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Gao Jingde, born on February 5, 1922, in Shenquanpu Village, Jia County, Shaanxi Province, passed away on December 24, 1996, in Beijing, at the age of 74.

Professor Gao Jingde was an outstanding electrical engineering scientist in China, a renowned educator, a delegate to the third National People’s Congress, and a member of the seventh and eighth National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. He also served as a standing member of the eighth National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, an executive member of the fifth, sixth, and seventh Central Committee of the China Democratic League, an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and the former president of Tsinghua University. He held various positions, including being a member of the first and second sessions of the State Council Academic Degrees Committee, the convener of the Electrical Engineering Discipline Review Groups in the first, second, and third sessions, a member of the National Invention Selection Committee, a member of the Presidium and Deputy Director of the Technical Sciences Department of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, a standing member of the third and fourth sessions of the China Association for Science and Technology, an honorary member, Chairman in the first and second sessions of the China Electrical Technology Society, Vice Chairman in the third, fourth, and fifth sessions of the China Electrical Engineering Society, Director of the Editorial Board of the “China Encyclopedia, Electrical Engineering Volume”, Chief Editor of “Science in China” and “Science Bulletin”, Chief Editor of the “Journal of Electrical Technology” and Director of the Editorial Board of the “Journal of Electrical Technology”, Chief Scientist of the National Climbing Plan’s “New Theory and Technology of Modern Power System Operation and Control”, and President of the China Association of Retired Professors, among other roles. In 1985, he was elected as a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) and was listed in the international Who’s Who. He received the Second Prize for National Natural Science, the First Prize for National Education Commission Science and Technology Progress, the First Prize for National Excellent Science and Technology Book, the Outstanding Award of the Second “Ruziniu Gold Ball Award” by the Hong Kong Burlington Foundation (China), the Special Prize for National-level Teaching Achievement, and the IEEE Centennial Award, among others.

The first Chinese to obtain a Soviet doctorate after twenty years of diligent study

Mr. Gao started attending a village school at the age of 7. He gained fame in the village by winning first place in a language and arithmetic competition organized by the township. His diligent and studious childhood is still celebrated among the people in his hometown. At the age of 11, his father sent him to live and study at an elementary school in the Jiaxian county seat. In 1935, he graduated with excellent grades and entered Yulin Middle School, the only high school in northern Shaanxi. Although Mr. Gao excelled in mathematics and physics, he was not satisfied with the learning environment at Yulin Middle School. In his second year, with the consent of his parents and the help of his math teacher, he transferred to the affiliated high school of Northwest Agricultural College. Due to his outstanding performance, he was recommended to study at the Electrical Engineering Department of Northwest Institute of Technology in 1941. The institute was formed by the merger of Beiyang Institute of Technology, Northeast University Institute of Technology, Beiping Institute of Technology, and Jiaozuo Institute of Technology during the Anti-Japanese War. The teaching conditions at the institute were poor, with no experimental facilities, and life was extremely difficult. Mr. Gao was diligent, talented, and hardworking. He attended lectures during the day, reviewed at night under the dim oil lamp until one or two in the morning, and rarely returned home for years. With perseverance, determination, and excellent insight, he maintained outstanding academic performance. In 1945, he graduated and was awarded the “Lin Sen Scholarship” by the Ministry of Education (this scholarship is named after Lin Sen, a veteran of the Kuomintang and the sitting President of the Nationalist Government at the time), which was allocated to Northwest Institute of Technology. Instead of accepting the opportunity to stay as a teaching assistant, he chose to work at the Xijing Power Plant in Xi’an, where he had more practical opportunities. In 1947, he applied to teach at the School of Engineering, Peking University. He actively participated in progressive student movements and joined the Communist Party of China in 1948. In the summer of 1951, China decided to send the first batch of students to study in the Soviet Union through a combination of recommendation and examination. Initially serving as an invigilator, Mr. Gao was suddenly notified to participate in the examination for foreign students at the Department of Electrical Engineering, Tsinghua University. Due to a shortage of candidates, he was recommended to “fill in the blanks.” Although unprepared, relying on his solid foundation and profound knowledge, he was successfully admitted and sent to Leningrad Institute of Electrical Engineering in the Soviet Union to pursue a Ph.D. degree under the guidance of the famous scientist and academician of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, Professor Kosyakin K. The institute was located in Leningrad, a world-famous scenic spot, but during his study in the Soviet Union, he never traveled anywhere, devoting all his energy to research work. Under the guidance of his mentor, Mr. Gao’s academic performance was excellent. One day, the mentor asked him, “Would you be willing to spend more time and directly pursue a doctoral degree?” The standards for degrees in the Soviet Union were high, and generally, one could only qualify for a doctoral degree after obtaining a Ph.D. and several years of research. After careful consideration, Mr. Gao accepted the mentor’s suggestion. With his solid academic foundation and unremitting efforts, he completed the research work for his doctoral dissertation, “Research on Convex Pole Synchronous Motors Applied in Long-Distance Power Transmission Systems”, in a slightly longer time than pursuing a Ph.D. degree. On the afternoon of May 18, 1956, the dissertation defense for Gao Jingde was held in the auditorium of the Leningrad Institute of Electrical Engineering. After four hours of defense and two rounds of voting, he was granted both a Ph.D. and a doctoral degree. Thus, the first Chinese scholar to obtain a technical science doctoral degree in the Soviet Union was born! Passing two degrees in one defense was rare even in the Soviet Union at that time. On August 30, 1956, the People’s Daily published a special feature article titled “Learning Knowledge from Hardship”, introducing Mr. Gao’s diligent study in the Soviet Union.

Achieved numerous successes and made significant contributions in the field of electrical engineering

Mr. Gao is a renowned scientist with a deep knowledge and substantial achievements in the field of electrical engineering. He dedicated more than 40 years to rigorous research in electrical and power systems science and technology, producing significant systematic research results that propelled the development of the discipline. In addition to theoretical contributions, under his leadership, groundbreaking new technologies and equipment with significant practical value were developed and applied in power systems, resulting in substantial social and economic benefits.

Gao Jingde was honored with the Outstanding Award trophy and certificate of the second “Ruziniu Gold Ball Award” from Hong Kong Burlington Foundation in 1996

In the 1950s, while delving into the analysis theory of electrical transient processes, Mr. Gao established the theoretical system of complex quantities for electrical machines. He first fully formulated the fundamental equations of synchronous machines in the 1-2-0 coordinate system, solving problems that other mathematical models for electrical machines had left unresolved. Four papers published abroad and the monograph “Synchronous Machine Theory and Analysis of Operating Modes (Complex Quantity Method)”, published domestically, fully reflect the research results of this effort. Authorities in the field of electrical machines consider these achievements as creative and comprehensive, representing a significant contribution to electrical machine theory. In the 1960s, he further published the monograph “Analysis of AC Machine Transient Processes and Operating Modes”, summarizing various branches of dynamic theory for electrical machines based on this foundational theory and providing a detailed analysis of the dynamic behavior of AC machines. In the early 1980s, co-authored with Zhang Linzheng, he published “Basic Theory and Analysis Methods of Electrical Transient Processes” (Volumes I and II), which received high praise from domestic and international experts. The research team led by Mr. Gao integrated modern control theory with transient process theory in power systems, pioneering a new direction in the academic field and application of optimal control for power system stability and dynamic quality. Through collaboration with relevant manufacturers and power plants, they developed a large-scale generator linear optimal excitation controller. Starting from 1986, it was successfully implemented in large generators, such as the 100,000 kW Bikou Hydroelectric Plant, the 230,000 kW Liujiagou Hydroelectric Plant, and the 300,000 kW Baishui Hydroelectric Plant, marking an international breakthrough at the time. Professor Yu Yaonan commented, “In the past 20 years, numerous documents have been published by IEEE, and many experts have made improvements to this theory and method, conducting countless experiments. However, it has never been applied to large units. Now, due to your extraordinary efforts, China has gained an international leading position in this technology.” In 1987, the research team led by Mr. Gao timely began the study of nonlinear control in power systems and, in 1989, published a series of papers in IEEE, IFAC “International Journal of Automatic Control”, and “Chinese Journal of Electrical Engineering”, praised by international experts as “new contributions”. Mr. Gao and his research team also established a new mathematical model based on the individual coils of an electric machine, creating the “multi-circuit theory of electrical machines”, which opened up a new approach to analyzing internal asymmetry faults in large electric machines. Renowned Chinese electrical expert Ding Shunian and others believe, “This new theory is groundbreaking, with significant theoretical significance, representing a breakthrough in electrical machine studies”. This theory has been applied in the design of relay protection devices for internal faults in the generators of the Gezhouba Hydroelectric Plant and the Longyangxia Hydroelectric Plant.

Returning after completing his studies, he showcased his grand vision, relying on self-reliance to build dynamic models

The Dynamic Simulation Laboratory of Power Systems is a replica of power systems in a laboratory setting and serves as an essential research environment and tool for studying power systems. The United States, Japan, and the Soviet Union began using physical simulation methods to study power systems in the 1920s. Subsequently, countries such as France, Austria, and Australia successively established dynamic simulation laboratories for power systems. If China had such a research base, it could not only study the current state and future of China’s power system but also, through experiments, gain new understandings and discoveries of various mechanisms in power systems. This would allow China to establish a significant position in the world’s power system research. Therefore, since the establishment of the Transmission Teaching and Research Group in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Tsinghua University in 1952, attention has been given to power system simulation tools. After Mr. Gao returned to China from the Soviet Union in 1956, he used his connections from studying abroad to collect information and, under his leadership, began planning the construction of the Dynamic Simulation Laboratory of Power Systems. The question at the time was whether to completely replicate the existing Soviet simulation system or to innovate and develop an own simulation system. With unity and a common goal for the development of the country’s power industry, and under great pressure, everyone decided to independently develop their dynamic simulation test system. Therefore, under Mr. Gao’s leadership, faculty and students from the Department of Power Generation and Department of Electrical Engineering conducted initial research on theoretical problems in simulation. They conducted extensive scientific calculations, which, at the time, could only be done by manual calculation or with a slide rule. In order to obtain results as soon as possible, faculty and students worked day and night. The stack of draft paper used was several feet high, and many slide rules were worn out. Finally, they arrived at the optimal design solution. To manufacture various experimental equipment themselves, Mr. Gao worked alongside everyone, regardless of status, at the factory, eating and living together. Some were responsible for processing the outer shells of the electrical machines, and others were responsible for the assembly line. In order to save materials, they went to relevant factories to request leftover silicon steel sheets, which they then cut and polished themselves. Through everyone’s efforts and various forms of support, on August 1, 1958, China’s first Power System Dynamic Simulation Laboratory was finally established. The completion of the laboratory marked the introduction of a new tool for researching power systems in China. At that time, Soviet experts also gave high praise to the establishment of China’s Dynamic Simulation Laboratory. Since its establishment, the laboratory has conducted a large amount of research work, from fundamental theoretical research to technological development, achieving a series of influential research results. At the same time, it has also cultivated a large number of research talents, making significant contributions to the development of China’s power industry.

Gao Jingde and the Establishment of the Dynamic Simulation Laboratory

A sharpened sword yields a bright blade, and rigorous teaching forges elites

In 1956, Mr. Gao returned to China and was promoted to the position of professor, teaching at the Department of Electrical Engineering at Tsinghua University. He became the sole doctoral supervisor for both electrical machines and power generation specialties at Tsinghua University. For decades, Mr. Gao dedicated himself to teaching and made outstanding contributions to the high-level talent cultivation in the field of electrical machines and power systems in China. From guiding the first group of graduate students in 1959 until his passing in 1996, he supervised nearly 30 Ph.D. students and 25 master’s students. Academicians such as Lu Qiang and Han Yingduo, as well as China’s first female Ph.D. holder, Ni Yixin, emerged from his mentorship. Mr. Gao was rigorous, serious, and never took shortcuts in his academic pursuits. He did not scold students from a position of superiority but rather guided and taught them patiently. He had strict requirements for students’ theses, providing careful feedback and correcting issues such as unclear sentences, typos, and inappropriate punctuation. Professor Wang Xiangheng, who studied under Mr. Gao, spent considerable effort resolving damping issues related to laminated magnetic pole effects and multi-circuit parameter problems in his doctoral dissertation. Originally planning to use a single empirical coefficient to characterize the equivalent damping effect based on the experimental data from three motors, Mr. Gao strongly disagreed, considering this approach too crude and unacceptable with only data from three motors. Professor Wang’s doctoral dissertation involved establishing a mathematical model for motors using a multi-circuit method. Initially contemplating using the d, q, and O end leakage parameters to “create” corresponding multi-circuit parameters, Professor Wang faced opposition from Mr. Gao. Professor Wang eventually overcame the calculation problem of O-end multi-circuit parameters through considerable effort, forming a more complete theory of multi-circuit motors. Another Ph.D. student under Mr. Gao’s guidance, Dr. Li Xingyuan, read extensive literature on the forefront of the discipline under Mr. Gao’s guidance. After analyzing existing achievements and identifying unresolved issues, Dr. Li wrote a comprehensive research proposal of nearly 100,000 words, establishing the topic “Re-Synchronization Control of Power Systems” for his thesis. Despite achieving satisfactory results through extensive theoretical analysis and computer simulation research, Dr. Li thought he had reached the level required for a Ph.D. dissertation. However, Mr. Gao pointed out that the purpose of engineering research is to apply it to practical engineering. Therefore, dynamic simulation experiments must be conducted to verify the results. Due to the large workload and the inability to achieve the expected experimental goals, Dr. Li initially felt discouraged. With Mr. Gao’s patient guidance and assistance, he eventually decided to conduct experimental research and achieved excellent results. Many domestic and foreign experts who visited the demonstration of this experiment later highly praised it. Mr. Gao always guided students patiently, encouraging them to climb academic peaks courageously. Academician Lu Qiang was Mr. Gao’s student before the “Cultural Revolution.” After the “Cultural Revolution”, facing a significant gap in world electrical engineering research, and even having difficulty understanding some symbols, Lu Qiang felt very anxious and honestly reported this to his teacher. However, Mr. Gao smiled confidently and said, “Symbols are just conventions. You’ll quickly understand them. Mathematics is a tool; if you don’t understand it, you can learn it. You graduated from Tsinghua University, and your foundation is not inferior to foreign students. With diligence and the right methods, you can catch up to international standards.” This speech boosted Lu Qiang’s morale and determined his subsequent scientific career. When Mr. Gao was an assistant professor, he paid great attention to teaching and educating students, patiently guiding them to respect their elders, and diligently acquiring knowledge. In February 1947, Mr. Gao was hired as an assistant professor in the Department of Electrical Engineering at Peking University’s School of Engineering. Some young and self-proclaimed extraordinary students in the most popular electrical engineering department at the time criticized the teaching methods of their professors, did not listen attentively in class, and even skipped classes, thinking that outstanding results could only be achieved by burying themselves in the library. As an assistant professor, Mr. Gao patiently advised them not to discuss the teaching methods of their professors but to listen attentively. Only by adapting to the teaching methods of their professors could they absorb the profound knowledge accumulated by their professors. He also guided students on how to read reference books, teaching them to compare lecture content with reference books during class, creating an interest in the subject. Mr. Gao attached great importance to cultivating a good academic atmosphere and excellent character. At one point, influenced by the prevailing “reading is useless” sentiment in society, some students became restless and were not focused on their studies. In response, Mr. Gao personally gave lectures to students, advocating “promoting Tsinghua’s fine traditions, adhering to a rigorous academic attitude and a down-to-earth work style.” He educated them that from the day they entered school, they should strictly demand themselves, adhere to the direction of “both red and expert, comprehensive development of morality, intelligence, physical fitness, and aesthetics”, and establish lofty ideals. They should strive to become outstanding university students capable of competing at the world’s top level in both academics and moral character, meeting the needs of the motherland for excellent talents.

Far-sighted vision and educational practices grounded in reality

From 1978 to 1988, during Mr. Gao’s tenure as vice president and president of Tsinghua University, it was a period of rapid development for the university. Together with other university leaders, he explicitly set the goal of developing Tsinghua University into a world-class university with distinctive socialist characteristics. He also proposed the educational policy of “emphasizing improvement and developing through improvement.” Systemic reforms were initiated to enhance teaching quality, covering undergraduate program offerings, teaching content, teaching methods, and teaching management systems. A comprehensive university was preliminarily established with an emphasis on engineering (including science, liberal arts, and management disciplines) for high-quality talent cultivation. A multi-level talent training system was formed in teaching, including vocational education, undergraduate, graduate, and continuing education. A research base serving talent cultivation and economic development was established. During this period, Tsinghua established one graduate school, two colleges, and seven departments, and restored one department, leading to significant development in the “three major strongholds” (microelectronics, nuclear energy technology, computer integrated manufacturing systems). It is worth noting that, with Mr. Gao’s care and support, Tsinghua University opened the first science and technology editing program in China. Mr. Gao made important contributions to China’s higher education, especially in the establishment of the degree system and the development of graduate education. Particularly noteworthy is that he led the development of a graduate education plan based on domestic scholars serving as advisors. Systematic reforms were conducted in aspects such as graduate enrollment, training, and management. In just a few years, the number of master’s and doctoral students at Tsinghua University increased from five to six hundred to nearly 3,000. Simultaneously, a model for training graduate students was explored. The graduate education plan he led not only cultivated high-level talents for the country but also had a significant impact on the establishment and development of China’s graduate education system. Therefore, in the 1990 IEEE World Education Awards nomination, he was referred to as the “Father of China’s modern graduate education system.”

Mr. Gao Jingde (left 1) guiding students

In 1988, after stepping down as president, Mr. Gao continued to contribute significantly to the development of China’s education and scientific endeavors. Alongside renowned scientists like Su Buqing, he submitted a proposal to the Eighth National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, aiming to establish about 100 key universities and a set of key disciplines and specialties. The proposal aimed to ensure that several universities would reach an internationally high level, aligning with the “Project 211.” This had a positive and far-reaching impact on the development of China’s education system, particularly in higher education.

Simplicity is a virtue; Humility and democracy attract people

Mr. Gao led a simple and unpretentious life, indifferent to fame and fortune, down-to-earth, and approachable. Despite his profound knowledge, he was tireless in imparting knowledge and held high positions without an air of superiority. His focus was solely on his career and dedication. In the 1980s, during a conference he attended, a comrade passionately discussed the corrupt practices in society. Illustrating with a personal experience, he mentioned the need for a “great unity (a 10-yuan banknote)” to accomplish even a small task. Perplexed, Mr. Gao asked a nearby comrade, “What is this ‘great unity’?” Upon learning it was a euphemism for a 10-yuan bribe, he shook his head, sighed lightly, revealing his concern about the spread of the unhealthy trend of “everything for money.” Mr. Gao had strict standards for himself, maintaining simplicity in both his office and home. Despite being the head of Tsinghua University, he refused to use the office of his predecessor, opting for a small office of less than 20 square meters with no windows on three sides, and only a window to the south, obstructed by trees. It received sunlight only in the morning. The office contained only one metal bookshelf, a set of old sofas, and a set of old office desks and chairs. In the summer, there was only one electric fan. Being a bit overweight, Mr. Gao would often sweat profusely while working, wiping his sweat with a towel. Even so, he resisted any repairs or renovations to his office. Despite frequent meetings, hosting domestic and international guests, and traveling abroad, he often wore a simple Zhongshan suit. It’s no wonder a visitor remarked, “This professor who once held the reins of Tsinghua University is surprisingly plain in appearance, and his gestures are very gentle.” He also adamantly rejected the university’s offer to provide him with a car, stating, “I can request an office car when needed; there’s no need to assign a dedicated car for me.” In reality, Mr. Gao sometimes used public transportation when attending meetings in the city. Mr. Gao treated people sincerely and affably. He fully trusted those around him, always encouraging them to work boldly and creatively. Under his leadership, colleagues felt at ease and were able to fully exercise their initiative. Mr. Gao didn’t allow the staff around him to address him as “President Gao” but instead insisted on being called “Lao Gao”, avoiding the emphasis on hierarchical relationships. However, for some visiting vice presidents, he required them to address him as “President”, emphasizing equality. Juggling 17 positions, Mr. Gao had to attend numerous meetings and make preparations himself. He personally read and handled a large number of letters, manuscripts, and documents, including various requests, reports, and letters from the masses. To improve efficiency, he proposed “going to the grassroots and working on-site”, suggesting Saturday afternoons as the designated time for receiving visitors, with the president taking turns on duty. This allowed people the opportunity to exchange opinions face-to-face with the president. These measures were well-received and praised by the masses. Mr. Gao’s humility and democratic style brought together a large number of scholars from different disciplines, academic schools, and styles, promoting mutual exchange and discussion. As the director of the Editorial Committee, the “Chinese Encyclopedia · Electrical Engineering” was the result of the concerted efforts of hundreds of experts and professors. It was also a representative work in the field of electrical engineering. His advocacy and role as the chief editor of the “Modern Power System Series” provided scholars in this field with a platform to showcase their talents. His love for science, respect for peers, concern for the younger generation, and spirit of unity and cooperation earned him widespread admiration and affection from the scientific and educational communities. Even after falling ill, Mr. Gao remained optimistic and continued to focus on the development of China’s education system. In the face of serious illness, he instructed everyone to unite and work together to improve the cause of science and education.

Gao Jingde received the Special Award for National Teaching Achievement in 1997

Exemplifying benevolence and compassion with family, he educated his children through both personal conduct and words

Upon returning from the Soviet Union after completing his studies, the family’s economic situation improved. At this time, Mr. Gao not only took on the responsibility of supporting his parents but also shouldered the responsibility of providing living expenses for his siblings, ensuring they received a good education until they graduated from university. During family gatherings on festive occasions, he would carefully inquire about each person’s situation, encouraging them to be honest individuals. Mr. Gao deeply understood the importance of learning and frequently taught his children the principle that “a person without knowledge will not achieve anything”, using this to emphasize the importance of education and self-improvement. Even during the tumultuous period of the Cultural Revolution, he continued to educate his children and helped them find suitable textbooks for their personal circumstances, encouraging them to self-study in their spare time. If his children encountered difficulties in their studies, he would patiently provide guidance, even setting aside his meal to answer their questions. Mr. Gao led by example, managed his household with strict discipline, and never used his position to seek benefits for his children. He admonished his children, emphasizing that they must forge their own paths and strive for self-improvement. His children expressed a desire to study abroad and hoped that their father’s reputation would facilitate recommendations or that he could introduce them to influential figures in the international academic community. However, Mr. Gao vehemently opposed all such suggestions. Mr. Gao’s integrity and selflessness were particularly praised and beloved by the masses.

As the sage rode on a crane to the western horizon, his everlasting fame remains on earth

At the age of seventy, Mr. Gao retired from the front line, yet “an old steed in the stable can gallops with vigor without being whipped” became his motto. This enduring spirit of ceaseless life and continuous struggle is truly commendable! Mr. Gao’s life was one of diligence, perseverance, abundant educational and research achievements, and a detachment from fame and fortune. His optimistic and dedicated spirit in the face of adversity, his pursuit of truth, adherence to principles, rigorous scholarship, humility, self-discipline, generosity, and moral integrity are valuable treasures of our era and everlasting examples for us to learn from.

Commemorative inscription for Gao Jingde

This article is reprinted from the Chinese Society for Electrical Engineering

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