We examine how organizational ecology and the strategic choice perspective can be combined to provide more contextualized insights into how multinational corporations (MNCs) can better counter environmental pressures with evolving subnational FDI legitimacy and improve the survival likelihood of their subsidiaries. We consider three organizational identity-based strategic choices, i.e., country-of-origin (COO) agglomeration, expatriate staffing level and subsidiary ownership level. We hypothesize a U-shaped relationship between FDI legitimacy and subsidiary mortality, and that this relationship will be moderated by the level of COO agglomeration at a subnational level. We also hypothesize that with improving FDI legitimacy, the use of higher levels of expatriates and ownership will jeopardize the survival of larger subsidiaries. A longitudinal dataset (2001–2016) for 3025 subsidiaries formed by 1147 Japanese MNCs in China was used in hypothesis testing. Results largely supported our hypotheses. We discuss how an identity-centered approach can contribute to theory and practice.