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WU Jianping: A Network World, Based on China

When people surf the Internet and enjoy the profound change in life  brought by the network, it is hard to imagine what life would be like without the Internet. In fact, just 30 years ago, only a few people knew what the Internet was; and 20 years ago, Internet was still transmitted by modem with a speed unit of kb at the terminals, and you could also borrow a kind of book called the Internet Websites Category in the library…Just with few decades ago, China has risen to be a great power on the Internet at a blazing speed. 

Looking back the development of China’s Internet, there is one person that should never be forgotten. Looking ahead at the future of China’s Internet, the person’s name comes again. It is Professor Wu Jianping, who is the Academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering, Dean of the Department of Computer Science and Technology at Tsinghua University, Director of Institute for Network Sciences and Cyberspace at Tsinghua University, , who also is the Director of the National Engineering Laboratory for Next Generation Internet Core Network, and Chief Scientist of New Generation Internet System Structure Research in National 973 Plan. His 30 years of scientific research compresses the development history of China’s Internet, and reflects intelligence and efforts of all pioneers and builders of China’s Internet. 

At the second year after resumption of college entrance examination, Wu Jianping was admitted to the Department of Computer Science and Technology at Tsinghua University as a postgraduate of the first year, and he stayed at Tsinghua after graduation. The overseas research on computer networks then had already started for numerous years, while embargo was laid on involved high-tech products to China. Although Wu Jianping started some research and participated in experiments, he never had access to real networks, and could only get little materials from visiting scholars. At the beginning of 1980s, combined with his research on master dissertation, and under the support of his tutor, Wu Jianping bought three single board computers for development of network equipment with very low scientific research funds. After about three years of hard work, a running network was finally developed. The prototype of the network was composed of three node computers and six or seven microcomputers. Before long, a network technological result based on this prototype was applied in the campus network of Tsinghua University, and information system of the 1990 Beijing Asian Games etc., and Wu Jianping also won the Award for Science and Technology Advancement granted by the Ministry of Education in 1985. 

In 1987, Wu Jianping went to the University of British Columbia, Canada as a visiting scholar. Vancouver is just the place where the headquarters of Academic Network of Canada was located. There, he first got access to real Internet. “What I was shocked about was that it had already been widely used. It almost connected all the universities in America. This is how the first generation of Internet was like.” Therefore, Wu Jianping became the first generation of Chinese who used email when he was in Canada. Afterwards, with support of Tsinghua, he found a way to rent an international line, and successfully connected it to the inland via mail server. In 1998, many teachers in Tsinghua started using this rent line to send email to the world, realizing an international dialogue. 

At the end of 1989, Wu Jianping came back to China, and joined in the experimental network construction in Tsinghua University, Peking University, and Chinese Academy of Sciences. In 1993, International Coordinating Committee for Export to Communist Countries removed the embargo on China’s import of Internet equipment. It was also the year when China started planning on construction of national education network. At that time, the first generation of the Internet in the world had become prosperous day by day, and China’s Internet construction plan started to be on agenda. Wu Jianping seized the time to train the team and improve understanding of Internet technology by taking advantage of each project. In 1993, he led a team with young members only in their twenties and accepted a construction task of futures transaction system for newly built futures exchange in Beijing. From 1994, Wu’s research team in cooperation with 10 domestic universities, presided over the design, and built the first domestic Internet covering the whole country, namely China Education and Research Network (CERNET). At that time, China did not have any other networks that could provide Internet service at such a large scale. 

The success in CERNET project started the great development of China’s Internet, and had an important impact on the development history of China’s Internet. It also played a significant role in developing and pushing ahead the scientific and technological progress in Internet and cultivation of talents in our country. In 1997, CERNET project was rated as National Prize for Progress in Science and Technology, and selected as Top 10 Events in China’s Internet within 20 Years in 2014. 

After that, Wu Jianping did not stop his steps, and turned to the development the next generation of Internet around the year of 2000. He and his research team fellows, and through repeated research, boldly chose to build large-scale pure IPv6 network. On December 25, 2004, CERNT2, core network of CNGI, the next generation Internet demonstration project, which was presided over by Wu Jianping, started its running. This was the largest pure IPv6 network throughout the world, and the IPv6 core router, a critical Internet technology on which America had a monopoly all the time, was developed by Wu Jianping research team from Tsinghua University. These two achievements were separately rated as the second award of the National Science and Technology Progress in 2004 and 2007. 

In recent years, Professor Wu Jianping has led his team in continuously doing research on the mechanism of Internet, which has led to innovative achievements coming out one by one, which successfully solved the technical problems including transition from IPv4 to IPv6 and difficult verification on source address of Internet etc., and a series of core technical standards were developed as well. With mutual efforts of other domestic units, it had made major breakthrough in establishing international Internet technology standards by our country. By far, there have been over 80 standards with a Chinese as first author among the over 7,000 international Internet standards.

 In July 2010, Professor Wu Jianping won the Jonathan B. Postel Service Award, which is the highest prize granted by Internet Society, and became the first scientist of China who won this special prize. In the award-granting meeting, Lynn St. Amour, Chairman and CEO of Internet Society, said that, 20 years ago, Professor Wu Jianping foresaw the significance and future influence of Internet, together with the critical role it will play in social reform, technological development and economic growth of China. Afterwards, he led his team and worked perseveringly, which played an important role in pushing ahead the development of China’s Internet, and his achievements also had a significant impact on global Internet. 

For more than 30 years, Professor Wu Jianping has worked at the frontline of teaching and scientific research of networks. He has presided over the completeness of many major projects, established the CERNET to the largest national academic network in the world, won multiple science and technology awards with national level, published over 300 academic papers, gained over 30 patents for technological invention in China, cultivated more than 100 postgraduates, and as first author, finished 4 RFC standards of IETF of international Internet organization. He was elected as the Academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering in 2015. Facing honors and achievements, Professor Wu said, “It should be mentioned that we are very lucky. In the final battle, we choose the right path, and meanwhile, have the honor to witness and take part in all the developments of China’s Internet.” 

“Only by gradually mastering the discourse power can change the global situation of Internet.” Facing the future, Professor Wu said, “Now, it’s a good time for this to flourish. We have the honor to witness the domestic and overseas Internet development history, but we are still far behind. China is the largest country in the world for Internet usage, but not a great power on the Internet worldwide. Mastering the discourse power of future Internet still needs more effort of scientific researchers, to escort the security of future network space, and to make contributions to promoting economic development, social progress and national prosperity.”

 Note: This article is excerpted and adapted from Gao Yuan’s article titled “Wu Jianping: A Network World, Based on China” published by the newspaper “New Tsinghua” on September 9, 2016.