Theory is Big in China

My last week in China was marked by the First China Symposium on Theoretical Computer Science, the old people’s version of the China Theory Week.

(Various pictures can be seen here.)

The meeting was marked by a stellar performance by Silvio Micali, who easily gave the best talk I have ever attended, and by the presentation of a number of new results that I had not heard of before. I may return later to the content of Dana Ron’s talk on the power of adaptivity in graph property testing.

The last day included a panel discussion on higher education in (theoretical) computer science in China. It was the first panel discussion I have ever attended that actually made any sense (and in which I did not embarrass myself by mangling my remarks – I achieved this by not making any remarks), no doubt because Andy Yao prepared well before chairing the discussion.

But the most distinctive feature of the symposium was the vastness of the resources of the organizational machinery. A few days before the symposium started, a banner went up on the top floor of the Future Internet Technologies (Computer Science) Building. In letters that were two feet tall, the banner said, in one line,

Welcome to The First China Symposium on Theoretical Computer Science (October 12-17, 2008, Lecture Hall of FIT Building)

I really cannot overemphasize the enormity of the banner. Certainly it was the biggest font in which “Theoretical Computer Science” has ever been spelled.

Then came the free-standing banners:

one at the East gate, which can be seen in the previous picture, one at the South gate:

one halfway between the South gate and the Computer Science building:

one near the main entrance of the Computer Science building:

one in the lobby of the Computer Science building:

and one in the conference auditorium:

The undergraduate students in a special honors program were excused from classes for the week, and attended all the talks; they, and the graduate students, showed up wearing the official ITCS sweater.

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