Understanding Chinese public relations education: A critical and cultural perspective

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Public relations entered China in the 1980s. Formal education in public relations started in the 1980s. The field has experienced evolutionary changes over the past 2 decades. However, not much scholarly attention has been paid to this area of research. The most notable article that examines Chinese public relations education was published in 1994. After more than 10 years, it is disheartening to note that no published works have updated the status quo of Chinese public relations education. Within this context, the present study undertakes the initiative to offer a rich account of and a critical and cultural analysis of Chinese public relations education. Specially, the purpose of this dissertation was to understand how Chinese public relations educators, students, and practitioners make meaning of Chinese public relations education through the theoretical lens of the circuit of culture model and within the context of Confucianism.

The present study adopts qualitative methodology as the means to explore the study's research questions. It employs two concrete qualitative methods--in-depth interview and focus groups. Participants were selected from three major cities in China: Beijing, Shanghai, and Hang Zhou, which host the major of universities and colleges that offer public relations programs, majors, or concentrations. Forty-nine people took part in the present study, including 34 in-depth interviews--20 interviews with public relations educators, 7 with practitioners, and 7 with students--and two focus groups with 7 students and 8 students in each group.

Specifically, the study aims to answer two research questions: 1) How does the circuit of culture model help explore and understand the tensions, complexities, and contradictions implicit in Chinese public relations educators', practitioners', and students' meaning making of Chinese public relations education? How does the model help understand the interplay of culture, power, and identity, within which context participants negotiate and construct meanings and identities for Chinese public relations education? 2) What is the role of Confucianism in Chinese public relations education? To what extent and in what aspects have Confucian values influenced participants' understanding of Chinese public relations education?

Research findings offer insights into the above research questions. Most interestingly, the findings help identify a hybrid identity for Chinese public relations education, which is neither purely Chinese nor American but a combination of values from both countries. This finding calls for a changed mindset to approach the relationship between Chinese and U.S. public relations scholarly communities from a dichotomous either-or to an embracing both-and mindset. The findings also help update and enrich the existing literature on Chinese public relations education, respond to the timely call for diversifying public relations scholarship in the U.S., and complicate and modify the existing circuit of culture model. The culmination of the study also helps identify possible avenues in which Confucianism can serve as a potential philosophy guiding public relations education and practice.