The 3 C’s: Chinese Communication Research should be Critical, Creative and Committed



Brief reflections on the Lanzhou-Dunhuang field trip with junior scholars


This trip was an interesting introduction to the past, present and future of  Chinese Communication Research. It provided us with a balanced mix of academic seminars, on-site visits and cultural encounters.


Dunhuang, with it’s many historical places, exposed us to the rich history of this country and showed us that globalization and multiculturalism have always been part of world civilization. It also showed us the harmonious living-together of different cultures, religions and ethnicities. Dunhuang is the perfect place to study culture in dynamic, creative and forward-looking ways.


Dunhuang is also a good example of what the former UN Secretary General, Perez de Cuellar, as the chair of UNESCO’s World Commission on Culture and Development called “cultural freedom and respect”:  “The basic principle should be the fostering of respect for all cultures whose values are tolerant of others. Respect goes beyond tolerance and implies a positive attitude to other people and a rejoicing in their culture. Social peace is necessary for human development: in turn it requires that differences between cultures be regarded not as something alien and unacceptable or hateful, but as experiments in ways of living together that contain valuable lessons and information for all” (de Cuellar, J.P. (ed.) 1995. ‘Our Creative Diversity’. Report of the World Commission on Culture and Development. Paris: UNESCO, p. 25).


Culture and development are integral, multidimensional, and dialectic processes that differ from society to society, community to community, context to context. In order to attain realistic long-term and hence sustainable level, “development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (World Commission on Environment and Development, WCED). In other words, each society and community must attempt to delineate its own strategy to sustainable development starting with the resources and “capitals” available (not only physical, financial and environmental but also human, social, institutional, cultural etc.), and considering needs and views of the people concerned.


Sustainable Development implies a participatory, multi-stakeholder approach to policy making and implementation, mobilizing public and private resources for development and making use of the knowledge, skills and energy of all social groups concerned with the future of the planet and its people.  Within this framework, communication and information play a strategic and fundamental role by; (a) contributing to the interplay of different development factors, (b) improving the sharing of knowledge and information, and (c) encouraging the participation of all concerned.

It works by:

  • Facilitating participation: giving a voice to different stakeholders to engage in the decision-making process.
  •  Making information understandable and meaningful. It includes explaining and conveying information for the purpose of training, exchange of experience, and sharing of know-how and technology.
  • Fostering policy acceptance: enacting and promoting policies that increase people’s access to services and resources.


Within this framework, communication is viewed as a social process that is not just confined to the media or to messages. Development Communication methods are appropriate in dealing with the complex issues of Sustainable Development in order to:


  • Improve access to knowledge and information to all sectors of society  and especially to vulnerable and marginalized groups;
  • Foster effective management and coordination of development initiatives through bottom-up planning;
  • Address equity issues through networking and social platforms influencing policy-making;
  • Encourage changes in behaviour and life-styles, promoting sustainable consumption patterns through sensitization and education of large audiences;
  • Promote the sustainable use of natural resources considering multiple interests and perspectives, and supporting collaborative management through consultation and negotiation;
  • Increase awareness and community mobilization related to social and environmental issues;
  • Ensure economic and employment opportunities through timely and adequate information;
  • Solve multiple conflicts ensuring dialogue among different components in a society.

Research (the questions addressed, the methods used and the facilities and support made available) cannot be adequately explained or understood apart from the culture within which it developed and operates. This becomes abundantly clear in the history of communication research.


It remains important to reflect on our role as communication scholars as well. . As the late James Halloran, IAMCR’s president from 1972 to 1990, emphasized, we need to raise the right questions in order to get relevant answers: “If the questions are inadequately formulated, the answers obtained from the research are not likely to be valid. Furthermore, if we ask irrelevant questions and then use what might be regarded as sophisticated methods, we may compound the error by giving spurious ‘statistical certainty’ to the findings. Unfortunately, so much in conventional mass communication research consisted of little more than ‘statistically definitive statements’ about the irrelevant, the inconsequential, the trivial and the purely invalid. This was primarily because there was little theoretical underpinning or conceptual refinement – short-term, useful answers were what was required. Yet, in our work, theory could be –should be- the most practical and economic thing at our disposal for, amongst other things, it determines the nature of the questions we ask” (Halloran J. D. , 1981, “The Context of Mass Communication Research”)


Therefore, communication Research, and especially Chinese Communication Research, should study social phenomena from an indigenous, independent and responsible perspective. It should adhere to 3 C’s: being Critical, Creative and socially Committed in its design, execution and reporting of results and recommendations.



Jan Servaes (香港城市大学)