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Yang Fuqing: A Story of Technological Lift-off in China

NOV . 04 2021
Peking University, November 3, 2021: On 24th October 2021, the Peking University School of Computer Science was established. Professor Yang Fuqing, honorary dean of the School of Computer Science, delivered a speech during the opening ceremony.

Professor Yang Fuqing

As a pioneer in the field who has weathered the rocky development of China's computer science field in the past half century, her speech brings us a story of 'rags to riches' and bright prospects for the future, mapping the history of Computer Science at PKU against the ebbs and flows of economic development in China.

Yang Fuqing delivering her speech

Humble beginnings: urging development in a new nation

The People's Republic of China emerged from the depths of war plagued by economic debilitation. In 1956, Premier Zhou Enlai drafted the "12-year Science and Technological Development Plan" to prepare China for a journey of intensive industrial growth. Despite lacking information, experience and equipment, the discipline of computer science (CS) at PKU emerged in 1959 following the establishment of a CS program under the Department of Radio Electronics to meet China's developmental needs.

The early days of CS in China were tough ones. The 1960s and 1970s saw China simultaneously facing a technology blockade and an urgent need for mainframe computers to ameliorate energy shortages. A team from PKU was thus commissioned to develop a large-scale integrated circuit computer that could process one million operations per second, and they delivered. Against all odds, a group of dedicated young people completed China's first MOPS (millions of operations per second) computer, named Model 150, unlocking a technological milestone for the nation.

A team from PKU developed China's first integrated circuit computer with one million operations per second

Propelling forth: Computer Science in a digital era

Computer Science in PKU took off with Reform and Opening Up, where new plans for greater development called for new technologies and scientific innovation.  As such, the same youth behind Model 150 founded the PKU Department of Computer Science and Technology in 1978, which at the time was the only department in China to incorporate both software and hardware into their curriculum.

In 1983, scientific technologies was identified as a 'primary productive force' in propelling socio-economic development, and China started to nurture its software industry. The growing nation also required new talent in an age of productivity, and university education was seen as central to fostering skilled talent pools. The department rose to the task by strengthening its teaching force and upgrading learning environments and the curricula. In 1995, the department's computer science and technology degree was among the first batch of tertiary programs to be officially designated as first-level disciplines. In 2002, another two of their programs were recognised as national key disciplines. Owing to the relentless efforts of both faculty and students, the department flourished into a renowned and influential institution for scientific research and nurturing talent.

Entering the 21st century, rapid technological development has further hastened the ever-changing landscape of CS, warranting new approaches to research and education. In order to stay abreast of shifting global trends, PKU's CS education has constantly improved and adapted itself. 2002 saw the establishment of the School of Electronics Engineering and Computer Science, and 19 years later, PKU once again adjusted its goals to promote emerging engineering programs and better serve the national strategy. This mission takes shape in the newly founded School of Computer Science.

Launching ceremony of the School of Computer Science

Taking flight: Towards development in the new age

The 21st century is an age of scientific and industrial revolution. China, an emerging tech giant, looks to upgrade industrial structures and lead innovation in the new age. As such, President Xi has stated that "higher institutions, especially double first-class universities, should lead the cultivation of talents in basic research, plan the cultivation of talents in basic disciplines on all fronts, construct bases to this end, and cultivate high-level interdisciplinary talents.

Launching ceremony of the School of Computer Science

In line with national development strategies, Yang Fuqing provided three suggestions for the new school. Firstly, she emphasized building a strong theoretical foundation to propel breakthroughs in CS research. Secondly, the school should aim to cultivate professionals who are willing to contribute to the nation's development. Lastly, undergraduate education should be prioritised and kept up-to-date with the newest technological advancements.

While PKU's CS education has seen multiple changes in response to the differing demands of each stage in China's development, the central aim remains the same-to foster generation after generation of skilled, innovative and devoted youth capable of riding emerging waves and driving economic and technological development in China.

About the speaker
Professor Yang Fuqing, Academician of Chinese Academy of Science, is among the first generation of computer scientists and a well-known expert in software engineering in China. She led the PKU team in developing the Model 150 computer and played a big part in designing the operating system. In the 1980s, she spearheaded the Jade Bird Project, which initiated industrial production of software in China. She has received numerous titles and awards in her career, such as the Science and Technology Progress Award of the Ho Leong Ho Lee Foundation, Lifetime Achievement Award of the China Computer Federation, and State Science and Technology Progress Award (Second Class) to name a few.

Writer: Chan Zi Qing
Editor: Li Wangqi
Source: PKU News(Chinese)