and product markets. A new series of technical notes address the cultural, economic, political, labor, resource and environmental contexts that shape the business environment. Leading China observers and CEOs of major Chinese firms will visit the class.

Through cases, notes, discussion, and research, students explore the opportunities and risks of international and Chinese business in China and the outward expansion of Chinese firms. Special attention is paid to the markets and opportunities across "Greater China" (including Hong Kong and Taiwan). Key issues include:

  • The central role of politics in business: how well do you know your Party Secretary?
  • The evolution of Chinese state-owned enterprises into modern corporations operating in the global economy
  • The rapid rise of private enterprise and the specific challenges facing start-ups
  • The special and evolving characteristic of China's capital markets and related risks
  • Strategies for protecting and developing intellectual property
  • The range of opportunities and constraints posed by remaining gaps in Chinese infrastructure (in areas such as credit ratings, cold chain operations, etc
  • The emergence of an increasingly powerful middle class and its impact on the consumer market and corporate social responsibility.


This course is suitable for any student interested in understanding emerging markets, government-business relations, and the impact of China's remarkable economic and political transformation on international business. No prior knowledge or experience with China's business environment is required.