Xu Zhao

Director of Research in Chinese Youth Mental Health and Well Being

Associate Professor

EdD - Human Development & Psychology

Harvard University

MEd - Prevention Science and Practice

Harvard University

MEd - Education

McGill University

BA - Business

Northeast University of Finance & Economics

Contact information


Office: 403.220.5382


Main Campus : EDT842

Research and Scholarly Activity

Research areas

  • Youth social, moral and civic development
  • Child and youth mental health
  • Preventive intervention program development
  • Cross-cultural transitions
  • Qualitative research methods


Dr. Zhao's research in North America and China explores one broad question: Facing rampant achievement anxiety and social stress, how can educators and parents promote children's academic success and at the same time protect their mental health and socioemotional well-being? Her research in China has focused on understanding how children's social, moral, and civic development is influenced by the education system, parental practices, and broader social, economic and historical processes. Her research in Canada focuses on the transcultural  mental health, well-being, and success of youth and families. The goal is to understand what knowledge, skills and opportunities help individuals and communities transcend cultural differences, overcome cultural barriers and prejudices, and support the healthy and successful development of children, families, and cummunities in a multi-cultural society. Currently, she is studying the factors that support or hinder the social integration of young newcomers in Canadian schools and Canadian students' attitudes towards newcomers. She also explores the major bicultural issues involved in bilingual early childhood education, focusing on Chinese children learning English. Dr. Zhao serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Moral Education. She is a faculty advisor for the Harvard X-Media Lab, where she collaborates with Robert L. Selman on using cross-media story-telling to promote children's social awareness and well-being. She also consults for schools and community programs in Canada and China on the promotion of children's long-term positive development.  


2018-2020. Promoting Youth Mental Health and Well-being in Schools and Communities (PI). Support by UCalgary International Collaborative Grant ($11,980), Werklund Dean's Office ($5,000), Werklund Teaching and Learning Grant ($10,000), and Werklund Community Engagement Grant ($3,000), in collaboration with Doug Clark & Meadow Schroeder. 

2017-2020. Early Childhood Bilingual Education and Parental Practice in China (PI). Suppported by Goldian International Gift and Research Contract (US$ 439,000), in collaboration with Robert L. Selman & Catherine Snow. 

2016-2018. Young Newcomer Social Integration in Canadian Schools (PI). SSHRC Insight Development Grant ($72,000), in collaboration with Nancy Arthur. "Barriers and Bridges: An Integrated Approach to Understanding the Process of Newcomer Social Integration in Canadian High Schools".  

2016-2018.  An Inter-Professional Approach to Innovative Research and Practices with Newcomers (Co-PI). UCalgary Human Dynamics Research Grant ($150,000), UCalgary Newcomer Research Network. 



Zhao, X. (2015). Competition and compassion in Chinese secondary education. New York: Palgrave McMillan. 

Peer-Reviewed Journal Articles

Zhao, X., & Selman, R. L. (2019). Bystanders’ responsibilities in a situation of teasing: A Dual Dynamic Approach for understanding culture, context, and youth moral development. Qualitative Psychology.

Zhao, X., Yu, E., & Zhang, S. (2019). Intercultural competence in higher education: A normative anchor, a developmental perspective, and a discursive approach. Journal of Educational Thought, 51(3). 261-280. 

Xiang, X., Zhao, X., Haste, H., Zhang, S., Lee, A., Liu, Z., & Cottman-Kappel, M. (2018).  Good person, good citizen? The discourses that Chinese youth invoke to make civic and moral meaning. Citizenship Teaching & Learning, 13(2). 193–207. 

Sang, B., Deng, X., Pan, T., Zhao, X. (2017). Be cool with academic stress: The association between emotional states and regulatory strategies among Chinese adolescents. Educational Psychology38(1),38-53.

Zhao, X. (2016). Educating competitive students for a competitive nation: Why and how has the Chinese discourse of competition in education rapidly changed within three decades? Berkerley Review of Education, 6(1), 5–28. 

Gao, M., Zhao, X., & McJunkin, M. (2016). Adolescents’ experiences of cyberbullying: Gender, age, and reasons for not reporting to adults. International Journal of Cyberbehavior, Psychology, and Learing, 6(4).14–28.

Zhao, X., Haste, H., Selman, R. L., & Luan, Z. (2014). Compliant, cynical, or critical: Chinese adolescents' explanations of social problems and individual civic responsibility. Youth & Society,1 (26).1123-1148. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0044118X14559504

Zhao, X., Selman, R. L. & Haste, H. (2014). Academic stress in Chinese schools and a proposed preventive intervention program. Cogent Education, 2(1). http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/2331186X.2014.1000477#.VTAmJPnnZMs

Zhao, X., & Gao, M. (2014). "No time for friendship": Shanghai mothers' views of adult and adolescent Friendships. Journal of Adolescent Research, 29(5), 587– 615. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0743558413520225

Zhao, X., & Haste, H. (2012). Promoting democratic citizenship among rural women: A Chinese NGO’s two models. Berkeley Review of Education, 3 (1), 49-70. 

Gao, M., & Zhao, X. (2010). Roles of an educational measurement course in improving pre-service teachers’ critical thinking abilities. Journal of the International Society for Teacher Education, 14 (1), 19-26.

Book Chapters

Zhao, X., Selman, R. L., & Luke, A. (2018). Academic competition and parental practice: A study of habitus and change. In M.Mu, K. Dooley, & A. Luke (Eds.), Bourdieu and Chinese education: Inequality, competition and change (pp.144-174). NY: Routledge. 

Gao, M., Fillippino, T., ZhaoX., & McJunkin, M. (2018). Adolescent victim experiences of cyberbullying: Current status and future directions. In Z. Yan (Ed), Analyzing Human Behavior in Cyberspace(pp. 236-254). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. 

Zhao, X., & Yoshikawa, H. (2013). Parent and child citizenship status and youth development in the U.S., In E. Grigorenko (Ed.), US immigration and education:Cultural and policy issues across the lifespan. New York: Springer.

Book Review

Zhao, X. (2017). To Be a Moral Person: One Way or Many Ways? [Review of the book Moral Development in a Global World by L. A., Jensen]. Theory & Psychology.

Newspaper and Magazine Articles about Research

Zhao, X. (2019). Newcomers and Canadian high school students are friendly, but not friends. The Conversation, July 23, 2019.  http://theconversation.com/newcomers-and-canadian-high-school-students-are-friendly-but-not-friends-111453.

Zhao, X., Haste, H., & Selman, R. L. (2014).Questionable lessons from China's recent history of education reform. Education Week, 33 (18), 32. 

Zhao, X., & Selman, R. L. (2014). Combating academic stress in Chinese schools. China Outlook, February 10, 2015.


2016                Harvard Gutman Library Distinguished Book Author

2014                University of Calgary Werklund Postdoctoral Fellowship (2014-2017)

2013                Association of Moral Education (AME) Dissertation Award Finalist

2011                Harvard China Fund Postdoctoral Fellowship

2007                Harvard Graduate School of Education Qualifying Paper Passed with Distinction

2006                Council of Alumni for Social Enterprises (CASE) Fellowship

2003                Harvard Graduate School of Education Entering Award (2003-2005)

1998                Shenzhen Polytechnic Teaching Award