Strategic communication, trust and culture from a paradigmatic-shifting perspective

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Professor Christine Huang Yi-hui
Professor Christine Huang Yi-hui

Professor Christine Huang Yi-hui, Chair Professor of Communication and Media and Associate Dean (Faculty and Research) of the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at City University of Hong Kong (CityU), spoke at the latest talk in the President's Lecture Series, where she discussed the role and importance of trust and culture in strategic communication research.

In her lecture on 2 March titled “Strategic Communication, Trust and Culture: A Cultural and Paradigm-Shifting Perspective”, Professor Huang suggested that since 2000, strategic communication has evolved from communication management in the marketing context to relationship management between organisations and the public, and has gradually moved towards a trust management paradigm.

Professor Huang pointed out that Western strategic communication research in the past lacked localisation theory. Therefore, she added the Chinese cultural context of “face and favour” to the traditional Western concept of the “public-organisation relationship”, organically combining Western academic concepts with localisation practices in Chinese societies.

She cited several examples, including Taiwan's plan to build the fourth nuclear power plant, and proposed a Relational Orientation Framework for the study of Chinese society and culture, including structural relation-centred factors and rational relation-centred factors. This framework is a new interpretation of the Western dichotomy of “collectivism” and “individualism”.

Professor Huang also drew upon the example of COVID-19. According to 16 data sets, consisting of more than 28,000 responses collected by her research team from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, the US and the UK, the public’s trust in organisations is based on their ability, benevolence and integrity. The team studied how these factors affect the public’s willingness to get vaccinated and their attitude towards anti-pandemic policies.

Professor Huang’s speech inspired enthusiastic responses and questions from the audience both onsite and online, with some asking her how scholars from mainland China should promote strategic communication research. She stressed the importance of being true to oneself and to all the information and clues one holds. “In the past, guanxi (or relationships) in Chinese culture was considered something that should remain covert,” she said. “However, I believe that being truthful (to oneself and to the information gathered), observant and enthusiastic are the prerequisites to facilitate theory construction.”

Professor Huang was elected as a Fellow of the International Communication Association (ICA) in 2021, the first female in the four places across the Strait to receive this honour. She graduated from University of Maryland, and her research interests include public relations and strategic communication management, crisis management, conflict resolution and negotiation, and cross-cultural communication, focusing on constructing models and theories of Chinese communication.


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