ISSUES IN ACADEMIC NETWORKING IN THE PRC
Franklin Kuo, General Wireless Communications, Inc.
James Ding, AsiaInfo Services, Inc.
Cindy Zheng, San Diego Supercomputer Center
Farooq Hussain, Sprint International
In recent years, each of the first three authors visited the Peoples
Republic of China to learn more about the development of academic networks in
that booming country.
Our visits were very informative. We paid visits to many of the
leading academic and research institutions in PRC networking. Since
most of the intellectual leadership in networking was concentrated in
the cities of Beijing and Shanghai, we focused our efforts in those cities. We
made contacts with many key networking institutions and carried out
extensive dialogues with the leading experts. In this report we examine
the relationships among the different network institutions, existing problems
in the development of academic networks, and the efforts which are
needed to solve these problems.
2.0 Current Wide Area Networks
At present, the major wide area network (WAN) in China is the China
National Public Data Network, CNPAC, which is currently operational. Using
X-25 packet switched (PS) equipment from SESA, CNPACis designed to carry data
at speeds varying between 1.2 and 9.6 Kbps. The hub is in Beijing, where the
network management center is located, with packet switches sited
in the major cities of Shanghai and Guangzhou, PS concentrators
in eight other major cities, and 26 packet assemblers/disassemblers
(PADs) elsewhere. At the Beijing hub, there is an international
access point connecting CNPAC to other countries. This network is used
mainly for foreign trade and commerce, and very little for academic use
because of high tariffs.
In 1993, China began installing a new network, CHINAPAC using Northern
Telecom equipment. CHINAPAC is intended to be the successor to CNPAC, and
will be the principal public data network backbone in China. When completed,
it will have 5,500 backbone nodes which will cover all provincial capital
cities of the Mainland, with Canton links to Hong Kong and Macao, and Beijing
links to the rest of theworld (6 countries currently). CHINAPAC and its
international link runs at 64Kbps backbone rate. It supports major CCITT X
series protocols including X.25 and X.75. It also supports SNA, SDLC, 3270,
DSP and BSC protocols. User links vary from 1200bps through 64Kbps. Users can
connect to CHINAPAC through leased lines (X.25, 9.6K through 64K) or
through dial-up (X.32, 9.6K; or X.28 1200/2400bps). In October 1993,
the CHINAPAC began early operations.
CERNET: which stands for China Education and Research Network, is intended
to be China's own version of NSFnet. Professor Hu Daoyuan of Tsinghua
University is organizing the project, which is being sponsored by the State
Education Commission and the State Planning Committee, with an initial
funding of 80 M Rmb (approx $10 M) over the next three years. The six
universities forming the core group of CERNET are:
Tsinghua University (Beijing)
Peking University (Beijing)
South China Technical Institute (Guangzhou)
Southeastern University (Nanjing)
Shanghai Jiatong University
Xian Jiatong University
These universities will form the regional centers of CERNET and when
CERNET gets its own backbone, will form the central switching centers.
Initially, CERNET will use the facilities of CHINAPAC, so the link speeds will
be limited to 64 Kbps, but will mostly operate at 9.6 kbps. In a few years
CERNET hopes to have its own backbone network, built around public network
frame relay offering (2 Mbps).
3.0 Metropolitan and Campus Networks
In Beijing, we saw a very impressive metropolitan networking project
called NCFC (National Computing and Networking Facility of China). NCFC is a
demonstration network linking the two major universities, Tsinghua
and Peking Universities to a number of research institutes of the Chinese
Academy of Science (CAS). The NCFC network is a
new shining star in Chinese academic networking. Funded by the PRC State
Planning Commission and the World Bank (over $10 million), NCFC has built
the best metropolitan area network (MAN) in China, and it is the first of
China's planned connecting points to the global Internet. NCFC
consists of three campus LANs: Tsinghua University Network (TUNET), Peking
University Network (PUNET) and Chinese Academy of Science Network ( CASNET).
These campus networks are connected by NCFC as a two-level system. Currently,
NCFC has a 10-Mbps backbone connecting the three campus networks, which will
increase to a 100 Mbps FDDI backbone in the next phase of the project.
TCP/IP is being used as the initial communications protocol with eventual
migration to OSI a possibility. The top level of NCFC consists of the backbone
and the network control center. The second level is composed of campus
networks at the two universities and CAS. NCFC is in limited operations now,
with full operation expected by 1994. Currently there is a high demand for
network links (especially global internet access) from the scientists of all
three institutions. There are now about 2,000 hosts on three campus networks
of NCFC, and the Academy of Sciences alone has another 2,000 computers
waiting to be linked to the network. The NCFC has recently established a
full Internet connection using satellite facilities of Sprint International.
The NCFC is also planning to establish a network information center
(NIC) to be used as a shared facility for all Chinese academic networks.
More on these points later.
As an example of the high professional level of activities in NCFC, we
describe in greater detail, the efforts of each of the constituent networks,
beginning with the TUNET.
3.1 The Tsinghua University Network TUNET
One of the most impressive university networking groups we visited was at
Tsinghua University, the premier technical university in China. Under
the direction of Professor Hu Daoyuan, the Tsinghua University network,
TUNET is being developed under a phased strategy.
TUNET has three major networking facilities:
o A circuit switched network based upon an integrated services PABX,
o A packet switching network based upon X.25 switches and PADs,
o Ethernet LANs interconnected through a 100-Mbps FDDI optical fiber
A key function of TUNET is electronic mail. Tsinghua University's
message-handling system (MHS) is designed to handle more
than simply e-mail. It will also be able to handle telegraph, teletext,
fax, videotex, voice, images, etc. The MHS is based upon the EAN system
developed by the University of British Columbia conforming to the
CCITT X.400 recommendation series of 1984. Tsinghua's work on its
e-mail system includes migration, Chinese localization, menu adaptation
and the implementation of remote user agents.
Currently, Tsinghua is actively seeking an international connection to
implement its e-mail gateway project with the University of British Columbia.
It is hoped that the planned NCFC Internet connection could be used initially,
but it seems likely that in the medium to long term, Tsinghua would require
an independent connection given the strength and diversity of its networking
Among the three NCFC institutions, Tsinghua University is the most
agressive in commercializing its R&D efforts in computer and network
technology. Currently it has contracted to do domestic user
training for Microsoft and AT&T. It has also turned some of its own
research results into commercial products.
3.2 Chinese Academy of Sciences Network, CASNET
The Chinese Academy of Sciences consists of over 125 research
institutes, spread over a large area of Beijing. Most of the
institutes have their own local area networks. The campus network that
links many of the institutes is CASNET. This network has
three major HUBs connected in a ring topology via a 100Mbps FDDI backbone,
while a 10Mbps ethernet (fiber) exists as backup. The three
HUBs are located at the Computer Network Center (CNC), The Institute of
Acoustics and the Institute of Computing, and serve to link CASNET to dozens
of small local area networks (mostly Ethernet) at other institutes, such as
the Inst. of Astronomy, the Inst. of Electronics, and the Inst. of Physics.
CNC serves as the monitoring center of NCFC metropolitan
network. CNC is also where CASNET connects to outside networks. Their
current domestic wide area network connection is via CNPAC. The CNC is
intended to eventually support a supercomputer facility, and much of the
funding for the supercomputer will come from the World Bank.
3.3 Peking University Network, PUNET
The third campus network member of NCFC is the Peking University Network,
PUNET. Peking University is one of the foremost science education
institutions in China. It has one of the largest scientific literature
collections in the PRC and is leading an effort to devevlop a library
information retrieval system. Users throughout the large campus can make
use of this excellent facility by the use of PUNET. With the NCFC coming on
line, the library information system of Peking University will become one of
the major educational resources of the Beijing area.
All three NCFC institutions have elaborate networking facilities. As an
example of these facilities, let us examine more closely, the PUNET
operational infrastructure. Currently, PUNET links more than 300 PCs,
40 workstations and over 20 mainframes. It operates on a 1 Gbps fiber optic
backbone in the form of two stars, each with a fiber optic HUB. Three LAN
bridges connect the two HUBs and the LAN in the Computer Center. Each HUB
links up to 12 buildings and each building has its own Ethernet. LAN Subnets
are connected with the backbone through routers. Netware file servers act
concurrently as routers. The major protocol on PUNET is TCP/IP.
PUNET currently provides the following network services on campus:
o Electronic Mail using the SMTP protocol
o File Transfer using the FTP protocol
o Remote Login using the TELNET protocol
o File Services and Disk Storage using NFS and Novell's Netware file service
o Name Service using the BIND Name Service protocol
o Print Service for PC users, using Netware print services
o Automated library management and retrieval system services
4.0 Local Area Networks LANs
Local area network (LAN) units are widely used in most academic
institutions throughout China. Two of the most widely available
LAN products found throughout China are Ethernets from 3COM,
and Netware, a LAN operating system developed by the Novell
company. These products are available in China because of joint
venture arrangements that the cited companies have made with
At the Shanghai Jiaotong University, Professor Yang Chuan-hou, the
Director of the Computer Network Research Laboratory presented to us
some work that dealt with the architectural design of a gateway
interconnecting LANs to an X.25 packet switched network. The work
was developmental in nature, in that both hardware and software
designs were implemented in the laboratory.
Although campus LANs are widespread, remote links among these LANs are
rare due to the poor telecommunications infrastructure in the country. As
a typical example of how difficult it is to arrange a remote leased line,
it took 18 months to establish a 64Kbps leased line within Beijing to link
the Inst. of High Energy Physics (IHEP) and the AT&T satellite station.
This leased line is still the only 64K line in Beijing used for remote network
linkage. Right now the data communications among various institutions
are usually by means of dial-up links or through CNPAC, which currently
only has a 9600bps backbone rate, and connections (usually leased line)
to each local node is 4800bps or lower.
5.0 International Connections
Among all the campus LANs in Beijing, six academic networks have
made significant internetworking achievements, especially in their efforts
to join the global internet. Some of these efforts will be described next.
The China Academic Network (CANET) is the earliest network (1987) that
established an international connection. Although carrying users nation-
wide through dial-up links, CANET is basically a local network of the Inst. of
Computer Application (ICA) in Beijing. It has an e-mail-only
international connection which routes through Karlsruhe, Germany. Because
CANET uses CNPAC to connect to the remote German mail gateway to
send and receive e-mail, the cost of its e-mail communication (both to send
& receive) is very high. CANET is facing serious budget difficulties and
has no plans to expand its user base due to high costs. Two points to
note about CANET are its historical leading role in
China's networking, and the personal contributions of its
founder, Mr. Tianbai Qian. Mr. Qian is an internationally known Chinese
networking expert and still plays an important role in China's academic
The China Research Network (CRN) was built through a pilot network
project between 1987 to 1990. The current CRN consists of nine
institutions nationwide, connected through dial-up (PSDN) links or
CHINAPAC (X.25). Much like the CANET, CRN has its international mail-only
gateways located in Germany. The e-mail transmissions pass through the
CHINAPAC, and are expensive because CHINAPAC levies high tariffs for both
sending and receiving messages. CRN's well-known entry point (WEP) is at
the Shanghai Jiaotong University, which operates a mail-only gateway to
Germany. Until 1993, the German government had being paying for for the entire
X.25 link between China and Germany. However, with the German economy in
recession and with unification expenses being so large, Germany stopped
subsidizing the link in 1993, and the CRN institutions ended up paying for it
themselves. So, CRN e-mail (X.400) users are being asked to curtail the
lengths of their messages. The CRN X.400 mail link to Germany will be
maintained even after China's Internet links are operational.
The Institute of High Energy Physics (IHEP) has obtained the first
direct (not using CNPAC) international 64 Kbps leased line in Beijing for
its network connection with the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC)
at Stanford University. SLAC pays half of the communication cost for
this joint academic project. Only the DECnet protocol is currently running
on the leased line, TCP/IP will be added shortly. There is a tenuous
internet connection via this link, but the number of users is limited
outside IHEP itself. The link was established in order to facilitate
data exhange for high energy physics experiments involving IHEP and SLAC.
However, much of the data that needs to be tranferred is too great for the
capacity of the link. So the main mode of data transfer is by shipping tapes
back and forth. SLAC opened accounts for IHEP people on SLAC's machine,
to allow them to have direct Internet access.
Each of the above networks described above has independently evolved
to its current stage. Each has its own technical team, financial resources,
working agenda and international connections. If given enough money,
probably each would have its own international leased line. Since there
isn't an abundance of financial support for PRC academic networks,
coordination and cooperation is needed to achieve some of their long
The Beijing Posts and Telecommunication Administration has recently
expressed interest in establishing an e-mail gateway between its X.25
service and the Internet. Sprint is currently exploring the technical and
operational requirements for the establishment of this gateway in Beijing.
The gateway is proposed for implementation during Spring/Summer 1994. PAN AM
SAT will have capacity available in the 2nd quarter of 1994 and initially,
satellite access will be available to the academic and research community at
no charge. The satellite link might also prove useful in providing
intra-China connections between networks separated by already saturated
terrestrial links, and for other international connectivity projects.
Other Chinese institutions and telecomunications authorities are inquiring
about requirements for the establishment of Internet nodes. Besides Beijing,
Shanghai's plans for an Internet satellite connection are furthest
along. The Shanghai Internet link is a joint venture between Fudan
and Shanghai Jiaotong Universities, two of the best schools in the country, and
the Shanghai PTT. The Shanghai PTT has embraced the idea so thoroughly that
it will pay for both the US and the China half-circuits of the satellite link,
and try to operate a commercial Internet access service in the Shanghai area.
It is expected that the satellite link linking Shanghai to the Internet would
be available for use by the end of 1994.
In addition to interest within the PRC, a large number of inquiries for
Internet accesss to China have come from the North American and European
academic community. Also, there is a growing interest in Internet access
to the Chinese business and industrial sector. Taken together, this level of
interest represents an unprecedented demand for international Internet access
to the country that has the most booming economy on earth, and yet possesses
one of the most primitive telecommunications infrastructures among major
6.0 National Policy and Coordination
Two serious problems lie in the way of further development of
Chinese academic networks. One problem is the lack of coordination among
existing network projects and among the sponsors; the other big problem
is the absence of a national policy and a long term plan to build an academic
6.1 Internet Connections
It is hard to find any effective macro-management (policy level) or
micro-coordination (technical level) among the existing networks. This
situation has caused increasing concerns among network developers and users
in China. Take NCFC as an example. Having relatively strong financial
resources and technical advantages, NCFC is expected by many to be the main
access point connecting China to the global Internet. Its Internet
connection has just been completed. But how will the other institutions share
in its use? The answer is as yet undecided. Then who will make the
necessary decisions? The answer is again undecided. If NCFC does not reach a
satisfactory answer on this issue, problems will arise both inside and
outside China. It has been rumored that China's PTT has threatened to cut
NCFC's international connection if NCFC "resells" the international link
(i.e. allowing the others share the costs of the line). However, in approving
the NCFC connection, the Chinese State Planning Commission, the Natural
Science Foundation and other interested organizations have met to consider
shared funding options that would allow the NCFC to provide connections to
other institutions on a shared-cost basis. A decision on this issue is still
Within Chinese networking circles, there is limited awareness of
the dramatic changes taking place in the internet architecture of the US as a
result of the new NSFNET architecture. Nor is there much knowledge about
the emerging changes in the European multi-protocol backbone and the phasing
out of some of the present E-BONE nodes. Many Chinese academic and
research networks want access to the NSFNET without realizing that the new
NSFNET will be a very high speed backbone network service with a more
stringent access policy than even the present acceptable use policy.
What is not generally known is that the former role of NSFNET in providing
backbone services to the US internet will now be taken over by commercial
network providers such as Sprint. While these commercial services
will be able to accept Chinese network traffic
and route it to any network willing to accept it, Chinese networks cannot be
connected directly to the NSFNET or any other US government network without a
change in the present policy. Requests for such a change have been made to
the US National Science Foundation by the Chinese Natural Science Foundation
and the issue is under consideration. However it is not anticipated that
this policy will be changed during 1994.
6.2 Naming and Addressing
Domain Name: The highest level domain name for China is ".cn". Below that,
there are differences of opinion as to how to organize China's Internet
domain naming system. Some prefer the US system with the next level
being edu, com, gov, net, and org. Others prefer the geographical-based
system like cnri.reston.va.us. Currently there is no agreement nor
authority on who should be in charge of the domain name
assignment/management and how the domain name server (DNS) should be set
up and managed. If the problem is not solved before China gets fully
connected to the Internet, it will cause a lot of routing or mail-
delivery problems not only to hosts in China, but also to every host on
the internet which tries to communicate to Chinese hosts.
The routing problems presented by the dramatic growth of the global
internet and the changes pending in the US internetwork architecture make the
coordination among Chinese networks in terms of routing, domain
management and address space allocation an issue of critical importance.
Any international connectivity provisions made
for a Chinese network needs to take these factors into account.
For this reason, we have encouraged the NCFC to vigorously
promote cooperation among Chinese networks on these matters.
6.3 National Academic Networking Policy
Almost all Chinese network experts share in the concern about the lack
of coordination. Many agree that the problem is due to the lack of
government support, both financially and politically. Unlike
the situation in many countries, building academic networks has
never been an important issue in the PRC government's science and
technology policy. These coordination and funding problems are
exacerbated by having too many ministries and other
authorities involved in decision (or non-decision) making. These include:
the State Science and Technology Commission (SSTC), the Ministry
of Posts and Telecommunications, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of
Electronic Industries, the Beijing Posts and Telecommunications Administration,
and other regional and provincial authorities, etc. There is no agreement
among these bodies about the importance of academic networking and
how to pay for the development and operations of the various networks,
many of which are supported by different ministries. It is vital that
a consensus be reached at the highest levels of government
about the major role of academic networking in the future
conduct of science and technology education. It is a matter of the
highest priority that the PRC government formulate an overall
policy to support academic networking similar to that of the HPCC program
in the United States.
7.0 Recent Initiatives
The problems described in the previous section are widely shared
among PRC networking people. To help correct some of the problems,
some key initiatives have been undertaken, and they will be described in
7.1 The Symposium on Chinese Academic Network Development
On July 27, 1993, the first Symposium on Chinese Academic Network
Development was held at the Institute of Scientific & Technical
Information of China (ISTIC) in Beijing. There had been some similar
small meetings held before. But on this occasion, almost all the leading
telecommunications & networking experts in Beijing attended the symposium.
A few high level officials from State Science & Technology Commission
and Chinese Academy of Sciences also attended. The purposes of the symposium
was 1). to discuss the current situation of China's network development and
existing problems; 2). to make suggestions on future network development
in China. After presentations from all of the key networking groups,
extensive discussions were held on existing and future problems.
The attending officials from SSTC expressed
strong support for building academic networks in China,
and were willing to push the issue to higher level authorities to
obtain further support. Those delegates from the Beijing PTT
also promised to give preferential consideration to the telecommunications
needs of China's academic networks. They suggested that
some leniency might be granted to academic networks despite the existing
strict telecommunications policies in China.
7.2 Infrastructure Improvements
At the symposium, the Beijing PTT announced plans for upgrading
the telecommunications infrastructure in the Beijing area. The good news
for the audience was that by September 1993, a 64Kbps backbone would be
available in Beijing, linking together 22 nodes. That meant that a 64K
leased line could be set up at once between almost any two points in Beijing.
This news was particularly good for NCFC which is applying for such a leased
line for its international Internet link.
7.3 Internet Link
In the summer of 1993, the NCFC had extensive discussions with
officials of Sprint International to establish a leased line link to
the Internet. After almost a full year of negotiations
within the PRC and with entities such as the US National Science
Foundation and Sprint International, the NCFC finally was able to
procure a 64 Kbps satellite link to the the Commercial Internet Exchange,
in Stockton CA. In May 1994, the link became operational, and on May 26th, one
of the authors (Kuo) tested the link by sending a test message, via telnet,
from Tsinghua University in Beijing to SRI in Menlo Park, CA and back to
Beijing. The link was somewhat slow, but the round trip test message was
delivered within three minutes. Then e-mail was sent to Vint Cerf, president
of the Internet Society, informing him that the Beijing Internet link was
open for business.
7.4 Network Information Center
During 1993, the authors had extensive discussions with NCFC about
the need to establish a China-wide network information center (NIC) in much
the same way as the current InterNIC operates in the United States.
The internetworking environment in China presents a quite different
picture from many countries seeking global internet access. There already
exists a lot of networking projects in China, and the local expertise in
networking is quite advanced. The major problem in the PRC seems to be
lack of internetwork planning and coordination. With increasing pressure
for international access from a potentially large number of geographically
separated and uncoordinated Chinese networks, a Chinese NIC is needed to
facilitate the management of network routing tables, address allocations, and
The NCFC has agreed to take the lead in the creation of the Chinese NIC.
Technical support for the development and operations of the China NIC
and for its coordination with the Asia Pacific NIC, are being provided by the
NCFC, APNIC, and Sprint. The NCFC has sought financial support for this effort
from the World Bank, which has agreed to release funds for the training of NIC
operational staff. Professor Jun Murai of the WIDE Project in Japan, whose
team developed the APNIC software, has offered the software and the technical
support to implement it to the NCFC. Most of the equipment required is
already available at the NCFC, so we anticipate that a pilot China NIC can
proceed with implementation during the 1st quarter 1994.
To summarize, the main requirement for the establishment of the China NIC
is the need to handle the routing and international connectivity
problems which will arise when Chinese networks start to connect to
each other and to the global internet.
7.5 the Internet Society of China
At the July symposium, one of the authors (JD), suggested setting
up a national coordination committee for academic network development.
Two different approaches for establishing the committee were put on the
table. One is from top down, i.e. have the PRC government appoint an
official coordinating committee to plan for future network development
and take charge of issues like financial support, usage policy, network
standards, registration management etc. The other suggestion is from
bottom up, i.e. to unite the network experts and users together first,
set up a network users' group similar to the Internet Society.
The top-down approach, if successful, will be more effective and
authoritative in its coordinating functions. But such a committee is
very hard to set up without strong government support and financial
backing. Also in China, non-technical interference will more likely to
occur from the different political entities involved in supporting
Chinese academic networking.
The bottom-up approach, on the other hand, is easier to accomplish.
Actually, the preparation for a users' group (tentatively called the Internet
Society of China) has already been started. Mr. Tianbai Qian of CANET is
in charge of this initiative. However, the authority of such a group to
make policy decisions was questioned by some experts, as well as the
Symposium organizers. It could turn out to be merely a social club for
Chinese network professionals.
The bottom-up organization can become a successful coordinating body
only if all concerned parties are willing to cooperate and willing to
compromise when there is a conflict. This is quite a challenge for
people in China who are used to "solving problems by order/command"
rather than "solving problems by negotiation".
At the symposium, it was agreed that the present network experts
would make a united appeal for government support and serious efforts to
plan for and build an academic internet in China. This network, which is
now called CERNET is to be built as a nation-wide backbone interconnecting
networks in major education and research institutions, and should become part
of the global Internet. The Internet Society of China will strive to make
this goal a reality.
8.0 International Support and Cooperation
As China emerges as a world economic power, there is also a surge
of interest in Chinese networking, both from inside China and around the world.
To further develop the PRC's network infrastructure, Chinese networking
professionals urgently need information and contacts with foreign network
experts. And out on the Internet, people all over the world are eager to
learn about network developments in China.
In August, 1993, under an agreement with all the major international
e-mail link sites in China, CINET-L was established to serve as a
central source of information and of contacts for
people who are interested in China's networking situation, or need help,
or would like to be helpful. Due to the expensive nature of China's
international e-mail links, CINET-L is not an open list for all PRC users
but the information in CINET-L is available at all of China's current
international e-mail gateway sites like IHEP.
CINET-editor consists of a group of volunteers, mainly in the US. They
moderate the e-mail traffic volume to Chinese sites, collect, archive and
disseminate news and technical information relevant to Chinese networking.
They also issue electronically, semi-monthly newsletters, and distribute
them through CINET-L. CINET-editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are also two anonymous-ftp sites set up on the Internet by CINET-editor
to archive China-networking related documentations and publications. They are
flynn.chem.columbia.edu and cnd.org.