'China's Bill Gates' who revolutionised character printing dies

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 February, 2006, 12:00am

Wang Xuan, a mainland computer scientist known as 'China's Bill Gates' and the inventor of a groundbreaking electronic publishing system for Chinese characters, died in Beijing yesterday. He was 69.

Xinhua described his achievements in electronic publishing as 'the second invention of the printing system for Chinese characters' following Bi Sheng's invention of movable type nearly 1,000 years ago which ushered in a revolution in the history of printing. Wang was often dubbed the 'Modern Bi Sheng'.

He was also dean of Peking University's Institute of Computer Science and Technology, an academician with the Chinese Academy of Science and the Chinese Academy of Engineering, and a vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

In the 1980s, Wang started a small company, which later evolved into Peking University Founder Group, that focused on his laser-photo typesetting system. In 1995, Founder Corp (Hong Kong) went public with Wang as its chairman. He stood down in 1998 to make room for younger people.

Born in Shanghai in February, 1937, Wang was admitted to Peking University, majoring in mathematics and mechanics, in 1954. After graduating, he taught at the university's Wireless Electronics Department for about 20 years, researching computer applications, particularly the digitisation of words, graphics and images.

In August 1974, Beijing launched the '748 Project' to focus on the development of Chinese character processing. Wang was in charge of research and development of a precision photo-typesetting system for Chinese characters.

The Economic Daily became the first mainland newspaper to adopt laser photo typesetting by computer in 1987.

In 1988, Wang helped create a Chinese-language newspaper editing and a publishing system using large computer terminals, a Chinese-language laser typesetting system for colour printing, a remote-transmission publishing system and a management system for news collection and editing. The technologies were able to compete with the best in the world.

Tao Kai , a retired newspaper editor who worked for nearly 30 years in the press industry, said Wang's invention increased the speed of newspaper production and helped improve the newsworthiness of publications.

'The deadline was pushed back a couple of hours with the help of advanced technology,' he said.

Wang was also renowned for his easygoing personality.

Zhejiang University professor Wu Qitai said: 'He was very easy-going and amicable. And he helped and cultivated young people with a noble heart.'

Professor Wu said Wang and his wife, Yang Fuqing , also a prominent computer scientist, had both fully devoted themselves to the country. 'They were both in bad health even when they were young. But for the country's cause, they were extremely diligent.'

Wang, who died of an unspecified illness, is survived by his wife. They had no children.