Professor Spotlight: Dr. Qingwen Dong

Professor Dong with a student. PC: pacific.edu

If you have ever taken a course with Dr. Qingwen Dong of the Communication Department, you probably already know that he is a highly respected scholar and passionate teacher of his discipline.

In 2014, he was selected as one of twenty-two communication experts to develop standards for communication courses across the United States as part of the Learning Outcomes Project. Also in 2014, he was awarded the Tongji Teaching Expert Award, allowing him to serve as a guest lecturer at Tongji University, one of China’s oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning. These are only a couple of the numerous honors bestowed upon him throughout his scholarly career.

While you may have known about Professor Dong’s standing in the world of communication, you probably did not know about the amazing series of events that led him to stand in front of classes here at Pacific.

His story begins in Beijing, China, where he was born just a couple miles away from Tiananmen Square. Growing up as a student in China in the 1970s, Dr. Dong was not able to choose from an exciting variety of subjects to study, but he decided on English as the area on which he would focus. He figured that he could eventually use his knowledge of the English language as a tool to gain more opportunities throughout his career.

After graduating from Beijing Second Foreign Language Institute with a B.A. in English in 1983, he decided that he wanted to work for China’s largest radio station: Radio Beijing. He was hired as a reporter, and would spend five years working for the government-run station.

Professor Dong looked back fondly on his time at Radio Beijing.

“It was really exciting to see so many people, and to have so many stories to share,” he said. The former reporter recounted one instance in 1985, when he was assigned to interview legendary college basketball coach Bobby Knight, who had visited China with a U.S. basketball delegation.

“At that time I had no clue that he had a temper, and that he would lose his temper all the time,” Dr. Dong said. “I asked him a question, but he pushed my microphone away and screamed, ‘I have no time to talk to you!’ And I just said, ‘Wow, this is an American!’ I had no idea what Americans were all about.”

Dr. Dong also covered a 1984 diving competition that took place in China, as well as the 1986 Asian Games in South Korea. “After covering all of these events and interviewing all these interesting people, I decided I wanted to continue my education. So I decided to come to the United States to study journalism in 1988.”

Dr. Dong’s plan was to spend two years at the University of Missouri-Columbia, then return to work at Radio Beijing with his degree. Indeed, Dr. Dong arrived in the United States and earned his Master’s Degree, but the second half of his plan never came to fruition, as world events intervened.

In June 1989, student-led demonstrations in support of democracy and free speech took place in Beijing. The protests came to a head on June 4, when the Chinese government declared martial law and cracked down on the students. In an event that is now known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, soldiers and tanks killed hundreds of demonstrators in the streets.

Among those killed in the violence were employees of Radio Beijing. An English-language broadcast by the station announced as much, along with other details of the actions of the military. The broadcast also asked Radio Beijing listeners to “support [their] protest for the gross violation of human rights and the most barbarous suppression of the people.”

This broadcast was received by radio technicians in America, at which point it was preserved and circulated around the world. Meanwhile, Professor Dong could only watch and listen to what was happening 7,000 miles away.

“A colleague contacted me and told me it would not be wise to return to China at that time,” he said.

Many sources speculate that a number of the employees at Radio Beijing were arrested and punished for the broadcast. Although Professor Dong does not know for sure what happened to his colleagues, he is certain that everyone involved in his newsroom, the English division, was removed from his or her position.

For his part, Professor Dong decided to spend more time working on his education while waiting for a calmer time to return to China. After graduating with his Master’s Degree in Journalism at Missouri-Columbia, he enrolled at Washington State University, where he earned his PhD in Mass Communication in 1995.

Although he did eventually return to China to visit in 1993, Professor Dong ultimately decided to stay in the United States. In 1995, he was offered a position at the University of the Pacific, where he has taught ever since. In 2000, he was named the Chair of the Communication Department, a role he served in for 17 years; Professor Dong stepped away from the role in June of this year.

In his academic career so far, Professor Dong has published 80 scholarly articles and seven books, some of which have been published in both English and Chinese. During his time at Pacific, he has mostly focused on how mass media socializes individuals, or how television and other mass media artifacts affect people’s everyday thoughts. In the last few years, he has shifted his focus to online social media.

Currently, Professor Dong is working on another book that details curriculum models for teaching new media.

Professor Dong’s story is a fascinating example of the unpredictability of the world, and how events out of our control can drastically affect our lives. Although the Tiananmen Square Massacre was a terrible event, at least one good thing has come of it: it led Professor Qingwen Dong to his home at the University of the Pacific.

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