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China turns to online education to boost soft power

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As China seeks to extend its global clout, it has gone to great lengths in recent years to promote its culture and values abroad, building vast media operations overseas and opening hundreds of language and cultural outposts.

随着中国寻求扩大其全球影响力,近年来,中国在竭尽全力地向海外宣传自己的文化和价值观,大力扩展海外媒体业务,还开办了几百个语言和文化中心。

Now it is turning to a new tool: online education, a rapidly growing industry that promises access to millions of students and the endorsement of some of the world's most renowned institutions.

如今,中国正开始使用一种新工具:网络教育,这是一个快速成长的行业,有可能吸引数以百万计的学生,也得到了世界上一些最知名机构的认可。

When "Introduction to Mao Zedong Thought," taught by Feng Wuzhong, an associate professor at Tsinghua's School of Marxism, made its debut last month, it quickly found a large audience, attracting about 3,100 students from 125 countries, including more than 700 from the United States.

“毛泽东思想概论”的授课人是清华大学马克思主义学院的冯务中副教授,上个月首次在网上开课之后,这门课很快得到大批受众,吸引了来自125个国家的约3100名学生,其中包括700多名来自美国的学生。

The course is one of more than a hundred offered on edX and other top education platforms by mainland Chinese universities. There are classes on philosophy, architecture and computer science, but also a handful on subjects deemed politically sensitive in China, such as international relations or law, in which Chinese professors must adhere to the party's views.

这门课是中国的高校在edX和其他主要的在线教育平台上开设的100多门课程之一。这些课程的内容包括哲学、建筑,以及计算机科学,但也有少数课程涉及在中国被视为政治敏感的内容,如国际关系或法律。

Aiming to expand their offerings and draw a global audience, Chinese universities are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on sleek videos and translations. They are advising instructors to abandon dull lecturing styles. And they are coaching professors on how to deal with foreign students, telling them to embrace open discussion and dissent.

为了让自己的课程能吸引全球的受众,中国高校正在花费上百万人民币来制作漂亮的视频,并给课程配上外文译文。高校建议这些课程的执教老师放弃枯燥的授课风格,并指导他们如何应对外国学生,告诉他们要接受公开的讨论和异见。

But the effort faces significant challenges, most notably convincing overseas students that their courses are intellectually compelling and rigorous. It also puts online education providers in a difficult position, forcing them to strike a balance between preserving academic freedom and maintaining high standards for thousands of courses.

但是,这种努力也面临一些重大挑战,最明显的就是让海外学生相信,这些课程有智力上的说服力和严谨性。这些课程也让在线教育提供者陷入一种困境,迫使他们在维护学术自由和保证成千上万的课程具有高标准之间找到平衡。

Yong Zhao, an education professor at the University of Oregon, compared China's push in online education to its efforts to build an international following for its flagship news network, CCTV, over the past decade.

俄勒冈大学的教育学教授赵勇把中国推广在线教育的尝试比作其过去十年来为官方新闻机构中央电视台打造国际受众的努力。

"China has been on the receiving end of education for a long time, and now it has a big opportunity," Professor Zhao said.

“很久以来,中国一直处在教育的接受端,现在它有了一个很大的机会。”赵勇说。

"Putting courses on international platforms can help promote Chinese culture," said Shi Xuelin, who oversees the online curriculum for Tsinghua. "It also helps boost the school's reputation."

“把课程放到国际平台上可以帮助宣传中国文化。”清华大学网络教学负责人石学林(音)说。“也有助于提高学校的声誉。”

China's top universities have forged ties with several leading online education providers based in the United States, including edX and Coursera, to bring their offerings to millions of users, joining the ranks of schools like Columbia, Princeton and Yale. The courses are generally free, though some schools offer the option of paying a fee for a certificate of completion. The Chinese courses are typically taught in Mandarin but with English subtitles.

中国的顶尖大学与包括edX和Coursera在内的美国几个主要的网络教育平台提供者建立了合作,像哥伦比亚大学、普林斯顿大学和耶鲁大学等高校那样,把自己的课程提供给数百万的用户。这些课程通常都是免费的,但有些学校给学生一个缴费的选择,如果他们想得到一张结课证书的话。中国大学的课程通常用普通话授课,但配有英文字幕。

Xi'an Jiaotong University provides a course on Chinese philosophy. Nanjing University has started a class on the Jewish diaspora in China. Shanghai Jiao Tong University is promoting a course on Chinese medicine and traditional culture.

西安交通大学提供一门关于中国哲学的课程。南京大学已经开了一门有关犹太侨民在中国的课程。上海交通大学正在推出一门宣传中国医药和中国传统文化的课程。

To some scholars, China's ambitions in online education resemble the country's efforts over the past decade to improve public opinion about China by creating a global network of learning centers known as Confucius Institutes.

对于一些学者来说,中国在网络教育方面的野心,与中国过去十年通过创建全球学习中心——孔子学院来改善中国形象的做法类似。

Li Xiaoming, a computer science professor at Peking University who helps lead its online efforts, said there were some similarities. A course on Chinese for beginners has attracted about 300,000 students, he noted.

在帮助北大开展网络课程的北京大学计算机科学教授李晓明表示,两者存在一些相同之处。他称一门为初学者开设的中文课吸引了约三万名学生。

"Sometimes we teachers joke that we are actually doing Confucius Institutes, just with a more advanced technological approach," he said.

他表示:“有时候我们老师开玩笑说,我们实际上在办孔子学院,只不过利用的是更先进的技术方法。”

By aggressively pursuing online education, Chinese leaders seem eager to replicate the success of the United States, which has long derived influence from educating hundreds of thousands of foreign students each year on American campuses.

通过积极发展在线教育,中国领导人似乎渴望复制美国的成功,美国很早就通过每年对美国大学数以万计的外国学生的教育来产生影响力。

Joseph S. Nye, a scholar of international relations at Harvard who developed the concept of "soft power," said China's success would depend on whether it was able to deliver courses in a way that offered a genuine exchange of ideas.

提出“软实力”理念的哈佛大学国际关系学者约瑟夫•S•奈表示,中国能否成功将取决于它能否以提供真正思想交流的方式开展课程。

2016-06-23

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