This study aims to clarify the major influences shaping the careers of Mainland Chinese school principals. In so doing, it further seeks to explore the part played by the PRC’s societal culture in the process of career shaping, and to explore whether stages are recognisable by which their careers can be framed. The study is directed by two main research questions: First, what factors influence the careers of primary and secondary school principals in the PRC? Second, can their careers be conceptualised into stages? \ud Methodologically, the study adopts an interpretivist paradigm and a qualitative approach, using the social theory of symbolic interactionism to underpin its assumptions. Life-history data in relation to their careers were collected from eleven middle and four primary school PRC school principals through semi-structured interviews. Participant principals were selected on the basis of purposive sampling. Coding of the data was followed by categorisation of the generated codes into career-influencing themes. \ud Four main career-influencing themes emerged from the data. The first is Family Background, especially aspects of family socio-economic standing, and familial environment and expectations with regard to education. The second is Political Dimension - with the sub-themes of politically-driven contexts, Party-membership, subservience towards Party dictates, and a strong presence of a politically charged environment. The third is Significant Strategies/Means/Competencies with the sub-themes of Guanxi, qualifications (academic and professional); Nengli (teaching-cum-managing competency), and harmonious working relationships with others. The fourth is Circumstances, with the aspect of institutional enrolment processes, and a combination of factors that include a proclivity for book learning, timely opportunities and limited options, as its subthemes. \ud The role of the PRC’s societal culture as mediated by the above themes and their effects on the careers of the respondents were identified using the dimensions in Walker and Dimmock’s framework for gauging the impact of societal culture on school management. \ud Finally, a model of the influences on the careers of PRC school principals, and three frameworks on their career-stages were generated from the data
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