Yuezhi Zhao: Communications trailblazer
Learning how the different corners of the world see each other and themselves
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.