Yuezhi Zhao: Com­mu­ni­ca­tions trail­blazer

Learn­ing how the dif­fer­ent cor­ners of the world see each other and them­selves

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS CANADA - By JUS­TINE HUANG and NI­COLE CHOW in Van­cou­ver For China Daily

As a pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity, Yuezhi Zhao has in­spired many from both Canada and China to view how the world com­mu­ni­cates from new per­spec­tives.

Zhao has spent years re­search­ing how dif­fer­ent me­dia sys­tems are shaped by political, eco­nomic and cul­tural fac­tors and how the me­dia shapes pol­i­tics and cul­ture.

“On the one hand, I look at the roles of the me­dia and in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy in shap­ing the cur­rent global political and eco­nomic or­der, in­clud­ing our ev­ery­day lives,” she ex­plained.

“On the other hand, I look at how cur­rent global power re­la­tion­ships — like in­equal­ity be­tween the de­vel­oped and de­vel­op­ing coun­tries — shape the de­vel­op­ment of me­dia in­sti­tu­tions, as well as the dis­tri­bu­tion of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy.”

Zhao was born in the small vil­lage of Yan­shanxia, now part of Heyang vil­lage, in south­east­ern China’s Zhe­jiang prov­ince. She at­tended the Bei­jing Broad­cast­ing In­sti­tute to study jour­nal­ism at the age of 15 and grad­u­ated with her BA in 1984. Her in­ter­est in me­dia and com­mu­ni­ca­tion re­search led her to a mas­ter’s and PhD in com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity in Canada.

Shortly af­ter grad­u­a­tion, Zhao was of­fered an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor­ship in com­mu­ni­ca­tions at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, San Diego in 1997. In 2000, she re­turned to Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity to ad­vance her aca­demic ca­reer and join her hus­band and daugh­ter in Van­cou­ver.

Over the next decade, in ad­di­tion to teach­ing, Zhao served on edi­to­rial boards of var­i­ous aca­demic jour­nals, in­clud­ing Pa­cific Affairs, Global Me­dia and Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the Har­vard In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Press/ Pol­i­tics, the In­ter­na­tional Jour­nal of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the Asian Jour­nal of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and the Chi­nese Jour­nal of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion.

Zhao’s re­search cov­ers jour­nal­ism and pol­i­tics in North Amer­ica, me­dia and glob­al­iza­tion, com­mu­ni­ca­tion and global power shifts, as well as the political, eco­nomic, and so­cio-cul­tural di­men­sions of China’s me­dia and com­mu­ni­ca­tion sys­tems, as well as the im­pact that glob­al­iza­tion has on each of th­ese di­men­sions.

Zhao has writ­ten more than 150 aca­demic ar­ti­cles, made key­note speeches at in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ences, lec­tured at univer­si­ties in many parts of the world, and pub­lished books both in English and Chi­nese. Some of her ti­tles in­clude: Com­mu­ni­ca­tio­nandSo­ci­ety:Political (in Chi­nese, 2011), Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Power,andCon­flict (2008), and Glob­alCom­mu­ni­ca­tions:To­ward aTran­scul­tur­alPo­lit­i­calE­con­omy (co-edited, 2008).

Among Zhao’s on­go­ing re­search projects is a com­par­a­tive anal­y­sis of CNN, BBC, China Cen­tral Tele­vi­sion (CCTV) and Al Jazeera news cov­er­age. The study ad­dresses is­sues like the im­pact of glob­al­iza­tion on me­dia, ho­mog­e­niza­tion ver­sus na­tional and re­gional dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion and the ex­tent to which CCTV or Al Jazeera of­fer al­ter­na­tive per­spec­tives on the world.

In May 2014, Zhao be­came the first fe­male and per­son of colour to re­ceive the C. Ed­win Baker Award for the Ad­vance­ment of Schol­ar­ship on Me­dia, Mar­kets and Democ­racy at the In­ter­na­tional Com­mu­ni­ca­tion As­so­ci­a­tion congress in Seat­tle.

The Baker award rec­og­nizes work that has made sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tions to the de­vel­op­ment, reach and in­flu­ence of such schol­ar­ship. In Novem­ber 2013, she was honored with the Dal­las Smythe Award by the Union for Demo­cratic Com­mu­ni­ca­tion for her out­stand­ing con­tri­bu­tions to the me­dia.

Zhao has also been keep­ing her­self busy in her role as the found­ing di­rec­tor of a dou­ble mas­ter’s de­gree pro­gram taught jointly at Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity and the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Univer­sity of China.

Com­bin­ing cour­ses, re­search pa­pers and field place­ment in both Canada and China, the pro­gram’s goal, as Zhao put it, “is to of­fer more than just an am­bi­tious and in­no­va­tive aca­demic cur­ricu­lum.” In­stead, “we want to give stu­dents a trans­for­ma­tional ex­pe­ri­ence that en­riches their global cul­tural knowl­edge and learn­ing.”

The pro­gram was launched in 2014 and the first co­hort of 10 stu­dents grad­u­ated in 2015.

The dou­ble- de­gree pro­gram re­ceived a gold prize for ed­u­ca­tional ex­cel­lence at the Canada-Chi­nese Busi­ness Coun­cil’s 4th Canada-China Busi­ness Ex­cel­lence Awards in 2014.

Last sum­mer, Zhao and 12 re­searchers from Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity and the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Univer­sity of China went to her home vil­lage in China to con­duct a three-week ethno­graphic sur­vey of the vil­lagers’ lives and ex­pe­ri­ences. The pro­ject, en­ti­tled “Global to Vil­lage: Ground­ing Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Re­search in Ru­ral China”, ex­am­ines a whole range of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and cul­tural is­sues through Cana­dian scholar Mar­shall McLuhan’s fa­mous “global vil­lage” con­cept.

One of her stu­dents, Bryon Hauck, whose re­search in­ter­ests lie in “peas­ant en­gage­ment with the global vil­lage”, was “look­ing to find what strate­gies are used to en­able com­mu­ni­ties to main­tain bonds and mean­ing­ful sys­tems.”

Cana­dian born, he found that Chi­nese vil­lagers were pa­tient and “will­ing to en­gage me in tran­scul­tural un­der­stand­ing.”

“Zhao made it all hap­pen,” Hauck said. “Money, re­la­tion­ships, room and board you name it.”

While in Heyang, Zhao launched the Heyang In­sti­tute for Ru­ral Stud­ies where her col­leagues from Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity and other part­ner univer­si­ties in­clud­ing the Univer­sity of West­min­ster in the UK and the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong will be teach­ing cour­ses this sum­mer.

Zhao is also found­ing di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute for Political Econ­omy of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion at the Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Univer­sity of China, where she is the vis­it­ing Changjiang Chair Pro­fes­sor in Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Stud­ies.

“The most ex­cit­ing mo­ment for me is when stu­dents tell me that they’ve never thought about some­thing that way be­fore, never made a con­nec­tion be­tween two things in that way,” said Zhao.

“It’s the way my teach­ing can trans­form their un­der­stand­ing of the world. Of course, through this process, I also hope stu­dents will get a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of their role in the world, and make bet­ter sense of their ev­ery­day lives.”


Yuezhi Zhao, Canada Re­search Chair in the Political Econ­omy of Global Com­mu­ni­ca­tion and pro­fes­sor of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Si­mon Fraser Univer­sity, con­nects China and Canada through her re­search and teach­ing of global com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

Yuezhi Zhao

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