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Zhongguancun’s history a microcosm for China

Author  :  JIANG XIAOBIN     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-08-22

A Zhongguancun Notebook

Author: Ning Ken

Publisher: Beijing Shiyue Literature and Art Press

Lenovo, the world largest personal computer supplier, had a famous slogan: “What would the world be without Lenovo?” Maybe it should have asked: “What Lenovo would be without Zhongguancun?” or “What would China be without Zhongguancun?” The author of A Zhongguancun Notebook, Ning Ken, reveals Zhongguancun’s history by telling the stories of the entrepreneurs who contributed to the high-tech center’s development.

Decades ago, Zhongguancun was still a desolate location. It was not until the late 1950s that the first batch of research institutes of the Chinese Academy of Sciences were set up there. These institutes, combined with Tsinghua University, Peking University and eight other academic institutes located conveniently nearby, allowed Zhongguancun to become a hub for science and technology. 

In Ning’s book, Feng Kang (1920-1993) played a key role in the area’s development. Feng was the founder of finite calculation and a pioneer of computer science in China. He tutored many scholars in mathematics and computer science, who later became known as “the Feng school scholars.” Ning argues that even though today Zhongguancun is inundated with celebrated entrepreneurs and high-tech parks, China’s technology sector must not forget the scientists who paved the way for its development. Scientists must always be at the forefront of the development of high-tech centers in China.

The book provides a snapshot of history through the many individuals profiled, ranging from Feng Kang, born in 1920, to Cheng Wei, the president and CEO of Didi Chuxing, who was born in 1983. Other figures include Chen Chunxian (1934-2004), a scientist who advocated for the establishment of a “Silicon Valley” in China and launched the first privately owned high-tech corporation; Liu Chuanzhi, the founder of Lenovo; Wang Yongmin, the father of the five-stroke Chinese character input method; Wang Jiangmin (1951-2010), the first anti-virus expert in China, and many others. Ning said, “I wrote a dozen stories all about individuals. I added no grand narrative. Individual strength has been essential to Zhongguancun’s development, which ultimately led to integrated power.” 

Ning said, “Zhongguancun epitomizes China’s development since the reform and opening up. It started at a very low level at which it was almost unable to do anything. It progressed slowly and came across various problems. Sometimes people felt frustrated: Are we going to catch up with world trends? But Zhongguancun, acting as a microcosm for China, gradually made its way beyond expectations.”

Wu Gansha, former president of Intel Labs China, also the research center’s first “chief engineer,” is now an entrepreneur dedicated to the development of the world most advanced automatic driving techniques. Wu, who became an entrepreneur in 2015, is a late-comer in Zhongguancun. The place has changed its landmarks and is no longer “the street of electronics.” Instead, the age of artificial intelligence is coming. “You may think that your competitors are other businesses. In fact, your competitor is the times. If you fail to be a friend of the times, then you are bound to be abandoned by them,” Wu said.

Editor: Yu Hui

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