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Crossing Boundaries Through Intercultural Communication

“Where do you come from?” People commonly pose this question to CCSU Professor of Communication Yanan Ju in his travels—some 50 trips between China and the US in the past decade to do research and visit family. It never fails to give him pause.

Ju comes literally from his native Shanghai and is a US citizen. He comes from CCSU and from an intellectual perspective that has driven him to write or co-author over a dozen books in English or Chinese on a variety of subjects and topics ranging from cultural, communication, and Chinese studies to art and literature. He is also a translator and novelist. And, in April 2011, he wrote the script of a multi-media historical play, Qu Yuan; the title character was a cabinet member in the Chu Kingdom of China’s Warring States period 475–221 BC.

Ju decided to address the facets of his own identity in his latest book, Don’t Ask Where I Came From—A Book of Essays (Shanghai, Fudan University Press, August 2010). He describes the personal essays as “the voices from my heart.” He elaborates, “I’m often confused about where I’m from. Each time I go back to China, where I grew up, I see a lot of changes. Some I love and others are disturbing, like the 3,000 high-rises in Shanghai.” The essays address such existential questions as the joys and sorrows of being human and what “living afar” means to Ju.

The book also examines the “home of scholars,” a place Ju has inhabited for so long that he is able to detail what he believes dictates good scholarship. He elaborates, “I think a scholar needs to have an independent mind, possess a critical eye, be a truth-seeker looking for something new to say, and break away from stock paradigms by being informed of the scholarship produced in other corners of the world.”

Ju’s own scholarship has had an impact in China as well as in the US. His Principles of Public Relations in Chinese by Fudan University Press has sold 1.5 million copies. When the first edition appeared in 1989, it was a pioneering work because public relations was a new concept in China. A graduate from Fudan University, where he taught in the mid-1980s at its prestigious School of Journalism, Ju is credited with playing a leading role in laying the foundation for the growth of public relations as a field of academic research and as a profession in mainland China.

For the past five years, Ju has been intrigued with the concept of “relational humanism,” which resulted in a 2006 book titled Relationship Management: An Integrated Approach (Fudan University Press).

“Public relations as relationship management can be measured at the human and person-toperson levels,” explains Ju. “Managing relationships in a variety of contexts—person to person, organizations to organization, and nation to nation—covers such dimensions as emotions, power, conflict and change.”

Ju’s next research project, which he intends to turn into a book with the working title, China: A Learning Country, aims to document his newly developed concept that China has become, exemplarily so, a Learning Country for the past 30 years or so.

“A Learning Country is defined as one that encourages and facilitates the learning of its institutions and its people, and continuously transforms itself in order to survive and prosper in a fast-changing and shrinking world,” he explains. Ju proposes four qualifying conditions for China to be considered a Learning Country: a historically learning culture; a hard-learning people; a pragmatically-oriented fast-learning government; and a reluctant, and yet pressured from- head-to-toe, learning political system including the Chinese Communist Party.

Ju’s research objective? “China’s ascendance should not be viewed as a ‘death threat’ to the United States or other competing (and collaborating) countries, nor should it be bragged about as the ‘best’ development model,” he says.

“China, with all its successes and failures weighed, has been no more and no less than a Learning Country, an exemplary one, one that begs to be documented and critically examined.”

The four China books Ju has authored and co-authored since the early 1990s when he joined the CCSU faculty have laid a foundation for the current project.

Ju says that China’s ascendancy to the world spotlight has not been just an economic phenomenon. “Many of the told stories about its cultural, moral, and political repercussions have become so inviting to scholars and practitioners across a variety of disciplines that the Chinese studies field has become very crowded, though not without contradictory propositions and opposing conclusions,” he observes. With his unique position as an insider looking from the outside and with his outstanding publishing record, Ju hopes to contribute substantive and new knowledge to better global understanding of China.