Nobel laureate courts controversy over decision to come back to China

Source:Global Times-Agencies Published: 2017/2/23 23:16:17 Last Updated: 2017/2/25 7:35:25

Yang Zhenning and his wife attend the award ceremony for 2016 China's Most Influential Figures of the Year on December 8 in Beijing. This was the most recent time the couple was seen in public. Photo: IC

World-renowned physicist and Nobel laureate Yang Zhenning has recently come under the spotlight again.

On Tuesday, the faculty office of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) announced that 94-year-old Yang, together with Turing Award winner and computer scientist Yao Qizhi, 70, had given up their American citizenship and have officially become CAS Chinese academicians, the highest academic title in China.

The news drew widespread attention and generated thousands of comments online. Many were negative and targeting Yang, lambasting him for "returning home for the pension."

"The inheritance tax in the US is high but there is none in China. Renouncing their US nationality can save their beneficiaries lots of money," said a netizen on

In June 1994, Yang was elected as a foreign academician to the CAS, a post he has held ever since.

He revealed to the Xinhua News Agency Tuesday that he renounced his American citizenship on April 1, 2015. "I had considered it for a long time. Making the decision was painful," he was quoted as saying, adding that his father, who passed away in 1973, had never forgiven him for giving up his Chinese nationality. "I carry my father's blood, and it's the blood of Chinese civilization," he noted.

He also expressed his gratitude to the US, where he studied and worked for five decades until 1999. "The US is a beautiful country, it gave me a good opportunity to do scientific research. I'm grateful to the US. And I know many American friends will oppose my renouncing my nationality," he said.

Controversial marriage

Some netizens believe that Yang's marriage in 2004 has tarnished his image. On Christmas Eve that year, 82-year-old Yang got married to 28-year-old Weng Fan, a master's student of translation at the Guangdong University of Foreign Studies (GDUFS) in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong Province, just one year after his wife passed away.

The news was met with widespread scorn from the public. Nevertheless, it did not seem to bother the couple, and they often appeared in public hand in hand, with Yang calling Weng a "final blessing from God."

The two first met at Shantou University in Guangdong in 1995 when Yang, then accompanied by his late wife, attended an international physics seminar. Weng, then a freshman at GDUFS, worked as an interpreter at the seminar and attended to the couple during the meeting.

According to reports, Weng's considerate nature and strong command of English deeply impressed Yang. The two reestablished contact in early 2004 and then fell in love.

Since then, the criticisms against Yang have been incessant.

In 1998, Tsinghua University awarded Yang the title of honorary professor. In late 2003, he came back to Beijing, moved into a villa that Tsinghua had specially built for him, and began giving regular lectures for Tsinghua students.

Netizens and reporters publicly accused him of not returning earlier when China was poor and needed him most, but only coming back to enjoy high financial rewards after giving his best years to the US.

Yang never publicly responded to these criticisms, but on several occasions, when asked what his major contributions to China had been, he replied that he had helped the Chinese overcome their sense of inferiority.

A life of contributions

Yang never concealed his pride in being Chinese. Born in Hefei, East China's Anhui Province, Yang went to the University of Chicago for a PhD in physics in 1946.

In 1957, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics with Li Zhengdao (Tsung-Dao Lee) "for their penetrating investigation of the so-called parity laws which has led to important discoveries regarding elementary particles" and became the first of two Chinese Nobel Prize winners.

"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," he said while addressing the Nobel Banquet.

In 1964, he was given American citizenship. His academic achievements have earned him several titles from leading academic institutions in many countries, including the US, Brazil, the UK, Russia and Japan.

But he never forgot about giving back to his home country. In 1971, he visited the Chinese mainland for the first time after China-US relations thawed and made efforts to promote Chinese study and development in basic sciences.

Under his liaison efforts and scholarship aid, several Chinese universities have built channels of academic exchange with their US counterparts. In addition to giving lectures to universities in China, he urged senior Chinese leaders to encourage young innovators, and used his influence in the US to defend Chinese sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands.

He has also received much praise for promoting Sino-US friendship. In 1979, during Deng Xiaoping's first visit as a Chinese leader to the US, he hosted a welcoming banquet for Deng in Washington and made a speech entitled "The responsibility to help build a bridge of friendship."

Yang is also one of the few scientists who has been visited by all five generations of Chinese leaders. Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao met him respectively in 1973, 1978, 2000 and 2011. Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Yang in 2007 in Shanghai when he was the municipality's Party chief.

In Tuesday's interview, Yang said he was proud of the contributions he has made to Sino-US ties. "Like I once said, without the bridge, there is no true peace and stability in the world."

The People's Daily criticized those people who held a prejudice against Yang and Yao at its official Weibo account. "It's never too late to return home. They are national treasures and should be respected," the newspaper commented.
Newspaper headline: Return to the homeland


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