Baidu founder and CEO Robin Li spoke at Peking University’s 120th-anniversary celebration, saying the areas surrounding the institution inspired him to pursue a career as an entrepreneur.

Li attended the university for four years in the late 1980s at a time when market-oriented ideas began to be espoused.  He graduated from the Department of Information Management in 1991.

“I started to pay attention to people with beepers in Zhongguancun,” he is quoted as saying. “I began to learn that messages could instantly send information to the other side of the ocean.

“These were the ideal starting points for my further studies and entrepreneurship,” he said.

Li and his wife Melissa Ma, together with Baidu, recently donated RMB 660 million (S104 million) to the university to commemorate the celebration. The contribution forms part of the Peking University Baidu Fund, which aims to support research that is compatible with Baidu’s AI technologies. This includes research related to information management, medicine, economics, communications, and sociology.

The links between Chinese technology companies and research centers are becoming increasingly more important to the government. Chinese companies have faced growing resistance while doing business abroad. This, in turn, has caused China to question its dependence on foreign-made technology.

The inking of the agreement between Peking University and Baidu comes at a time in which Chinese president Xi Jinping has called for the private sector to speed up innovation in the country.

“Businesses must unceasingly make breakthroughs in core technology, mastering more key technologies with self-owned intellectual property rights and building up the ability to dominate industrial development. The country needs you to pick up the pace,” Xi said at an inspection of local chipmakers in Hubei province.

Last month e-commerce giant Alibaba teamed up with Tsinghua University to develop human-computer interaction technologies. The partnership aims to investigate the ways computers could read emotions and interpret mannerisms.

Christopher Udemans is TechNode's former Shanghai-based data and graphics reporter. He covered Chinese artificial intelligence, mobility, cleantech, and cybersecurity.

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