There are four important stages for the development of College English Teaching since 1949 in China: first exploration (1949-1977); slow development (1978-1986), rapid development (1987-2001), and blooming stage (2002- present). The globalization of Chinese universities, based on National Mid- and Long-term Education Reform and Development Program(2010-2020)[1],[2]. National Mid- and Long-term Education Reform and Development Program explicitly intends to develop talents with global vision, knowledge of international rules and participation of international affairs and competition, focusing on developing students with good foreign language knowledge and cross-cultural communication skills.

English, among all foreign languages, is the first foreign language of great importance in China. How to help students improve English writing as well as English listening, speaking and reading has become a heated topic. From the 1990s, lots of Chinese visiting scholars became interested in writing centers in American Universities. Though some universities had ever tried to adopt the way of American writing centers to help students with their English writing, the first English Writing Center (EWC) in China formally started in Xi’an International Studies University in 2006. In the past 15 years, more and more EWCs emerged in Chinese universities, such as Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University, Sun Yat-sen University, China University of Political Science and Law, University of International Business and Economics, Beijing Jiaotong University, Renmin University of China, Nanjing Agricultural University and Zhejiang University etc. Among them, Zhejiang University EWC has its special status in its leading role and cooperative vision.

Writing Center Association of China Conference, 2017

In 2017, the inaugural conference of Writing Center Association of China was held in Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool University, a Sino-British university in Suzhou, China. The association is an non-official one but it attracted lots of EWC directors, tutors and researchers. While most of conference participants focused on topics of writing or tutoring, I, as the director of Zhejiang University EWC, gave the story about how to win the administrative and financial support from the university, how to educate tutors and arouse their enthusiasm over it and how to attract students’ attention. The failure of EWC in 2000 in Zhejiang University[3] makes it clear that we should let administrators, teachers and students know the importance of English writing in English study and globalization movement through applying for various teaching and research fund, communicating with administrators whenever and wherever possible, collecting students’ response over English writing teaching and inviting professors of different academic backgrounds to give lectures about English writing and publication etc. Tutors consist of part-time Chinese and foreign professors who share their enthusiasm over EWC. English writing courses are open to students who need help in their various English writing. All these made my proposal of establishing Zhejiang University EWC in Faculty and Staff Congress 2016 well accepted, supported and funded by Zhejiang University. The story gained lots of attention especially from those who struggled with support from their universities. Actually, Zhejiang University is such a top university that its running model of EWC is worthwhile of follow-up. It was exactly in this inaugural conference that Zhejiang University EWC settled to hold annual international symposium, intending to provide a cooperative platform for EWCs directors, tutors, scholars and researchers.

To make the EWC in Zhejiang University effective in helping students with various English writing, we firstly open quarter-course of English academic writing and publication all year round to attract students to join the course. We also intentionally put one-to-one instruction as compulsory part for the course. Besides, we opened the Wechat official account of Zhejiang University EWC to notify various online and offline lectures given by Chinese and foreign professors of different academic fields , journal editors and prolific Ph.D students etc. What’s more, we applied for the project of teaching reform funded by Bureau of Zhejiang Education and project of course reform funded by graduate school of Zhejiang University. Thus we combined courses, lectures, instructions and research projects together, making our writing center well known in Zhejiang University and in other universities domestically and abroad.

China EWC Symposium 2020

International Symposium of English Writing Centers in Chinese Universities Symposium 2020

With the ongoing of EWC in Zhejiang University, we strongly feel the necessity to cooperate with other universities in China and other countries. Accordingly, from 2018 to 2020, Zhejiang University EWC has sponsored three “International Symposium of English Writing Centers in Chinese Universities”. Prof. Jackie G. McKinney, chairman of International Writing Centers Association, Prof. Steve Price, co-editor of The Writing Center Journal and Bradley Hughes, Director Emeritus of The Writing Center in University of Wisconsin-Madison gave keynote speeches respectively. They introduced their experience and understanding of writing centers in the US and all showed great interest in Writing Centers outside of the US. Participants of symposiums from the US, Brazil, Sweden, Canada, Thailand and China etc. shared their ideas over assessment of writing centers, methods for consultation, challenges of EWCs in China, bilingual tutoring, EWCs in Sino-British or Sino-US universities, peer tutors strategy standards in writing instruction, multimodal feedback techniques, international partnership and writing group consultation, online consultation during covid-19 etc. All acknowledged that though collaboration is a complex and complicated interaction, it is worthwhile to embrace the messiness and accept the challenges of collaboration.

On Oct. 18, 2020, Directory for College English Teaching [4] (2020) was just issued, which emphasizes practical English skills much more than before. English writing as well as listening, speaking and reading are supposed to be taught not simply as communication tools but much more related with English humanities. In this way, EWC is not simply the platform for English writing itself but more significant for the development of effective English communication. Zhejiang University is one of the leading universities in compiling the Directory and we have more stimulation to develop and settle models for college English teaching. EWC, among others, is definitely of significance to promote its features in Chinese universities. Recently we are seeking Chinese top 9 universities [5] collaboration to put emphasis on the promotion of EWC in China. First national “Academic English Writing and Speaking Contest for Graduate Students”, sponsored by Zhejiang University EWC, just ended successfully on Oct. 31, 2020, indicating the very leading influence for the joint efforts by top 9 universities.

While we are exploring the effectiveness, collaboration and significance of EWCs in Chinese universities, we are still faced with lots of practical challenges: misunderstanding of English writing as simple translation among both teachers and students, difficulties of finding more physical spaces for EWC on various campuses, students preference to English native tutors and unwillingness to have Chinese peer tutors, etc. However, since China is steady in its opening-up policy, English study will continue to develop with Chinese features and EWC, as the practical teaching and studying platform, will be continuously encouraged to promote with Chinese features. In my expectation, there are three key points for the EWC movement in the near future:

  1. Directory of College English Teaching (2020) [大学英语教学指南] encourages more practical and innovative teaching and studying methods, such as online lectures and materials and offline discussion and instructions. Thus, I believe more and more Chinese universities will adopt online resources to better offline teaching and studying and EWC, as a platform for practical instruction, will attract more teachers and students in need of help in English writing and communication;
  2. College English teachers in China used to focus on much more on just giving courses and much less on research into teaching itself. Directory of College English Teaching (2020) explicitly shows that Chinese universities will encourage teachers to better their teaching and research through various program funds and teaching evaluations. I am sure teachers may explore research gap in Chinese EWCs and devote more energy into the practical instruction and research of EWCs.
  3. College English, as a compulsory course in Chinese universities, is open to huge number of students of different academic backgrounds. Chinese writing centers learn from US writing centers in their writing workshops and lectures, one-to-one instruction, and program of writing across curriculum. However, as a second language writing center, EWC in Chinese universities, has more challenges than those in English universities. What’s encouraging is that now more and more Chinese universities attach great importance to writing itself. Thus, I am confident that EWC, as part of the whole writing program in Chinese universities, will benefit from the whole promotion of writing and become a popular platform for international communication.

In conclusion, as a witness of EWC of 2000 in Zhejiang University and present director of Zhejiang University EWC, I appreciate passion and devotion most as the promotion of EWC in Chinese universities. With passion and devotion, we may find more opportunities and gain help from more colleagues and friends with various efforts in both administrative affairs and practical instructions. Also, I believe EWC in Chinese universities will become a very important part in reform of college English teaching because of its effectiveness in broadening vision of writing, improving communication skills and making its contribution to globalization. We will continue to have yearly symposium and national contest for their generation of more cooperation of all aspects and closer connection for EWC directors, scholars, tutors domestically and abroad.

[1] The State Council of People’s Republic of China always takes education highly. In 2008, Ministry of Education started to draft National Mid- and Long-term Education Reform and Development Program (2010-2020). On May 5, 2010, the Program was approved by executive meeting of the State Council as Chinese first education program in 21st century.

[2] LI Yan, “The Content of Chinese Universities’ Globalization and its Screening of Evaluation Index”, Higher Education Development and Evaluation, No. 5, Vol. 29, Sept. 2013, P. 56.

[3] See more details in http://www.wlnjournal.org/blog/2020/09/the-english-writing-center-at-zhejiang-university-hangzhou-china/

[4] Directory for College English Teaching was compiled first in 2015 by College Foreign Language Teaching Committee authorized by Ministry of Education. The Directory was revised in 2017 and 2020.

[5] Top 9 universities here refers to Peking University, Qinghua University, Zhejiang University, Shanghai Jiaotong University, Fudan University, Nanjing University, Harbin Institute of Technology, University of Science and Technology of China, and Xi’an Jiaotong University.

About the author

FANG Fan 方凡 is a professor in English Department, School of International Studies, Zhejiang University, P. R. China. She holds a Ph.D. in English & American Literature (Xiamen University) and has over 20 years of teaching English as a second language, and English & American literature. She has been the director of English Writing Center at Zhejiang University since 2017. As an professor of literature, she has a passion for helping students with English academic writing, one-to-one tutoring, writing center research and development. She has arranged professors, scholars, editors, and company owners to give lectures and instructions with various writing topics both online and offline and also organized international symposium of English writing centers and national contest for English academic writing and speaking. To connect with Fang, please email: hzhzdonna@zju.edu.cn.

Appendix of Zhejiang University EWC

March 20, 2000, EWC was set up on Yuquan Campus, Zhejiang University but ended three months later.

Jan.13, 2016, Proposal for establishment of Zhejiang University EWC in Faculty and Staff Congress in Zhejiang University.

March 8, 2017, Zhejiang University EWC was settled in Room 119, East Building, Zijingang Campus, Zhejiang University

June 1-3, 2018, First International Symposium of English Writing Centers in Chinese Universities, Haining Campus, Zhejiang University

October 22, 2018, Zhejiang University EWC branch was settled in Yiyuan Culture Hall, Xixi Campus, Zhejiang University

June 28-29, 2019, Second International Symposium of English Writing Centers in Chinese Universities, Zijingang Campus, Zhejiang University

June 24, 2020, Zhejiang University EWC branch was settled in Room 349, Central Building(south), Huajiachi Campus, Zhejiang University

Sept.1-6, 2020, International workshop for academic English writing, online, Zhejiang University.

Oct. 31, 2020, National “Academic English Writing and Speaking Contest for Graduate Students”, Zijingang Campus Zhejiang University

Nov.1, 2020, Third International Symposium of English Writing Centers in Chinese Universities, Zijingang Campus (online and offline), Zhejiang University

One Comment

  1. MINDY OLSON November 20, 2020 at 2:49 pm - Reply

    Hello Fang Fan,

    Thank you for this article! It explains the history and number of English Writing Centers in China, which was a question I’ve been asking myself, and others.

    Also, thank you for the mention of our writing center in Thailand. We were grateful and delighted to be able to participate in the Symposium, and look forward to engaging further with our writing-center colleagues in the region.

    Sincerely,
    Mindy Olson
    (one of the co-presenters of “Design and Implementation of First Peer-Staffed Writing Center in Thailand”)

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