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China's First Email Link
Research is crucial to journalism across the globe
Jay Hauben (jhauben)     Email Article  Print Article 
Published 2010-01-29 16:51 (KST)   
This is an excerpt from Jay Hauben's speech at the launch of a new School of Global Journalism and Communications in Chongqing in Southwestern China.(1)  <Editor's Note>
In 2004, Ronda Hauben and I were in Germany. Ronda had heard that the first permanent email link between China and the rest of the world was connected to the University of Karlsruhe in Germany. While in Germany, we were told if you want to know about the Germany-China link, Werner Zorn was the man to see.

We located and interviewed Professor Zorn in Berlin. He shared his memories from 1983 to 1987. He told us that during those four years, a Chinese-German international collaboration prepared the link so that China would be part of a worldwide email system called CSNET. Prof. Zorn supported his memories with documents from that period. He gave us copies of some documents. He particularly gave credit on the Chinese side to Professor Wang Yunfeng who was the general director of the Institute for Computer Applications (ICA) in Beijing. The ICA became the node of the email link.

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The Story of China셲 First Email Link and How it Got Corrected
I decided to write an article for the Amateur Computerist, an online news journal, about this history. My research for the article took me mostly to Web sites in China. The story told there gave most credit for the China-CSNET connection to a Chinese engineer, Qian Tianbai whom Zorn had hardly mentioned. Mostly missing from the history on the websites in China I found was any credit to Professor Wang or to the international component which Professor Zorn had stressed.

I sent email to Professor Zorn asking him about the discrepancy. I also sent email asking the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC) if there was any evidence for citing on the CNNIC website that Qian Tianbai was responsible for the first email message. Prof. Zorn sent me via email more documents and the email addresses for two Chinese scientists, Dr. Li Cheng Chiung and Ruan Ren Cheng, who had signed the first email message. Dr. Li Cheng Chiung was the Director of the ICA from 1980 to 1990. A copy of the first email message was online. I saw that Qian Tianbai's name was not among the 13 signatures.
Sept 14, 1987 Email Message between China and the

Received: from Peking by unika1; Sun, 20 Sep 87 16:55 (MET dst)
Date: Mon, 14 Sep 87 21:07 China Time
From: Mail Administration for China
To: Zorn@germany, Rotert@germany, Wacker@germany, Finken@unika1
CC: lhl@parmesan.wisc.edu, farber@udel.edu, jennings%irlean.bitnet@germany, cic%relay.cs.net@germany, Wang@ze1, RZLI@ze1
Subject: First Electronic Mail from China to Germany
Date: Mon, 14 Sep 87 21:07 China Time

"Ueber die Grosse Mauer erreichen wir alle Ecken der Welt"
"Across the Great Wall we can reach every corner in the world"

Dies ist die erste ELECTRONIC MAIL, die von China aus ueber Rechnerkopplung in die internationalen Wissenschaftsnetze geschickt wird.
This is the first ELECTRONIC MAIL supposed to be sent from China into the international scientific networks via com-puter interconnection between Beijing and Karlsruhe, West Germany (using CSNET/PMDF BS2000 Version).
University of Karlsruhe Institute for Computer Application of
- Informatik State Commission of
Rechnerabteilung - Machine Industry
(IRA) (ICA)
Prof. Dr. Werner Zorn Prof. Wang Yuen Fung
Michael Finken Dr. Li Cheng Chiung
Stephan Paulisch Qui Lei Nan
Michael Rotert Ruan Ren Cheng
Gerhard Wacker Wei Bao Xian
Hans Lackner Zhu Jiang
Zhao Li Hua

The two Chinese scientists answered with more information about the September 1987 email message and about Qian Tianbai. Particularly they both answered that Qian Tianbai was not in China at the time of the opening of the link in 1987 and that Qian Tianbai had not participated in this project. I found no evidence otherwise.

Through further digging and via email correspondence with Dr. Li Cheng Chiung and Ruan Ren Cheng, I was able to confirm to my satisfaction Prof. Zorn's story of the events.

I wrote my article(2) and it was published in the Amateur Computerist giving justified credit to Professors Wang and Zorn and their teams and to Lawrence Landweber of the CSNET and Stephen Wolff. My article appeared online and I sent copies to CNNIC and other contacts I had made in China. Encouraged by my journalism, Professor Zorn intensified his efforts to get the story corrected in China.

A bit later Prof. Zorn was invited by Ronda Hauben to tell the story at a panel planned in conjunction with the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis, in November of 2005.

In Tunis, Prof. Zorn presented his story of the international effort and collaboration especially between himself and his team in Germany and Prof. Wang and Dr. Li and the team in Beijing. Prof. Zorn put up many slides showing the Chinese and German teams during the period and he put up one slide which said:

"The official timelines contain some seriously mistaken information and are also omitting important facts. They cause hereby fatal misinformation meanwhile spread all over the world."

In the audience in Tunis was Madame Hu Qiheng, Vice President of the China Association for Science & Technology and Chair of Internet Society of China.

She rose and spoke of her friendship with Qian Tianbai but said she would investigate why the story told in China differed from the one Prof. Zorn told. I gave her a copy of my article and Prof .Zorn gave her copies of some of the documents he had given me.

I do not know how it happened, but eighteen months later, entries on the official CNNIC website Internet timeline were changed to give proper credit to the work of Professors Zorn and Wang, their teams and the international effort that made the first email link between China and the world via CSNET possible. The first entry of the CNNIC Internet Time Line now reads:

"In September 1987, with the support from a scientific research group led by Professor Werner Zorn of Karlsruhe University in Germany, a working group led by Professor Wang Yunfeng and Doctor Li Chengjiong built up an Email node in ICA, and successfully sent out an Email to Germany on Sep 20th. The Email title was 'Across the Great Wall we can reach every corner in the world.'"

Later, when Prof. Zorn organized a celebration in October 2007 of the 20th anniversary of the success of the opening of the China-CSNET link he invited many of the pioneers who helped spread the internet and he invited Mdm. Hu because she had helped spread the truth about that link. For me, the celebration was both for the success of the email link and for the success of helping correct how the history was being told in China. At the celebration Mdm. Hu presented an award from China to Prof. Zorn and in her presentation said,

"The international collaboration in science and technology is the driving force for computer networking across the country borders and facilitating the early Internet development in China."
Mdm Hu presenting Werner Zorn with an award for his help to China
©2007 Hasso Plattner Institute

But this is not the end of the story.

In late 2008, the Internet Society of China asked online users what date would they chose for a National Netizens (Net Citizens) Cultural Festival? It is reported that about 500.000 users voted. The largest number of those voting chose September 14. That is the day in 1987 when the first message to be sent on the China-CSNET link was composed. When Mdm. Hu organized the first in the world Net Citizens (Netizens) Cultural Festival Day she invited Prof. Zorn. She also invited Ronda Hauben and me for our work about netizenship and about the international collaboration that made the internet possible.

The first Netizens Cultural Festival day was held this past September 14 in Beijing at the CCTV Tower. It was a lively event with speeches and awards for some bloggers. An oral history panel was held discussing some of the problems of opening an internet link to China in 1994 so the Chinese people could have full internet connectivity. This first net citizens' day was not yet well known among the public or even the 350,000,000 net users. It was like a baby being born, small but of a big potential.

Instead of seeing that potential, on a Wall Street Journal blog the event was framed as an "official day" that "didn't seem to muster much enthusiasm."(3) But the Wall Street Journal was not the only media covering the events. About 40 online media journalists attended and reported on the celebration. They did live online blogging of the events and put up text, photo and video reports so that online users could see and judge the event for themselves.(4)

On the panel of oral history at the CCTV Tower, Chief Scientist and Vice President of the Internet Society of China Qian Hualin said that:

"Just as Germany was helpful with China establishing an email link with the CSNET in 1987, today China is offering its experience to Vietnam in network construction and to the DPRK in setting up and managing the domain name system of dot KP."

As a conclusion from my story I would urge that journalism education include a strong requirement that all students learn and practice research methods. A journalist must be part historian, part detective, part intelligence agent, part scholar. Also, journalists must be encouraged and supported to be brave and follow trails to the truth.

------------
(1) This talk was presented at the International Conference on Media Education and Global Agendas, Southwest University of Political Science and Law, Chongqing, China, January 12-13, 2010. See http://202.202.80.9/mweb/xwxy/showcontent_en.asp?anclassid=8

(2) "'Across the Great Wall': The China-Germany Email Connection 1987-1994." See http://www.columbia.edu/~hauben/china-email.doc

(3) "China's Netizens Day Gets Scant Attention" by Juliet Ye. See http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2009/09/15/chinas-netizens-day-gets-scant-attention/tab/article/

(4) See for example, http://v.youku.com/v_show/id_XMTE5MTY3OTUy.html,
This article is based on a ten minute talk I composed and gave on Jan 12, 2010 at the South Western University of Political Science and Law in Chongqing, China. A longer version appears online at http://www.scr.cas.cn/whlt/yjjz/201001/t20100126_2736354.html.
©2010 OhmyNews
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