BAQIS Chief Scientist Katsumi Tanigaki: Embracing and Witnessing China's Incredible Technological Progress and Development


Editor's Note: At the invitation of the "My China Story" column, ProfessorTanigaki wrote an article - "Embracing and Witnessing China's Incredible Technological Progress and Development". This article was published in the 12th issue of "China News Release" magazine. We'd like to share it with all of BAQIS staff and friends.

Embracing and Witnessing China's Incredible Technological Progress and Development

When I was in my 30s, I was engaged in scientific research in Tsukuba, Japan, a science city newly built by the Japanese government. A 45-minute drive from Tokyo, Tsukuba hosted 31 state-level scientific research institutions. Thanks to the internationalized research environment there, I was able to interact with numerous foreign scholars.

Later, I moved to Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan, serving as a professor of physics. During my tenure, I received and trained many graduate students and postdoctoral researchers from China. I did my utmost to foster an internationalized environment for them, and I was elated to see many of them return to their motherland and take on important roles in the Chinese academic community after completing their studies. 

Exploring the cultural treasures of China

In 2007, I visited China for the first time and went to the Institute of Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences[besteasy3] , Peking University and Beihang Universit. On my several visits since then, I witnessed how China has gradually turned its modernization blueprint into reality.

When I first came to China, I noticed that everyone paid in cash. Later, I witnessed the growing popularity of credit cards, which were much more convenient for foreigners. Nowadays, almost all people are using mobile payment. Mobile phones can be used not only for payment but also for various situations in daily life. I'm deeply impressed.

Before I came to Beijing, my basic understanding of China was limited to what I had read from books and the Chinese students in the laboratory. As known to all, the four ancient civilizations (ancient Babylon, ancient Egypt, ancient India and China) thrived near huge river systems. For China, the Yangtze and Yellow rivers were the cradles of the Chinese civilization. I used to feast my eyes on Chinese paintings depicting the Yangtze River and the Yellow River, observing the delicate changes in brushstrokes and marveling at the steep cliffs flanking the rapids.

However, at first sight of Beijing, I found that the city differed from my previous impression on China – it was flat and open, with mountains far from the city center. I was eager to travel among the famous mountains and rivers, get a first-hand experience of the historical and cultural heritages, and learn more about China beyond books. I had a strong sense of how attractive the abundant historical sites and places of interest in China are to foreign tourists.

In 2011, I visited China for the second time as an international conference was held at Tsinghua University. As a member of the international advisory committee, I was responsible for organizing a scientific seminar. When the plane landed at Beijing Capital International Airport, I realized that great changes had taken place in the city since it hosted the Olympic Summer Games in 2008. This city was more beautiful, and the air was fresher. New subway lines had been put into operation, and smartphones and electronic devices could be seen everywhere. Unfortunately, my two trips to China were so short that I left before I could experience it thoroughly. I was looking forward to another opportunity to visit China again.

Open a new chapter of life in Beijing

In 2020, I returned to Beijing, a charming and impressive city, and officially served as a researcher at BAQIS, thus opening a new chapter of life in Beijing.

This time I noticed that a lot had changed since my previous visits. Bank cards are rarely seen in daily life. Instead, people make all kinds of payments through mobile phones. The subway and bus systems have been expanded into an efficient transportation network connecting every corner of the city. The natural environment has also been improved; with clearer skies and fresher air, people live more comfortably. Young people are well educated and proficient in English, some even mastering several foreign languages. I am convinced that the urban management of Beijing has scaled to a new level and set an example for modern cities.

As my new life unfolded, I began observing some interesting aspects of life in Beijing. In winter, when the minimum temperature at night drops below zero, the central heating system is so amazing and environmentally friendly. Even during the heating season, skies in Beijing are clear. That would have been unimaginable decades ago when people burned coal for heating.


Katsumi Tanigaki and his friends visit the Great Wall.

In Beijing, I also experienced my first Chinese New Year. The Chinese people attach great importance to traditional festivals based on the lunar calendar, and I have gradually accepted this custom. Later on, during the Dragon Boat Festival in 2021, I visited the National Museum of China on the east side of Tiananmen Square. Boasting the largest single-building area in China, the museum has one of the richest collections of cultural relics in China. In the autumn of the same year, I flew to Chengdu, Sichuan Province, and visited my former colleagues who taught at Sichuan University and the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China. During this trip, I saw the Wuhou Shrine museum in Chengdu, where a large-scale exhibition on the theme of the Three Kingdoms was being held. In my childhood, I was fascinated by the Romance of the Three Kingdoms -- the novel is the origin of many famous old Japanese sayings, such as "as close as fish and water". In addition, I also visited China's super project, the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydropower facility, which has played an important role in harnessing floods in the Yangtze River.


Standing at the starting point of a scientific change

I currently serve as a chief scientist at BAQIS. Established with the support of the Beijing Municipal Government, BAQIS is a new type of research and development institution with an internationalized research team.

Science and technology resulting in great social innovations usually stem from human curiosity. The U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong, one of the great science practitioners, said on his first landing on the moon: "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." Pursuing the same dream, China has never stopped its efforts to advance technology and finally left its mark on the moon with the Chang'e-3 lunar probe in December 2013. At BAQIS, we have similar pursuits and aspirations, and we are targeting another revolutionary field of science -- quantum technology.

In 2022, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three physicists -- Alain Aspect, John F. Clauser and Anton Zeilinger, in recognition of their groundbreaking experiments using entangled quantum states. "Entangled state" is the most mysterious and attractive feature derived from the theory of quantum mechanics, and it is entirely different from the rules of classical mechanics.

Quantum mechanics, by contrast, is used for describing the behavior of particles in the molecular realm, a world far smaller and more alien than anything we intuitively understand. When any two particles are related, they are in an "entangled" state, meaning their quantum states are interdependent. If one particle is in a particular state, the other must be in another certain state. For example, when you observe an object on the earth, you can simultaneously identify the state of another object on the moon as long as they are in an "entangled" state, even if they are far from each other. This would allow the transmission of information between the earth and the moon with zero time delay, regardless of spacetime distance.

Another technology of great application value is high-speed computing, which can process data exponentially faster than traditional computers, and will affect our lives in many ways. These are the areas that we are actively exploring at BAQIS.

Experience the harmonious society at "zero distance"

I was born in Japan in the middle of the last century. At that time, the Japanese people's living standards were constantly improving thanks to the progress of science and technology. In my childhood, I lived in a small house. Despite the inconvenience in life, I felt happy. I lived with my father, mother, grandfather, grandmother and younger sister. My family had many intimate dialogues and exchanges, and I learned a lot of life wisdom from my grandparents.

After moving to Beijing, I often see such scenes: grandparents take care of their grandchildren, and children play together near the neighborhood. These scenes no longer exist in big Japanese cities. Many of my peers have enjoyed the rapid development of Japan, but the warm feeling of family reunion has long since faded from our memory. I am very glad to see that in China, even megacities like Beijing, the elderly and the young still maintain close ties, and people continue to value family.

Here is a controversial topic: what is the most suitable way for human beings to live in the future? Will shorter travel times lead to closer connections between people? Do more accessible social media tools promote or hinder human interaction? What would happen if a robot could completely take over a human's job? I don't think the development of technology will necessarily produce positive results. When technology is applied to human society, we must consider that the fruits of innovation are not always good for our physical and mental health. Science and technology are a "double-edged sword", and it's the mission of contemporary scientists to properly control the application of modern science and technology after weighing the pros and cons.

Over the past few decades, the world has witnessed China's tremendous achievements in the economic, social and technological fields. I am delighted to see that, while designing and advancing its modernization goals, China is still striving for harmonious development in many areas, such as harmony between humanity and nature, economic development and ecological environment, and material and cultural-ethical advancement, as mentioned in the Report to the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China. As a major responsible power, China has adopted the concept of green development in its high-level decision-making and strategic planning, and I sincerely concur with that. Together with my colleagues, I am looking forward to witnessing China's development in the new era and its efforts to find and put into practice the ideal solutions to social harmony and progress.