Nobel Prize for Chinese Scientists: Heavy with Awareness

Chinese-American physicist Chen Ning Yang (or Yang Chen Ning, (杨振宁 has slightly adjusted his time table: within twenty, maybe even within ten years, a Nobel Prize winner would come from China itself, he told University of Electronic Science and Technology (电子科技大学) students on September 10: (“20年内甚至可能只需要十年,中国本土就会产生诺贝尔奖!”). The university’s press information was full of praise of the lively and humourous, profound and still simple language (生动诙谐、深入浅出的语言 / shēngdòng huīxié, shēnrùqiǎnchū de yǔyán) in which Professor Yang shared his experience in study and research with the students.

In 2009, his talk was reportedly still about twenty years, and Cong Cao, a senior research associate with the Neil D. Levin Graduate Institute of International Relations and Commerce at the State University of New York, strongly disagreed with him. To some extent, Cong based his pessismism on past political traumas (and probably on lost time after 1949), but also on his perception that

China’s education system binds students to their mentors. A mentor is an authoritative figure as formidable as a father, and to challenge him is unacceptable. However, the loyalty discourages criticism of seniors, and has proved to be a major handicap.

Cong added that a strong planning mentality added obstacles to an efficient research environment, even though he conceded that

in the last 30 years, China has been improving its research environment by setting up the National Natural Science Foundation of China, introducing peer review, supporting young and promising scientists, and calling for “tolerance of failure.”

In his banquet speech in Stockholm in 1957, after receiving the Nobel Prize himself – as a Chinese-American scientist -, Yang said that he was

heavy with an awareness of the fact that I am in more than one sense a product of both the Chinese and Western cultures, in harmony and in conflict. I should like to say that I am as proud of my Chinese heritage and background as I am devoted to modern science, a part of human civilization of Western origin, to which I have dedicated and I shall continue to dedicate my work.

In his banquet speech, Yang apparently made no reference to Tsung Dao Lee (李政道), who was awarded the Nobel Prize together with him, while Tsung (four years Chen’s junior) did mention Yang. (Yang did, however, refer to his colleague in his Nobel lecture.) According to James Glanz of the New York Times, they never talked to each other ever after (not until 1999 anyway, when Glanz wrote his article), each of them claiming the lion’s share of credit for the work. The D. Kim Foundation refers to the two as “friends, but also rivals”. In his talk to the University of Electronic Science and Technology on September 10, in any case, Yang reportedly said that he and Lee won the Nobel Prize for Physics together for their theory on parity non-conservation (宇称不守恒理论).

But then, this was a fact that could hardly be denied.

____________

Related
Fourth Modernization, one Step up, July 30, 2010
Tsung Dao Lee: The Great Buddha and the ambitious Monkey, nobelprize.org, Stockholm, 1957

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