Getting to know… Wenjie Yan


A series introducing the Visiting Scholars & Fellows in residence at HYI this year

Wenjie Yan (Professor, School of Journalism and Communication, Beijing Normal University; HYI Visiting Scholar, 2023-24)
“Epistemic Vices and Their Illiberal Allies: How Collective Narcissism Is Being Drummed Up to Dilute Factual Basis in China”

What got you interested in your research topic?

Recognizing the wide gap between the normative ideal and real practice of modern politics, my research program revolves around coming to a better understanding of the barriers, both social and psychological, that may prevent the public from actively and effectively engaging in civic and political processes. This scholarly concern has developed into two interrelated lines of inquiry about the prospect, process and consequence of public deliberation as a means for citizens to resolve contentions of social import, and about the implications of new digital media for citizen engagement in China.

Growing up with political talk as part of the discursive repertoires in my family, I was socialized to come to recognize from an early age that politics is omnipresent in and consequential to everyday life. The graduate training that I received at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, one of the earliest and most respected programs in communication in general and in political communication in particular in the United States, further fueled my intellectual curiosity for understanding human communication in political life. This training also equipped me with a breadth of exposure to both theories and methodologies in sociology, psychology, and political science that positioned me well to bring an interdisciplinary frame to my teaching and research. It is when looking back at the past that I can see that both my family and graduate education have served as an amazing foundation in my academic career.

Outside of work, where can we find you? 

My favorite out of office places to hang out on campus are the libraries and museums, the Harvard-Yenching Library and Fogg Museum in particular. One great thing about libraries and museums is that they inspire feelings of solitude and serenity. Oftentimes, when I flip through an aged book with yellowing pages or stand in front of an ancient artwork, I truly enjoy the moments of respite from mundane reality.

What would you want to do most as a career if you were not in academia?

Starting learning Chinese calligraphy from the age of six, I find art always a big part of what makes me tick. If I were not in academia, I would want to be an art collector or appraiser. I grew up in Beijing, so the Palace Museum, the National Art Museum of China, National Arts and Crafts Museum, and Rong Bao Zhai were my very first exposures to the world of art. I was so amazed by the calligraphy of Yan Zhenqing and Mi Fu the first time I saw them in the museum. The fact that artworks could serve as a messenger across time and space to provide humans with a window to a different world is magical. This magic has never left me, and it never will.

Read Prof. Yan’s bio on our website

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