Harvard professor uses literature to teach Chinese history online

By Candice Chen

 

On April 14, Harvard professor Peter Bol, vice provost for advances in learning and the Charles H. Carswell professor of East Asian languages and civilizations, presented a lecture on the famous Tang tragedy “Yingying Zhuan” (“The Tale of Yingying”) at Harvard’s Education Portal in Allston. The lecture is part of a massive open online course (MOOC) titled ChinaX, a course about Chinese history and culture hosted by HarvardX.

Harvard professor Peter Bol gave a lecture on the Tang classic “Yingying Zhuan” on April 14 at Harvard’s Education Portal in Allston. (Image courtesy of Candice Chen.)

Harvard professor Peter Bol gave a lecture on the Tang classic “Yingying Zhuan” on April 14 at Harvard’s Education Portal in Allston. (Image courtesy of Candice Chen.)

“Yingying Zhuan,” written by Yuan Zhen during the Tang Dynasty, recounts the love story between 16-year-old Cui Yingying and 21-year-old Zhang Sheng. Sheng fell in love with Yingying, but when Zhang went to Beijing to take his examinations, Yingying believed Sheng abandoned her, and the two finally broke up.

In his lecture, Bol described the significance of the story’s specific time and location as well as the dynamics of specific social classes, all of which make “Yingying Zhuan” helpful for understanding the Tang Dynasty.

While the seventh to 17th century period in China is Bol’s area of expertise, ChinaX offers a diverse and varied curriculum. The course, which was put together by Bol, aims to not only attract Americans who are interested in Chinese history, but also Chinese students who want to learn about their country’s history from a new perspective.

“We want to let students in China know how the United States sees their history,” he said.

More than 42,000 users are currently enrolled in ChinaX, 71 percent of which are outside of the United States. In 2012, Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology created edX, a not-for-profit online classroom. It offers online courses from MIT, Harvard, the University of California-Berkeley, the University of Texas and other universities and has about four million learners from all over the world.

This post is also available in: Chinese

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