Lehigh’s Globalization and Social Change Initiative (GSCI) held a one-day symposium on Culture, Communication and China. The event, held April 22, drew nearly 120 students and faculty from Lehigh and area colleges, and provided a forum for exploring how China influences today’s global thinking.
The GSCI was founded in 2006 to bring together research and teaching across Lehigh’s four colleges on the economic, social, cultural and political impacts of globalization. John Jirik, who organized the event, says culture, communication and China are relevant topics for an initiative like the GSCI because any attempt to think globally today must take China into account.
“By addressing Chinese culture and communication in the global context, we move beyond trivial understandings of China as an emerging world power, the world’s workshop, the number two global economy, a rising regional military power, etc., to begin to understand the profound way in which China’s deep engagement globally somehow makes us all Chinese in some way,” says Jirik, assistant professor of journalism and communication and a faculty member in the GSCI.
The symposium featured two visiting scholars who explained how complicated domestic debates and complex issues surrounding China create conflicting images of the nation.
Kang Liu, director of Chinese media and communication studies at Duke University and dean of the Institute of Arts and Humanities at China’s Shanghai Jiaotong University (SJTU), examined the global perception of China through media coverage. He cited differing images of China, including China’s self-perception of its peaceful rise and the “Anglo-American” perception of China as a threat.
Different views reflect different values
“China’s rise is already a given, whether or not China has a media image that fits its real image,” Liu said. “Surveys show a conceptual gap between how China sees itself and how the rest of the world sees China.”
Liu also shared results from a 2010 SJTU study he completed titled “China Through American Eyes: Survey of American Public Attitude Towards China,” which showed that there is some improvement among American attitudes toward China, but that views of China reflect differences in values between the two nations.
Also presenting was Zhao Yuezhi, Canada Research Chair in the Political Economy of Global Communication at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia and Changjiang Lecture Professor at the Communication University of China. Her lecture examined the political impact of media commercialization as well as China’s censorship regime, and the assumptions about the targets of that censorship.
“A possible end of the Chinese censorship regime may not reveal a pro-Western Chinese citizenry, let alone a pro-capitalist one,” Zhao said.
The symposium closed with a panel discussion featuring Zhao and Liu, along with Lehigh faculty members including Jirik, Vera Fennell, associate professor of political science, and Zhansui Yu, visiting professor of Chinese.
“The university has installed globalization as one of its grand challenges,” says Jack Lule, director of the GSCI and professor of journalism and communication. “How better to address that challenge than by exploring the relationship between the United States and China through the lens of communication and culture?”