Table of Contents

Comment Icon0 In a fitting twist of fate, the birth of China’s Internet had its origins in the scientific study of particle energy, similar to those created in the birth of the universe. In particular, the Beijing Electro-Spectrometer (BES) Collaboration had brought together physicists from the Institute of High-Energy Physics (IHEP) in Beijing and Stanford University’s Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC). At that time, IHEP was connected to SLAC over a dial-up X.25 connection that ran between China’s national public data network (CNPAC) and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. This connection was used to exchange email once a day, but was slow and expensive, costing around US$100 per hour and running up monthly bills of around US$10,000 (Lemon & Lawson, 2004). By 1991, these researchers still felt out of touch with SLAC as they were unable to access programs and data that resided in SLAC’s computers. To overcome this problem, several researchers involved with the BES Collaboration suggested establishing a direct link between SLAC and IHEP.

Comment Icon0 While early records showed that the first international email was sent out to German scientists on September 1987, much of the network connections made were limited to specific countries that China communicated with for academic research. By 1988, early networking protocols, such as X.25, were used on a limited scale through major cities such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guagzhou, Shenyang, Xi’an, Wuhan, Chengdu, Nanjing and Shenzhen. By November 1990, the Chinese took a major step towards claiming its own Internet identity, when Professor Wang Yunfeng and Professor Werner Zorn managed to register for China’s country code top-level domain, CN. However, since China had not yet achieved full functional connection to the Internet at the time, the .CN country code top-level domain (ccTLD) name server was temporarily set in Karlsruhe University in Germany (Hu, 2009).

Comment Icon0 By 1994, three distinctive factors finally brought about the much sought-after Internet connection between China and the rest of the world. The first factor was economic in nature. In the command economy of the Mao Zedong era, the media’s function was to serve state interests and impose ideological hegemony on society (Lee, 1990). Where information communication technology (ICT) would typically be under government control, the idea of using ICT to modernize the Chinese economy was largely a product of state initiative. The government also believed that it would help decentralize decision-making, and make the administrative process more transparent so as to better control it from Beijing (Cartledge & Lovelock, 1999). The second factor was political in nature, and it involved negotiations with the United States as the nation that developed much of the networking technology needed for full Internet connectivity. Just before a Washington meeting of the Sino-American Federation of Scientific and Technological Cooperation Committee, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Hu Qiheng, reiterated to the National Science Fund (NSF) the request of China’s Internet connection. This was later approved with China getting the full cooperation it needed from the Americans for the necessary provisions to be in place (Hu, 2009). The third factor was technical in nature. In addition to needs of SLAC and IHEP, plans to upgrade the link to a TCP/IP connection with the Internet also involved the U.S.-based Energy Sciences Network (ESnet). This was overseen by the U.S. Department of Energy, which provided Internet connectivity to SLAC. While China was approved to use the TCP/IP connection, China also acquired its first TCP/IP- based Cisco router, which arrived in Beijing and was installed at IHEP on March 1994. In the final steps towardss opening the Internet connection with China, ESnet took over management of the U.S. end of the link from SLAC. By May 1994, ESnet established a full Internet connection that linked the IHEP-SLAC connection with the interconnection point on the U.S. West Coast for all of the major IP networks (Lemon & Lawson, 2004).

Comment Icon0 In last 10 years, China’s telecommunication adoption has leapfrogged those of most developed nations. The trend began on 20 April 1994, when China opened a 64K international dedicated circuit to the Internet through Sprint Co. of the United States (CERNET, 2001). During that time, the High Energy Physics Research Institute set up China’s first web server and made the first set of webpages under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). Apart from briefing on the development of high technology in China, the website featured a culture column entitled “Tour in China”. Since then, the column expanded its range to the news, economies, culture and business, and it was renamed “The Window of China”. In the same year, the National Research Center for Intelligent Computing System opened the first BBS (bulletin board system) called “Dawn BBS”. These two events were milestones for the development of culture websites and cyber-forums (Hu, 2009).

Comment Icon0 Given that China’s .cn country code top-level domain (ccTLD) name server was still located in Karlsruhe University in Germany, it was only on 21 May 1994 that the computer network information center under CAS relocated it within China’s borders, thereby reinforcing its independence on the Internet. Work on China’s nationwide Internet, the Chinanet, started four months later after China Telecom and the U.S. Secretary of Commerce signed a Sino-American Internet agreement which opened two 64K dedicated circuits in Beijing and Shanghai through Sprint Co. of the United States. While China’s first BBS was created in 1994, it was only on 8 August 1995 that the first Internet-based BBS, called the Shuimu Qinghua BBS, was introduced in China.

Chapter 4.1 – Birth of the Internet in China


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