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Since the Chinese government began supporting domestic open source communities in 2005, hundreds of thousands of young people in the world's most populous country have become a part of the open source world.
With the help of the government-supported Leadership of Open Source University Promotion Alliance (LUPA), Zhejiang Technology Institute of Economy (ZJTIE) founded its Linux Training & Examination Center in 2006. The center started out offering a simple 48-hour course; upon completion, students received a Linux operator certificate or a Linux network administrator certificate or both. According to ZJTIE, 1,500 students in the last two years have passed the examination. However, those students who wanted to learn more had to learn by themselves.
Now, however, LUPA offers nine Linux certificates, including certificates for software engineers, C programming language engineers, and LAMP system engineers. In response to a requirement from China's Ministry of Education, LUPA published 11 new Linux textbooks in July. The Ministry hopes that these textbooks will help Chinese students learn more advanced Linux technologies.
Some Chinese schools believe that Linux education has helped students gain employment. According to ZJTIE, 90% of the students in its Economic Information Department received the LUPA certificates in 2006; as a result, employment rose to the highest the school has seen. This may be a result of the booming open source market in China. According to CCID Consulting, the sale of Chinese open source software increased 17.1%, while sales of Linux increased 20.2% in 2007.
As Linux accounts for 66.5% of China's open source market (according to a 2007 survey from CCID Consulting), open source education has been focused mostly on Linux. However, its success has encouraged ZJTIE to expand its teaching and certification. In March 2008, ZJTIE worked with LUPA to expand its education system from Linux to the whole open source industry.
According to LUPA, more than 300 Chinese universities and colleges have joined its system. Open source technology has become a required course in many of these schools. Although the total number of students who have been trained for open source technologies is not available yet, Zhang Jianhua, chairman of LUPA, estimates that LUPA will train 100,000 students in Linux per year.
Besides developing open source courses, government-supported communities also regularly hold activities such as open source conferences, speeches, contests, festivals, and campus marches to attract students to learn more about the culture, history, ideas, and technologies of the open source industry. At the same time, open source communities without government support have brought many young Chinese to the open source world by offering free open source information, translation of open source articles from other countries, and forums for open source technologies communication.
Thanks in part to promotion by these communities, open source has become a powerful idea among Chinese programmers. In a survey by PHPChina in June 2007, 32.6% of PHP professionals said that they chose PHP mostly because it's open source, and 64.8% of interviewees who would start to learn PHP believed that "open source is the strong point of PHP." The same survey also showed that more than three quarters of the Chinese PHP professionals learned something from or received information through domestic PHP communities.
The rapid growth of China's open source expertise has yet to result in much contribution to the development of the global open source industry. This may be because young Chinese people are still novices in the open source industry, or it may be due to the fact that they have to work more than 60 hours a week to fight for their new jobs and have no time to work on open source projects for the time being. However, as the open source education system improves and as more young people become open source veterans, the global open source community will benefit from China's presence.
Chen Nan Yang is a Chinese freelance journalist and former IT director in the Chinese government.