A couple of weeks back I asked a friend, Song Kewei at the OSS Promotion Union, to tell me who he thought were the top 10 open source professionals in China. He gave me a list, which I will keep confidential, and from this list I hope to begin giving readers an idea of what type of people are the champions of the open source community in China. I essentially wrote to each person and asked some basic questions, like when did they first get into Linux, what was their first distribution, what projects do they contribute to, which sites do they troll, and if they belong to user groups.
The answers weren't what I expected, at least not considering how critical I am of open source professionals in China. The answers were what I would expect of a Westerner. The only obvious difference was when they were exposed to Linux, which for almost all were in college. This is obvious because most didn't have access to a computer before college, and even then it was restricted to computer labs, so god knows how many closet geeks out there never got a chance to come out. For one respondent, his first experiences was in 1989 with GCC, emacs and then 1991 with Softland Linux System, and then from there he began customizing his own distro. For the younger generations, it appears that Slackware and Debian were the most fun to toy around with when they were just getting their feet wet.
Disappointingly, though, was that not many contributed to projects. There is one friend of mine, Zhang Wen Song, the creator of the Linux Virtual Server Project (LVS), but for the most part many of the top professionals were more academic about their work and if they did contribute it was mainly patches. Perhaps my sample is not big enough and perhaps the open source champions revered here are more academic, as opposed to innovative.
I will, of course, stay close to these new friends and purge them for more insight into the open source community. The good thing is they said they all like to help out other users when they see a user in need. Not many belong to user groups, but they do like to troll through old Newsgroups and an occasional list or two just to see if there are any interesting challenges.