Corona Virus: China’s schools, forced online by virus, run into censors

Corona Virus: China’s schools, forced online by virus, run into censors

NEW DELHI [Maha Media]: Less than 30 minutes into a lecture on bioinformatics, Chu Xinjian’s class was abruptly cut short. It was the first day of an unusual semester. Across China, schools are shut indefinitely in a bid to contain a new virus that has killed some 3,000 people. Chu’s class was one of tens of thousands of courses, from grade school to university, that have been forced online.

Chu’s professor was painstakingly sending voice recordings to the class group chat when, without warning, the system disbanded the group for violating China’s Internet regulations — a pervasive, almost mundane part of life under Communist Party rule.

The students were puzzled. Was it because of something about the subject matter? Bioinformatics is the science of collecting and analyzing complex biological data. “I’m not sure exactly what phrases triggered it,” said Chu, who recounted the incident. “I guess we touched on some sensitive topic.”

Major social media platforms including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter are blocked in China, while homegrown ones such as Weibo and WeChat are heavily monitored and scrubbed for offensive content by the state Cyberspace Administration and police.

Now, the sudden arrival of public education onto platforms that are generally the domain of celebrity livestreamers has thrown the controls into stark relief. Classrooms are confronting the ubiquity and often arbitrary nature of the ruling Communist Party’s online censorship. Biology courses have been blocked for “pornographic content.” History and politics classes are among the most vulnerable; subjects such as the Cultural Revolution and the Great Leap Forward are regularly censored in classes and online discussions.

Daily life in the world’s most populous nation has undergone a radical transformation in the past six weeks. Once-bustling streets are empty, fast-food restaurants offer only takeout service and group activities have been replaced with remote everything — remote work, remote fitness class, remote schooling. “Classes have stopped but learning will not,” the Education Ministry said in a February notice. It has established 24,000 free online courses on 22 web platforms, covering both undergraduate and vocational disciplines.

 

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