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Officials laud spirit of late agronomist Yuan Longping
From:ChinaDaily  |  2021-11-12 12:28

Agricultural officials and academicians shared their views of the spirit of late agronomist Yuan Longping, known as the "father of hybrid rice", at a symposium at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences in Beijing on Wednesday.

Zhang Hecheng, Party chief of the academy, said Yuan regarded the needs of the country and people as his own mission. Chinese agronomists should learn from Yuan's spirit of dedicating his life to the nation's fields and writing scientific papers on its countryside.

Deng Huafeng, vice-president of the Hunan Provincial Academy of Agricultural Sciences and a student of Yuan's, said the agronomist's innovative spirit inspired him most.

In the 1950s and 1960s, when Yuan was a young teacher at an agricultural university in Hunan, he decided to work on solving the mystery of hybrid rice, something that no one had tackled before.

"Without fame, a high position, funding, equipment or a research team, teacher Yuan only had the courage to be a pioneer at that time," Deng said.

Yuan successfully cultivated the world's first high-yielding hybrid rice strain developed from three varieties, and then continued working to develop a strain hybridized from two varieties.

"Doing scientific research is like high jumping," he once said. "A new height is waiting for you after you achieve one. You definitely lag behind if you give up jumping."

Last year, the 90-year-old agronomist was still setting higher goals for hybrid rice and saline-alkali tolerant rice, which put China at the cutting edge of hybrid rice research.

Qian Qian, director of CAAS's Institute of Crop Sciences, said Yuan paid minute attention to the effort to help eliminate famine in the world through hybrid rice.

"Yuan passed on his hybrid rice knowledge and experience to developing countries by organizing courses and international conferences where he delivered lectures in person," Qian said.

Hybrid rice has been extensively planted in Vietnam, India and Brazil, where it achieves per hectare yields 2 metric tons higher than local varieties.

Qian said that when he was 55, his work began to tire him, and he discussed the problem with Yuan.

"He told me that turning 55 was like a tiger going out of the mountain," Qian said, meaning that such an age is a sign of maturity and that he should continue his work. "I asked Yuan a favor to write down the sentence on a note, and it is now kept in my study."

Hu Peisong, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering and director general of the China National Rice Research Institute, said he was impressed to see crowds of people, many accompanied by their children, saying their final goodbyes to Yuan after he died in May.

"We have established two hybrid rice companies, and two authorized varieties have been applied in Pakistan and Cambodia," Hu said. "We hope to promote hybrid rice in Southeast Asia with the guidance of Yuan's theory."

Wan Jianmin, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering and former vice-president of CAAS, shared a story at the symposium to show how Yuan nurtured younger generations.

When Wan was a lecturer at Nanjing Agricultural University in 1988, he wanted to join a discussion on the National High-Tech Development Plan in Sanya, Hainan province. When others opposed his attendance, he turned to Yuan for advice.

"'Of course you can! Go and listen carefully,' he told me," Wan said.

In 1995, Yuan invited Wan to work at the Hunan Provincial Academy of Agricultural Sciences.

"He could no longer write a signature, but he still signed my recommendation letter," Wan said, adding that Yuan attentively trained the younger generation, setting an example younger agronomists should follow.

Sun Qixin, president of China Agricultural University, remembered a lecture Yuan delivered on campus in 2003.

"There was no vacant space in the 300-seat lecture theater, with students sitting around walkways and even on the podium," Sun said.

"I heard that Mr Yuan refused some higher positions and titles the country offered him as he devoted his life to hybrid rice. He is the highest representative of the non-Party intellectual."