The community of East Asian communication researchers has been growing rapidly in recent years, which shows that communication studies in East Asia has reached a certain level of maturity (Miike & Chen 2006). In the United States the academic study of communication began after World War I. In East Asian culture, however, the academic study of communication has been a relatively recent phenomenon. Focusing on three East Asian countries (Greater China, South Korea, and Japan), we shall review major research and educational trends in the field of communication.
Attempt to generalize about conditions and patterns in the region immediately comes up against vast differences and anomalies that arise from the diverse cultures, languages, religions, and traditions. While differences exist between nations in East Asia, their similarities, due to the influence of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism, are not surprising. According to Chen and Starosta (2003), similarities between the nations of East Asia can be viewed from different paradigmatic perspectives: (1) ontologically, a holistic view of communication or the universe is evident; (2) epistemologically, the holistic view of communication or the universe is conceived of in the relational connection of all things. There are some other similarities in these East Asian countries. Communications curricula in Asian universities have been greatly influenced by western, notably American, communication theories. One consequence of this is the uncritical acceptance of western models and theories.
We shall review trends in communication research and education in East Asia, describing some of the major developments. In examining the culture-specific development of communication studies in East Asia (focusing on Greater China, South Korea, and Japan), we shall focus our analysis on four aspects: (1) the development of communication research and education trends, (2) communication associations and scholarly journals, (3) academic programs in communication, and (4) communication-related professions.
Although the study of communication in Chinese societies started in the early 1950s, it was confined to Hong Kong and Taiwan. In the People’s Republic of China (PRC), political ideology hindered the development of the discipline for almost 30 years. It was not until the coming of an open policy in the early 1980s that the PRC began to join the outside world through academic exchanges. Since then communication studies as a discipline has developed rapidly, following the enormous growth of the economy in the PRC.
Before 1990, the study of communication in Greater China was dominated by mass communication, which reflects the overemphasis on practical skills and job orientation. In addition, most theories and methods of communication studies were transplanted from the west without critical questioning. In the discipline of communication, most instructors in Chinese societies are trained in the west, curricula are designed following the western model, textbooks are either written by western scholars or translated from their work, and communication theories lack Chinese cultural components (Chen 2002).
Only recently have different areas of communication studies, such as interpersonal, intercultural, and organizational communication, received more attention from Chinese scholars. At the same time, the localization of communication studies, i.e., examining the concept of communication from the perspective of Chinese culture, or studying so-called “Chinese communication,” is also increasingly pursued by Chinese scholars facing the impact of globalization (Chen 2002; Leung et al. 2006).
Four influential communication associations are leading communication research and education in Greater China: The Chinese Association of Communication (CAC) in the PRC, the Chinese Communication Society (CCS) in Taiwan, and the Association for Chinese Communication Studies (ACCS) and Chinese Communication Association (CCA) overseas. In addition to the Chinese Journal of Communication Research sponsored by the CCS, two well-established journals are Mass Communication Research in Taiwan, and China Media Report in Hong Kong and the PRC. China Media Research from the US, and the Chinese Journal of Communication and Society in Hong Kong, are two recent scholarly communication journals that are having an impact on communication research in Greater China.
Although journalism dominated in the early stages, communication education has developed a stable base in Hong Kong and Taiwan since the early 1980s. Mass communication remains the main focus, but courses on other branches of communication, including interpersonal, organizational, rhetorical, and intercultural communication, are also offered. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, City University of Hong Kong, and Hong Kong Baptist University are the three key players in communication education in Hong Kong (Leung et al. 2006). In Taiwan, most universities have communication education programs.
A more systematic introduction of the discipline of communication took place in the mid-1990s in the PRC. However, due to its vast geographic area and the differing needs of each college, it is very difficult to draw a complete picture of academic programs in communication. More and more universities have begun to establish communication programs, but a problem of imbalance in terms of the content of communication teaching continues to exist. In addition to this, the problems of westernization, overemphasis on skill training, and lack of collaboration among universities are challenging contemporary communication education in the three areas of Greater China (Chen 2002). The tradition of freedom of expression in Hong Kong, the lifting of martial law in the late 1980s in Taiwan, and the open door policy in the PRC have led to a rapid development of the communication-related job market in Greater China, especially in the areas of advertising, graphic and visual communication, media production, and public relations. It appears that the communication-related professions will continue to flourish due to the impact of globalization.
It was not until the mid-1970s that the academic community in South Korea developed an interest in the study and teaching of communication. By the late 1970s, the field had grown from being a subject of topical interest to a recognized “independent” field of study (Kang 1991). The first development was the rapid establishment of regular four-year courses in journalism/mass communication in no fewer than 20 universities (Kang 1991). The rush was sustained through the 1980s and 1990s, and now there are no fewer than 60 universities or colleges with departments in journalism, mass communication, and/or advertising and PR. From the late 1970s, professorships were taken up by those with doctorates from North American universities, and most research conducted in the field has followed in the footsteps of North American and European countries.
South Korea has one of the most developed journalism and communication education systems of any Asian country. Very rapid progress was made in communication and journalism education at the universities and colleges, almost all of which now have journalism/communication departments (Heuvel & Dennis 1994). One reason for the rapid development may have been simply to keep up with the rapid development of the mass media. Since the beginning of journalism education in South Korea in 1954, this academic discipline has become increasingly popular.
Because of the long tradition and prestigious past of the South Korean press, education in the field of communication has been by and large identified with newspaper journalism (Kang 1991). Most of the mass communication departments at universities were called departments of journalism. The emphasis on newspaper journalism was reflected in curricula. Most communication courses used to be mainly about print media, with a literary tradition (Kang 1991). In recent years, however, US-educated returnees specializing in interpersonal communication and public relations have streamed into the universities and research institutes, thus counterbalancing the dominance of journalism and mass media-centered education. Many universities no longer consider “journalism” to be an adequate description, and have extended their department names to include communication, public relations, telecommunications, or newspaper and broadcasting.
Communication research and education in South Korea is led by several influential communication associations, including the Korean Society for Journalism and Communication (KSJC), Korea Communication Association (KCA), Korean Speech Communication Association (KSCA), and the Korean Association for Broadcasting and Telecommunication Studies (KABS), as well as the Korean American Communication Association (KACA) overseas. In recent years, several more professional communication associations have been established, including the Cybercommunication Academic Society (CAS) and the Korean Association for Advertising and Public Relations (KAAP).
The number of departments, schools, faculties, and students interested in communication has grown rapidly. So have the journals devoted exclusively to communication related subjects, such as the Journal of Journalism Studies published by Un-Ron-Hak-Bo (Korean Society for Journalism and Communication Studies), the Journal of Broadcasting Research (Bang-song-hak-bo) published by the KABS (Korean Association for Broadcasting and Telecommunications Studies), and the Journal of Advertising Research (Kwang-GoYeon-Ku) published by the Korea Broadcasting Advertising Corporation. The Journalists’ Association of Korea launched the East Asia Journalists Forum in October 2003 to strengthen the links between journalists in the Asia-Pacific region.
Communication as an academic field in Japan has faced many challenges. The foundation of modern communication research and education can be traced to the Meiji restoration period in the 1860s. After 265 years of the Tokugawa shogunate’s policy of seclusion during the Edo period, Japan was flooded with innovative technology and new ideas imported from the western world. Among them was western rhetoric, which prominent scholars such as Fukuzawa Yukichi attempted to adopt and spread in order to educate the Japanese public to become competent as both speakers and audience in the coming democratic society. Such attempts, however, were not readily accepted in Japan, as western rhetoric was vastly different from traditional values and the Japanese ontological and epistemological orientation towards communication. While the absence of western rhetoric in Japan has been cited as evidence of the Japanese people’s lack of persuasive skills, such criticism has stimulated contemporary scholars to initiate studies to identify the characteristics of Japanese communication. They argue that the Japanese have acquired and effectively utilized communication skills based upon their own traditions (Ishii 1993); they stress that the Japanese had their own rhetoric, though it was not called “rhetoric.” The relatively new field of communication, however, has yet to establish its own identity and territory distinct from, although collaborating with, related subjects such as psychology and sociology.
Although Japanese journalism education at university level started in the 1930s, it did not play any significant role in the actual practices of Japanese journalists before World War II. After the war, Japanese journalism education imitated the US system. Many academic programs in communication studies in Japan focus on the practical aspects, i.e., acquisition of communication skills, particularly in English. While these programs have presented, and most likely will continue to offer, popular communication curriculums, the field of communication as a discipline has been slowly but firmly established in recent years. These communication programs possess interdisciplinary features, drawing upon and collaborating with other social sciences and liberal arts such as journalism, linguistics, literature, psychology, and sociology. Their main emphases can be roughly categorized into four areas: international relations, human relations, journalism, and information processing (Ito 2006). The overemphasis on the practical aspects of communication has been criticized as a reason for the weakness of communication as a scholarly field, evidenced by the paucity of profound and sophisticated discussion of the philosophical issues, the absence of established methodologies, and the consequent lack of clear identity of the field (see, e.g., Ikeda 2006).
Despite its different culture and history, Japan’s communication research is also under strong influence from the United States and Europe. Ishii (1998) has commented: “For decades, Japanese communication scholars have been willing to import and apply EuroAmerica-centered research paradigms not only in the natural sciences but also in the social sciences and humanities. They have been doing so without trying to develop their own non-Western frames of research” (p. 109). Today, Japanese researchers are expected to develop new research paradigms and perspectives based on their own Japanese cultural background, and to contribute these to the international academic arena.
Several professional communication associations have played active roles in generating and incorporating research interests and identifying specific needs and methods in communication education. The Communication Association of Japan (CAJ), originally founded as the Communication Association of the Pacific in the early 1970s, has helped develop ties between communication researchers and educators in Japan. Human Communication Studies and Speech Communication Education are the professional journals published by the CAJ.
The Japan Communication Researchers’ Conference has held annual meetings since 1988. Other small-scale university-led communication research groups include the Intercultural Communication Group at Kanda Foreign Language Institute, publisher of Intercultural Communication Studies; the Institute for Communication Research at Keio University, publisher of the Keio Communication Review; the Rikkyo Intercultural Communication Society at Rikkyo University; and the Society of Language, Communication, and Culture at Kansei Gakuin University. A few other organizations have also helped establish and maintain the academic discipline of communication: the Japanese Association for Studies in English Communication; the Japan Association for Communication, Information, and Society; and SIETAR (Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research) Japan.
General Trends and Future Directions
To summarize, these East Asian countries tended to follow the American communication training and research model. They began by setting up journalism departments at universities, later expanding them to include broadcasting, public relations, interpersonal communication, and advertising. With the growing importance of information and communication technologies (ICTs), training in new media has also been developed in communication curricula since the 1990s. In research, the American positivist– quantitative model dominated until the 1980s. In the late 1980s, the influence of critical and interpretive paradigms, prominent in the UK and continental Europe, began to spread around the world. Communication programs in East Asian countries have all followed similar paths of development (Leung et al. 2006).
As more scholars from Asia have entered the field of communication, there has been increasing dissatisfaction with the use of North American models of communication to explain communication processes in Asia, and even some aspects of communication processes in North America. Recently, questions have been raised about the use of communication theories based on western models to generalize about other countries, including East Asian countries (Kim 2002; Kincaid 1987). According to Chen (2002), this issue relates to the balance between globalization and localization. That is, communication study, both education and research, needs to be grounded in the soil of its own culture, while being projected to the global context. Globalization and multiculturalism will alter the communication landscape of the future.
Although it is true that communication research in East Asian countries has been largely based on the American model, several distinctive approaches can be identified. As a critical mass of researchers has formed in most Asian countries, collaboration among regional researchers is growing. The Asian Media Information and Communication Centre (AMIC), and its journal, the Asian Journal of Communication, are exemplars of such collective efforts.
Furthermore, the search for communication theories and concepts unique to each of these societies and cultures has begun. In 1987, a book edited by Kincaid, Communication theory: Eastern and western perspectives, led the way toward theoretical approaches to communication that are compatible with the political and cultural realities of Asia. Dissanayake’s book (1988) represented another collective effort to introduce Asian philosophies into the building of Asian communication theories. Since then, there have been new and exciting approaches which differentiate clearly between communication as it is practiced in the “east” and in the “west,” especially in the United States.
Since the 1980s, a few cross-national studies have been published on communication within East Asia, comparing, for example, China and South Korea, or Japan and South Korea (Miyahara & Kim 1994). This is an important research trend, because it provides a close examination of cultural variability within East Asia – a region that, in the 1980s, was often treated in the literature as homogeneous.
Instead of attempting to construct theories that are distinctly Asian, today there is a call for effots to broaden the existing western theoretical framework. Wang and Shen (2000) claimed that for an Asian researcher to fail to recognize, and take advantage of, their rich cultural heritage was to throw away their most valuable asset in making a significant contribution to the study of communication. However, at a time when one’s counterparts in the western world are making an effort to broaden their perspectives, limiting oneself to just Asia is not only counterproductive, but also draws away further from the goal of formulating a universal theory. If communication theory-building is to be successful, the relevant aspects of all human histories, experiences, philosophies, cultural traditions, and values should be given due consideration. Further exploration into East Asian traditions will provide rich insights for theory development, and may contribute to theoretical and methodological breakthroughs.
- Chen, G. M. (2002). Problems and prospect of Chinese communication study. In W. Jia, X. Lu, & D. R. Heisey (eds.), Chinese communication studies in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: Advances, challenges and prospects. Westport, CT: Ablex, pp. 255 – 268.
- Chen, G. M., & Starosta, W. J. (2003). Asian approaches to human communication: A dialogue. Intercultural Communication Studies, 12(4), 1–15.
- Dissanayake, W. (ed.) (1988). The need for Asian approach to communication. In Communication theory: The Asian perspective. Singapore: Asian Mass Communication and Information Center, pp. 1–19.
- Heuvel, J. V., & Dennis, E. E. (1994). Trends and developments in the media of South Korea. In Elite media amidst mass culture. Seoul: Nanam, pp. 1– 26.
- Ikeda, R. (ed.) (2006). Contemporary praxes on communication studies (in Japanese). Tokyo: Yuhikaku.
- Ishii, S. (1993). The significance and theoretical background of communication studies. In M. Hashimoto & S. Ishii (eds.), Introduction to communication theory (in Japanese). Tokyo: Kirihara, pp. 3 – 24.
- Ishii, S. (1998). Developing a Buddhist en-based systems paradigm for the study of Japanese human relationships. Japan Review, 10, 109 –122.
- Ito, Y. (2006). Some trends in communication research and education in Japan. In K. W. Leung, J. Kenny, & P. Lee (eds.), Global trends in communication education and research. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, pp. 115 –131.
- Kang, H. D. (1991). Media culture in Korea. Seoul: Seoul National University Press.
- Kim, M. S. (2002). Non-western perspectives on human communication: Implications for theory and practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
- Kincaid, D. L. (ed.) (1987). Communication theory: Eastern and western perspectives. San Diego: Academic Press.
- Lee, P. S. (2005). The challenges of communication education in Asia. Australian Journalism Review, 27, 189 –201.
- Leung, K., Chu, L., & Lee, P. (2006). The communication research and education in Hong Kong. In K. Leung, J. Kenny, & P. Lee (eds.), Global trends in communication research and education. Cresskill, NJ: Hampton, pp. 189 –209.
- Miike, Y., & Chen, G. M. (2006). Asian approaches to human communication: A selected bibliography (an updated version). China Media Research, 1(1), 98 –106.
- Miyahara, A., & Kim, M. S. (1994). Requesting styles among “collectivist” cultures: A comparison between Japanese and Koreans. Intercultural Communication Studies, 6, 104 –128.
- Wang, G., & Shen, V. (2000). East, west, communication, and theory: Searching for the meaning of searching for Asian communication theories. Asian Journal of Communication, 10, 14 –32.