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Dr. SONG Jian

67th Congregation (2009)

Dr. SONG Jian
Doctor of Laws


In 1990, the eminent Chinese scientist Dr Song Jian was invited to make a presentation on scientific research by the Bauman Moscow State Technical University.  In fluent Russian, he discoursed on three topics, namely optimal control, population control and systems control described by partial differential equations.  While these are three disparate areas of studies, Dr Song approached them from a macro angle and delved deeply into each of these three topics, at the same time piecing together his findings and observations seamlessly and cogently, upon which he then propounded his own views and theories.  This was received with tremendous praise and applause from all present, and the chairman of the assembly remarked that the great learning of Dr Song should have earned him three doctorates, although on that occasion the University could only present Dr Song with a Doctor of Science degree, in recognition of his great achievements in higher learning.  In point of fact this award in Moscow was only the conferment of a degree late by thirty years.  Dr Song had early pursued advanced studies in the then Soviet Union, and had completed his doctoral thesis at the Bauman Moscow Higher Technical School in 1960.  However, with the gradual deterioration of Sino-Russian relations at the time, Dr Song gave up the expected degree and returned to China where he had since been committed to the development of science and technology programmes.

The development of science and technology in China had gained great momentum since the 1960’s, and the fundamental theoretical framework that had cast the greatest influence on this growth was the so-called control theory.  Nowadays our research in disciplines such as systems engineering, life sciences and artificial intelligence is all based on the control theory.  We make use of the transmission and feedback of information to facilitate the control or usage of matters, but there are so many modes of control and it is a new challenge to scientists as to which modes of control are more worthy, and which one of them would yield the best results.  This newly developed pursuit in science is known as optimal control theory.  Dr Song is a foremost authority on the subject and has made significant contribution to research in this discipline.  As early as the 1960’s, he succeeded in providing solutions to hard-to-manage theoretical problems such as stability, point-wise observation and point control of systems.  In the 1970’s he revised the book titled Engineering Cybernetics by Professor Qian Xuesen with his input based on expanded and more intense research, and advanced the study of cybernetics to new heights.  The fruit of his research has been successfully applied to national defence constructions, remarkably in the design of the control system for the first generation of antiballistic missiles in China. In 1980 he participated in the overall design of a new type of missile fired from submarines, and has since been leading research and development in science and technology at the national level for the past three decades.

Research in optimal control theory has proved to be of tremendous application value in the management of social problems.  As a leader of the country, Dr Song Jian has been deeply concerned with the incessant growth in the national population.  It is his view that the population in any society will have direct impact on the growth of that particular society, and that the increases and decreases in a nation’s population are all subject to certain historical transitions and changes.  Thus he created forecasts, based on quantitative models, for the growth in the national population of China within a hundred years.  His forecasts had attracted attention from all sectors in Chinese society and the Chinese Government accordingly revised its policies on population control and planned fertility.  He was the founder of the "Theorem of Double-edged Limit of Total Fertility Rates" which led to the formulation of population control models.  Population Control in China – Theory and Applications, which he co-authored in 1985, was the first work in that specific field.  This book is still revered as a major reference work nowadays in many countries.

Corollary to population growth are, of course, problems related to the people’s livelihood.  China has always been an agricultural country, and the "Sparks Programme", which Dr Song established in 1986 and targetted at the agricultural communities in the country, was an initiative to push forward the modernisation of agriculture in China through the introduction of appropriate science and technology.  Its main purposes were to accelerate the industrialization of the agricultural communities, and to introduce corporatization to villages and townships. Now villages and towns all over the land responded enthusiastically to the sparks kindled by Dr Song.  In 1988 Dr Song took it further by launching the "Torch Programme" to encourage the establishment of high technology industries throughout the country.  Through this programme 52 regions were designated special areas for the development of new and advanced technology.  These regions, where technological and economic developments have been successfully integrated, have contributed substantially to the development of the national economy as a whole.  In 1992 Dr Song brought in the "Climbing Programme", under which emphasis was placed on key research projects of pioneering natures, and from then on Nation Building through Science and Technology has been enshrined as one of the principal policies for China’s modernization.  "Nation Building through Science and Technology" was a new slogan proposed by Dr Song, and on its basis he advocated the importance of further reinforcing the nation’s educational services. 

One of the most important elements in education is an understanding of history.  Dr Song has once said that a love for one’s country requires the study of one’s national history.  China is one of the four ancient civilizations of the world, and we know from our chronicles that three dynasties, namely Xia, Shang and Zhou, existed in the early days of our nation.  However, our knowledge of history before the Shang Dynasty had been incomplete and lacking in accuracy.  It was in 1995 that Dr Song, gathering the leading lights in their respective specialties, initiated the "Xia-Shang-Zhou Chronology Project" which involved over 200 scholars drawn from the specialist fields of history, archaeology, astronomy, science and technology.  Under the coordination and guidance of Dr Song, this illustrious assemblage of leading scholars worked closely together and successfully carried out research on scores of special topics.  Through the study of ancient texts, archaeological finds at historic sites, as well as astronomical records, the Project produced astonishing findings and a wealth of research results.  In 2000 The Chronology of the Xia, Shang and Zhou Dynasties was officially published.  This work re-dated the founding of the Xia Dynasty to 2070 BC, provided clear chronological demarcations among the three Dynasties, and pushed back the beginning of chronicled history in China by 500 years.  What was believed to be a people with three thousand years of chronicled history now proves to be a civilization over four thousand years old.  This multi-disciplinary project once again gave solid proof to the outstanding leadership of Dr Song, and speaks much for his hot-blooded commitment to the history and civilization of the Chinese people.

The distinguished achievements of Dr Song have been widely recognized throughout the world.  He has published copiously during his long career, with 12 specialist books and 160 learned articles to his credit, and has received numerous accolades and honours.  He holds honorary doctorates from many leading universities worldwide and has been appointed fellows of national-level engineering academies in many countries.  In 1995 Dr Song visited The Chinese University of Hong Kong for the first time, and since then his interest and concern for research and development at this University have not ceased.  His great encouragement has contributed much towards our success in the furtherance of our research and development work in science and technology.

It is an ancient saying that "One’s life has an end but there is no end to the pursuit of knowledge."  By life’s end is meant that space and time have cast their ruthless restrictions on us, and prevent us from seeking unlimited search for knowledge in its unfathomable realm.  Dr Song Jian was born at a time when the country was suffering deeply from internal strife and external woes.  Raised in poverty, Song Jian was teeming with self-confidence and zealous patriotism.  Through his relentless efforts and firmness of purpose, he boldly moved from one region to another in academic research, meeting the challenges of both time and space head-on with much audacity.  He is forward-looking, and has laid down many directions for the development of Chinese society in the years to come.  At the same time he focuses his attention on history, and the origin of China’s chronicled history is traced back over a thousand years before the commonly reckoned date. His control theorems emphasize how man may employ his intelligence to systematically exercise control and make useful utility of matters.  His "Spark" and "Torch" programmes mapped out a blueprint for the education and nurture of a new generation of Chinese youths, and with the strategy of Nation Building through Technology and Education he aims for economic growth and social progress.  Dr Song has a firm conviction in that one’s fate may be changed with the acquisition of knowledge, and that his own success is the best proof for his conviction.  He once said that "One laments over the brevity of human life, and the endlessness of the Changjiang.  We must all endeavour to win time from Nature, by living longer and doing more."  Born in December 1931, Dr Song is close to eighty years in age but still going strong, taking all that comes his way in his stride.  Today we rejoice in the longevity of the benevolent, and speak of the virtue of the wise, to the greater glory of the Chinese University.  Mr Chancellor, may I present to you Dr Song Jian for the award of the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.