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Oral History Transcript — Dr. Chen Ning Yang

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Interview with Dr. Chen Ning Yang
By John Israel and Larry Schneider
In Stony Brook, New York
November 1, 1980

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Chen Ning Yang; November 1, 1980

ABSTRACT: History of the development of the modern Chinese university system, the organization of Xinan Lianda from three separate universities: Beida, Qinghua, Nankai, Liandaís administrative organization and contributions of the various separate faculties in physics and math, Chinese educational system improved by return of Chinese students who studied abroad; comparison of Chinese and American systems of university education; Yangís family history, education of Yangís father in China and Ph.D. in mathematics at University of Chicago, fatherís influenced on his studies, Yangís early life and education during war with Japan, his physics education in China, Ph.D. at University of Chicago, change from experimental thesis using Van de Graaff accelerator with Allison to theoretical work with Teller, Yangís contemporaries, his impressions of current Chinese graduate students.

Transcript

Israel:

Why do you think Xinan Lianda[1] was so pre-eminent?

Yang:

Well, I think undoubtedly one of the reasons was the fact that they had the combined faculty of three good universities, and so therefore, in many fields, it had very distinguished scholars. It also managed to have a very good atmosphere, and the ideas that one should teach well and one should study hard were very much a part of the whole system. These are probably not the only reasons. The three universities each had a very long and distinguished tradition, and that tradition undoubtedly also influenced the development of Lianda. If you look at the achievements of the faculty of Chinese universities during the war, and if you look at the output of the universities in terms of their students, I would think Lianda by far outranked any other university. I may be prejudiced but I donít think so.

Israel:

Iíll give you an interesting statistic. When I was in China this summer, a book was published: WHOíS WHO IN CHINESE SCIENCE. [2] I was curious to see what the output of Lianda was, so I just went through all of the people who got wartime degrees, and counted them up. There were, I think, 21 or 22 people altogether, and Lianda had the largest number, six, of any institution, but it was only tied for first place. What other university, do you think, shared the honors?

Yang:

You mean it has very few entries?

Israel:

The whole book isnít that big. Maybe it contains biographies of 100 odd people and there were many people who got earlier degrees, some people who got later degrees, so, just talking about an eight year period. This is just a Whoís Who. These were just the most preeminent scientists in China.

Yang:

I see, so there was an attrition process after that, I guess.

Israel:

I donít know. Again Iíd have to check my notes to see how many people were in the whole book and how many of them came from the wartime period. There were, I think, just over 100 in the whole book.

Yang:

Very selective.

Israel:

Thatís right.

Yang:

I think the two other universities that might be listed as rivals would be Zhougyang Daxue[3] and Zhejiang Daxue. [4]

Israel:

Zhejiang Daxue was the only other one that had six people, and Zhougyang Daxue came somewhere else down the list, I donít remember how far down.

Yang:

Iím surprised, because Zhougyang Daxue was bigger than both Zhejiang Daxue and Lianda.

Israel:

I donít know where Zhejiang Daxue got its scientific reputation, but somebody told me that a man named Zhu, I think, was chancellor at Zhejiang Daxue and was a well known scientist.

Yang:

I think it was Zhu Kezhen. [5]

Israel:

Perhaps.

Yang:

Iím not positive, but Zhu Kezhen later became a vice president of the Academy of Sciences. Heís dead now. He was a meteorologist. Or maybe a geologist. Somewhere in that area. Iím not positive, but I vaguely remember that he was instrumental in pushing science at that university. That university had especially good mathematics and physics departments. Of the people that you would now know who are very prominent in China, who were a part of that university, are Su Buqing, who is now the president of Fudan University, who is about to retire, I think. Have you met him in Fudan, in Shanghai?

Israel:

No, Iíve never been to Fudan.

Yang:

Oh, he is a wonderful man and very active and a delightful person. There was Wang Fanchang who was a young professor at Zhejiang Daxue who is now a vice minister, and director of the Nuclear Physics Institute of the Academy of Sciences near Beijing. He is usually reported as one of the main contributors to the Chinese bomb project.

Schneider:

How early did the Zhejiang Daxue develop its science program? How far back are we talking about? Was this strictly during the war period?

Yang:

No, I think they already had a strong science program before the war. But it maintained that tradition during the war and after the war. (Let me see whether there are many alumni that you could talk to.) Thatís quite remarkable because itís a smaller university, and more provincial in the sense that it was farther removed from the scene of action, but it was very good.

Israel:

And of course when we talk about Lianda weíre really talking about three universities, in terms of major institutions.

Yang:

Thatís right.

Israel:

You said that the atmosphere at Lianda took something of the tradition of each school — Beida, Qinghua, and Nankai. In the sciences, is there any way that you can actually sort out these different contributions? When you were there, did you think about that very much, or did it all appear more or less homogenized?

Yang:

No. Not in the sense that there was a great difference, but there is some. The specialties engaged in by the professors in the different universities are bound to be somewhat different, and when you have a combination of all three faculties, you have the chance to have a very broad program. Just take, for example, physics. Qinghua University had a number of very good faculty members, so did Beida. Nankai was weaker. The three universities combined their strengths, and I personally benefited from this spread of talents. I did a Bachelorís degree thesis — in those days, you had to write a thesis for your Bachelorís degree in China — so I wrote a thesis for my Bachelorís degree with Professor Ta-you Wu of Beida. Thatís Ď42. Then I went to graduate school, and for that I got a Masterís degree in Ď44. My Masterís thesis was directed by Professor Wang Zhuxi of Qinghua. For reasons I have not completely understood, the undergraduate students who entered Lianda after 1938 were counted as Lianda students, not counted as students of the constituent universities. The most conspicuous sign of that is that each student had a number, and a Qinghua student was called a ďQing 346Ē for example. I was in the first of the Lianda class, and my number was ďLian 580.Ē I still have, I think, my student certificate or whatever it is, that would carry my number on that.

Israel:

Oh, I wish Iíd brought a camera. Iíd like a picture of it. Did you ever have occasion to photograph it?

Yang:

Iíll send you one some time. Iím not sure positively that I have it, but I do have another document which I just saw recently, so Iím positive I have it. I have both the graduation diploma and also the certificate for entrance to the examination hall for admission exams. You register that you are going to participate in the examination for admission, and you are assigned a number. You are given a card with your picture on it, and you use that to get into the examination hall and take the exam. That was in 1938, and I still have the card.

Israel:

Oh, thatís remarkable. It would make a very good illustration for my book. In fact, if you can find it without any difficulty, and either let me borrow it or photograph it or have a professional photographer do it, Iíll be glad to take care of the expenses, because I would like to have that very much.

Yang:

Well, anyway, after 1938, undergraduate students who entered Lianda were counted as Lianda students, but the graduate students who entered Lianda were counted as students of the individual universities. There were no graduate students who were counted as Lianda students. You take courses together, you take examinations together; itís only in the end, when you are issued a diploma, and on similar occasions, that you are counted as a graduate student of one of the universities. When you enter the university — the graduate school — you take examinations and itís the same examination, but you state at that time that you want to be a student of one of the universities, and I chose Qinghua University. The practical consequence of that is that I would then look for a Qinghua faculty member to be my thesis advisor.

Israel:

Did you do that because you had a particular man you wanted to work with?

Yang:

More or less.

Israel:

Who was that?

Yang:

That was Wang Zhuxi. Heís now a vice president of Peking University. I sort of had the idea that I would study with him, so therefore I became a Qinghua graduate student. Because he was in a field that I was interested in at that time. Now, on the other hand, I had to write an undergraduate thesis, and for that I went to Wu Da-you who was a Beijing Daxue professor. They were in very different fields, and I benefited by having had contact with both of them.

Israel:

You said that there was something of a difference in emphasis among the physicists coming from Beida and Qinghua. How would you describe the difference?

Yang:

That kind of difference is in every university, here too, now. You go to Harvard; you find that the Harvard faculty has strength in certain areas. This is because all scientific disciplines are now quite large, and itís essentially impossible for any university to span the whole breadth of the field, so therefore each university, either by choice or by accident, specializes in some fields, and thatís even more true in China because the universities were much smaller. And Wu Da-you was in molecular spectra, and nobody in Qinghua was in that field. My contact with him was instrumental in introducing me to group theory. The application of group theory to physics became one of the main branches of physics that I specialized in. So that particular contact with Wu was on determining influence to my future career. Now, in the case of Wang who was a Qinghua professor, his specialty was statistical mechanics, and I again greatly benefited from that because thatís another area of physics that I had maintained an interest in throughout my career. So, therefore, Iíd personally very much taken advantage of the breadth of fields covered, because of the fact that there was more than one university.

Israel:

Did you do that quite consciously, I mean, knowing that you had Professor Wu as an undergraduate and that you had at least gotten the basics from him, you decided to go on and work with another man in another field as a graduate student?

Yang:

Iím not sure that there was a conscious feeling that I should broaden my interests. It just happened that I was very much interested in what Wang was doing when I was about to go to graduate school. Well, maybe I should say, yes: I did have the idea that to become a full fledged physicist I needed to know several things and so I took advantage of the availableÖ (interruption about food, they are at a restaurantÖ) I certainly benefited from the fact that there were faculty members from several universities.

Schneider:

May I ask a question at this point? It occurred to me when first thinking about Lianda science that one might say there was a kind of critical mass of science specialists teaching there. And what Iím wondering is, whether the kind of very important results in the students that they produced could have occurred if each of those faculties had remained separated? Maybe I can put that into a better question: When these three faculties were separated in the Beiping area, at Beida, Qinghua, and Nankai, would there have been the same opportunities for a student to take advantage of the various faculties? Or would they have been much more restricted to the faculty of a particular school?

Yang:

Well, certainly it would have been much more specialized. So the breadth that was covered by Lianda was a consequence of the fact that it was large enough. I guess you are asking, what would have happened if they were separate? Well, Iím not sure that one should claim that there would be great differences, because I think education is a very complicated process. What one does not pick up at one place, one may eventually pick up at another time, at another place. The breadth of coverage was a help, but Iím not sure it was absolutely necessary. I say this because certainly all three universities, especially Qinghua and Beida, produced very eminent students before the three got combined. In my own case, I certainly benefited from that, and it had a determining influence. Both of these two fields which I studied for my two theses, remained the main areas of activity throughout my career.

Israel:

Was there anything that Nankai put into this mix that was essential? You mentioned of course, theyíre not quite as preeminent as Beida and Qinghua. Any Nankai people in physics or mathematics that were particularly critical?

Yang:

Iíd taken courses or audited courses given by Nankai professors. And Rao Yutai, who was the department chairman was himself both from Nankai and from Beida, and Wu Da-you also (the one that I wrote my Bachelorís thesis with). But he was at that time professor of Beida. I think. Nankaiís input in physics is quite a bit smaller. I did not do any research work with any Nankai people. But I did take courses from Nankai professors in mathematics that were very important. Now, a very distinguished mathematician, very young at that time, who is dead now, Xu Baolu, may have been a professor of Nankai. He may have been a professor of Beida, Iím not sure. He was brilliant, and he later came to this country, for a couple of years after the war, I think at Columbia. He was one of the early important contributors to the mathematical theory of statistics. He unfortunately died young. He already was not in good health in Kunming. He had TB, I think, already at that time. I took a very important course from him. I think — but Iím not sure — he was a professor of Nankai. Another Nankai professor that I took a course with was Shen Youchen. He, I think, is still alive, and he is probably still at Nankai. He would be approximately 80 now.

Israel:

A mathematician?

Yang:

A mathematician. Jiang Suomin was another one that I have audited a course from. I think he was in Nankai. The reason that I have some confusion about who was with which university was because itís not written on their face, which university they are with.

Israel:

Probably your father[6] was much more acutely aware of that?

Yang:

He certainly knew. Also he was the mathematics department chairman.

Schneider:

For all of Lianda?

Yang:

Yes, for most of the eight or ten years in Kunming. But I knew the physics and mathematics faculty members in Qinghua best. With the other two universities, Iím somewhat confused about who is from where, but thereís another reason for the confusion. There were a number of people who had their education in one university, and then later on became faculty in another university. For example, Wu Da-you had his undergraduate education in Nankai but he became a professor at Beida and the reason for that was presumably because his teacher Rao Yutai, who was the chairman of the physics department, moved from Nankai to Beida. The very distinguished Chen Shengshen is one of the most distinguished mathematicians today in the world. I translated an introductory article to his collected works which was published a year ago. Iíve forgotten which publisher — Andrei Weil wrote an introduction to it. It was extremely interesting. So I translated that into Chinese and it was published in Ziran Zazhi in Shanghai. [7] Anyway, Chen had his undergraduate education like Wu Da-you at Nankai but he then did Masterís degree graduate work in Qinghua, and then he got a Ph.D. degree in Germany, and when he went back and taught at Lianda he was a professor of Qinghua.

Israel:

So youíre really talking about a community of scholars who knew each other before they moved to Kunming, not a community of scholars that just was created in Kunming.

Yang:

Yes.

Israel:

That must be one of the reasons for Liandaís success.

Yang:

But I would think the value judgment of these three universities before the war was very much on the academic side. That created a tradition. That tradition is very important. Now, we can talk about the whole business in longer perspectives, and I havenít done any research on this, this is just my off the cuff kind of a feeling. University education, let alone research education, in China, really dated from the beginning of this century. There were Kuo-tze-chien in the early dynasties, but there the only things that were studied were the classics. And only beginning early in this century, some universities were established. That included: Beida, Qinghua, Yenjing, Nankai. Iím not quite sure precisely when Nankai was established, and Iím also a bit hazy about the precise dates, but they all were early in this century.

Israel:

The first two or three decades of this century?

Yang:

Qinghua was first established as a preparatory school in 1911. In 1928 it became a university. In 1929 my father joined Qinghua as a professor, so that was also the year that I moved to that campus, because my father brought the whole family along. But if you look at what happened up to the early thirties, except for Beida which had the longest tradition because of the May 4th Movement[8] and so and so forth, there were more students in China, more faculty members in China, who were associated with missionary-run universities like Yenjing and like some of the colleges in Shanghai, or like Yale-in-China. And Qinghua, Nankai and Zhejiang Daxue were the ones that began as China-financed universities, China-run universities, that were forging ahead. And if you look at the roster of faculty members of a missionary-run university, say, take Yenjing in the early thirties, I would think most of the important posts were occupied by non-Chinese. But the non-missionary universities began to staff themselves with returned students. They were people of my fatherís generation who went back to China. Many of them began to staff various universities. In particular the ones which were considered to be doing well academically, were attracted to Qinghua and Beida and Nankai. So by the time that the war started in 1937, thereís no doubt that the quality of the faculties in sciences in Qinghua and Beida were higher than that of Yanjing. This was for a very simple reason: Yanjing continued the policy of staffing by people who were attracted by the missionaries. This is not a denigration of the missionaries, itís just a different style. So I would say the success of Lianda is based already on this transition period of — less than ten years — letís say 1927 to 1937.

Israel:

Iíve thought a great deal about the academic quality of Lianda and I wonder whether you couldnít say, without too many qualifications, that youíre really talking about a school which is superior in purely academic terms to the Beida of the May 4th period, even though it doesnít have some of the other dimensions? You couldnít talk about a New Culture Movement coming out of Lianda perhaps but —

Yang:

No, no, I would argue with you about this, for the following reason. Thereís truth in what you said, but itís not because of the difference of tradition. Itís just because there was no science in China yet in 1918. And I think the spirit of Beida around that time, the spirit of inquiry, the spirit of scholarship, the spirit of independence of thinking, were already very much there. However, there was nobody to teach the sciences. After all, that was when my father was a student, and he has told me what were the kind of mathematics that they learned as a student in China. And that was just nowhere near the world standard. But when that generation of people went abroad — in my fatherís case he came to Chicago — and when he went back, he brought the newer things, and therefore that group of professors generated a new group of students, and this new group of students included Hua (Logeng) and Chen (Shengshen) and so, when these students came abroad, to study, they were up to the best levels. And when they went back to China — when Hua and Chen went back to China — that was when Lianda was established — they became young professors at Lianda. Then it is clear that the kinds of things that we were learning as students in Lianda 00 compared to the then world level were at a higher level than what my father as a young professor could teach in 1930. Why is there a difference? This is because Chen and Hua — Hua was, of course, a very special case — but people like Yu Baolu — the one that I referred to in mathematical statistics — and like Ma Shijun — with whom I studied field theory — were about the same age. They would all be approximately 70 today, and then were young professors in Lianda. These were people who already were very well trained in China, so they immediately were able to launch into research work when they went abroad for graduate work, and they each had achieved some distinction already in their Ph.D. thesis work. So when they went back, they were teaching us the most advanced things. This is in contradistinction to my fatherís generation, ten years ahead of them, who went abroad, and had to start from a lower level. Therefore when they got their Ph.D.s they did not accumulate enough experience. Most of them had a one-publication record — of their thesis. Then they went back to China. So from this broad viewpoint, I think education is a very complicated process. It takes several generations. Itís not something that you can achieve instantaneously, if you average over many people. I have oftentimes wondered about this, and I think itís a remarkable history, because it took, really, only 20 years, starting from essentially no science education, letís say in the time of the May 4th Movement, to the time when I was a student, when my courses in China were absolutely at the world level. I can give you a detailed description of this: I came here in 1945, and I went to the University of Chicago as a graduate student. The University of Chicago at that time, I would think, had the best graduate school in physics because of the presence of Fermi. Maybe you can argue whether Berkeley was on equal standing, but I think very few people would argue that Chicago was not among the first two or three. I began to take courses. Then in a very short time, I realized that the courses that I took at Chicago were not as good as the ones I took in China. They were not as good because of the difference of attitude. In China, the teachers — the professors — approached teaching much more seriously than here, and they gave well-prepared lectures, and also, they went at it at greater depth. I still have some of the lecture notes, which I still sometimes consult, say by Professor Wang (Zhuxi), because they were well organized and there were things in them which are still useful today, in very specialized areas. While in Chicago, I took a course with Teller. Now, Teller was, of course, a physicist who had achieved more than Wang, but he was very busy, and he oftentimes came to class without real preparation. As a consequence the course that I took with him was totally useless to me. It added no knowledge to what I had already learned from Wang. Teller was, of course, I must add, perhaps an extreme. Fermiís lectures were very systematic. Thereís a real difference of what one believed was oneís chief responsibility between American professors and Chinese professors. This was vividly revealed to me when I compared what I could learn in Chicago and what I could learn in China. Thereís no doubt in my mind that as far as undergraduate courses are concerned, I would say, I do not believe there is another university that could have done better — in physics — than Lianda. But of course, let it not be misunderstood, that I think I did not learn anything from Chicago. Thatís totally wrong. I learned a tremendous amount at Chicago which was of determining influence also to my career, and that is because in Chicago, I learned what were the current subjects of research, while in wartime China research was mostly impossible (except for a few areas). In Chicago, there were vigorous researches. So itís not the courses that I really was benefiting from at Chicago, it was the general seminars, and what one talked about in the corridors, and what was providing the great excitements of the time, and what was the choice subject, and what Fermi was choosing for himself. Now, this is another level of education. I oftentimes thought that I was particularly lucky because I got the best of undergraduate education in China, and the best of graduate education at Chicago. A graduate student who is still learning courses is not really taking a maximum advantage of a research universityís offerings. He should already be finished with course-taking, as he would then be able to shape his own taste about what is a good subject for research work in the graduate school. So I was really extremely lucky.

Israel:

How do you explain the difference that you just pointed out between the orientation of Chinese faculty — the Lianda faculty — and the American faculty? Two possible explanations occur to me. Maybe you have a third one. One is that itís a cultural difference, the idea of what it means to be a teacher, the idea of the teacher student relation. The other is that itís a more behaviorally determined thing, because here we have a ďpublish or perish doctrine,Ē and I think in China you donít have such a doctrine, as, and as you said, during the wartime it was hard to do any research anyway. But where do you put the explanation?

Yang:

I think all these things that you mentioned were elements of the difference. There was certainly more importance attached to both professional teaching and the relationship between teachers and students in traditional China than there ever has been in this country, and that accounts forÖ The emphasis on well organized teaching is a very deep one in China.

Schneider:

You emphasize the ďwell organized.Ē You mean, not flying by the seat of your pants, but actually putting first things first, then second, third, fourth.

Yang:

Yes, and in some sense, one tries to guide the student, by hand, sort of. Now, this is a very deep tradition, and in America, one lets the student do whatever he or she wants to do. This has very deep social origins, and it is an extremely important subject, in my opinion, because I think both sides should learn a bit of the other. Otherwise each has a tendency to go overboard. The Chinese system tends to produce teachers who would emphasize rote learning — itís in the same direction — while the American system tends to be too stimulating. We see American kids come into the freshman year all excited about all kinds of things, but when you question them, they know nothing, because they jump through too many things too fast. They couldnít do the most rudimentary things. Itís disastrous, in fact, for many of them. I already had a taste of this difference of educational philosophy within the first two weeks after I appeared in Chicago. I was living in the International House. One day a fellow graduate physics student named George Fisher and I went skating in the rink in the Midway where we met a math graduate student with the name Roy. Afterwards we had some coffee, and then I had a very interesting conversation with Roy. He came to my room in the International House, and we talked and talked, and I was amazed by the breadth of his knowledge. He was a mathematics graduate student, yet he knew everything about the most current things in physics. I realized that he could not have been a product of the Chinese educational system. The American system emphasizes stimulation. The Chinese system, compactification. The fact is you have to do both. In mathematics and physics, those who only concentrate on compactifying may not get very far. Compactification may stifle imagination. But those students who do not realize that they need to compactify from time to time can get into an extremely dangerous situation. They may eventually be ruined. Many wake up one day and suddenly feel that they know nothing, that everything is going to collapse under them.

Israel:

Well, itís the Edison equation, of genius being 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. What youíre saying is that thereís too much emphasis on the sheer intuitive aspect of it, I think, isnít it?

Yang:

No, not quite. The statement that one needs 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration is, I believe, sheer propaganda.

Israel:

You know thereís a poster in China with Edison with that slogan on it. Have you seen it?

Yang:

I have not seen it.

Israel:

Yes, I have one of those.

Yang:

Nobody wants to say what I just said aloud because he might be accused of — something.

Israel:

Arrogance?

Yang:

Yes. What I object to is not really the word perspiration. Perspiration has to come when against your will you have to labor hard. Thereís no such thing in the sciences. Youíve got to be interested, and if youíre interested, itís not perspiration. You may be perspiring but you donít feel it. You are led on by something, and, feeling-wise, itís not perspiration. The meaning of that slogan says that you have got to go against what your interests dictate. That is the thing which I am objecting to.

Israel:

When you talk about compactifying, youíre talking about a kind of building block, getting your blocks in order.

Yang:

Right. Let me elaborate. We all have some sixth sense sometimes that somethingís right, and this is very important for any creative work in any field. Iím sure you would agree with this general description. But in physics and mathematics and, I think, in all the sciences, you have to substantiate this vague concept, and that requires the habit of going back and trying to examine all things and put things in order. I use the word compactify because in your rush to try to see something in the fog, you are likely to leave a lot of holes in your knowledge, and by re-examining them, you fill the holes. This constant practice of going back and forth, doing both, is a most essential thing. What the American educational system is long on is to stimulate the kids to try to jump to great heights, but thereís not enough emphasis in the tradition to say that youíve got also to come back from time to time and consolidate. The way in China was a layer by layer compactified building up. Itís very common for the Chinese graduate students coming here to encounter something like my own experience with Roy. I knew a number of things very solidly. He ranged over a much wider horizon, but I was more solid.

Israel:

You were prepared to move on and in a sense he wasnít.

Yang:

Thatís right. Now, the disadvantage of being trained in this compactified type of progress is the possibility that a person may then be afraid to jump. He wants to stay safe all the time, and he is much more reluctant to question authority because thatís a dangerous thing. Thereís too much emphasis on the sense of security, if you all the time emphasize the compactified approach. And this may stifle imagination and boldness. I think itís a very complicated subject.

Israel:

When you talk about your own undergraduate education at Lianda youíre speaking about professors who themselves have been educated both in China and abroad.

Yang:

Yes.

Schneider:

Now, when they came back and taught, did they fall back into the old Chinese pattern of compactifying?

Yang:

Yes.

Schneider:

They didnít have that foreign element in their teaching?

Yang:

No, because, they were educated that way, and also, the atmosphere of the university would not encourage too much stimulation. This does not mean that there were no professors who were a bit disorganized, but Iím talking about the general situation. Most people gave very well organized lectures. Well organized lectures are characterized by logical consistency, logical connectiveness, leaving no holes, while Tellerís way of teaching is loopholes just all over the place. He first generates excitement before anything else, while excitement is not a criterion in the Chinese traditional teaching system. Itís almost considered bad. I believe one should have a combination of the two. That would be the best.

Israel:

Joseph Needham traces Chinese science to Taoism. Perhaps thereís more excitement in Taoism than there is in orthodox traditions?

Yang:

Heís talking about more philosophical things.

Israel:

I wasnít really trying to paraphrase Needham. You really bring up what might be another dimension of that theory, because if you want to find excitement in the Chinese intellectual tradition I suppose thatís a good place to look for it. (Interview continues in Dr. Yangís office) So you lived on or near Wenhua Xiang? [9]

Yang:

Yes. I lived in Wenhua Xiang[10] for two periods, first Ď38 to Ď40, and then after three years in the country near Da Puji, we moved back again, and so again Ď43 to Ď45.

Israel:

Oh, you were in Da Puji. Is Da Puji the little village I visited by taking a bus out from the Xi Zhan? It went to a place called Pu Ji. Itís not called Da Puji, itís just called Puji. I wonder if itís the same place? Itís near a mountain called Chang Chun Shan or She Shan.

Yang:

Yes, it is. I didnít visit Da Puji this time, in Ď78, but I was near there. I think itís still called Da Puji. Is there a ďPujiĒ?

Israel:

You remember the mountain called Snake Mountain?

Yang:

Yes.

Israel:

Itís right at the foot of Snake Mountain.

Yang:

The reason that we moved there is because our house suffered a direct hit in a Japanese bombing raid. Nobody was home. We were all in some shelters. But the house we rented was completely gone. So we moved the next day.

Israel:

I thought that the water table in Kunming was too high to build shelters? Where was your shelter?

Yang:

Most of the shelters were underneath the old city wall. They were therefore not underground. They were above ground, but they were built into the city wall. The city walls were very thick.

Israel:

But there probably wasnít enough room for everybody in the shelters there, because I know that everybody used to run to the countryside.

Yang:

Most of the people ran to the countryside. Here is what happened that particular day. It was September 30, 1940; The university had just begun its fall semester. My father was at the university, and I was at the university. My mother and my brothers and sister were at home. At that time we had just moved away from Wen hua Xiang to near the Xiao Dongmen, the ďsmall eastern gate,Ē and there was an air raid alarm. If I remember correctly, I quickly went home and picked up my two brothers, who were ten and eight, and the three of us went outside of the city, as most people did, but my mother and my youngest brother and my sister went to the shelter near where we lived. So you are quite right, the shelters were not numerous enough to accommodate everybody, but in any case, most people considered that to be not as safe as going outside, so the three of us went away. We didnít know where my father was. (It turned out that he went to the countryside near Lianda.) The Japanese bombers came and bombed. We saw the smoke and speculated how far it was from our house. We couldnít be sure. Then we started back and as we got closer and closer to the city it became clearer and clearer that it was very close to where our house was. And by the time we got back we saw that it was a direct hit in the courtyard.

Israel:

This was your old house that you had already moved away from?

Yang:

Well, we didnít have a house; we rented. The first two years we stayed in Wen hua Xiang. Then the rent was raised, so we moved to this other place in the eastern part of the city. We were there for I think barely a month, when we were bombed out. Then we moved to the countryside for a few years. Then there were fewer air raids, and in Ď43 we moved back to Wen hua Xiang to a different house. Now, this time in Ď78 I went back to Wen hua Xiang and looked for both houses, but did not succeed. The general appearance of the alley was still very much the same as before, though.

Israel:

Sort of z-shaped, zig zag, you mean?

Yang:

Yes. But the two particular houses, I couldnít find. I didnít spend enough time there. When I say I couldnít find it, itís partly because they were in courtyards and these courtyards gave gates which apparently had been moved. If I want to really explore now, I would have to go around to other alleys, and I just donít have the time.

Israel:

Well, I love those old alleys. My favorite is not Wenhua Xiang but if you go down Wenhua Xiang and then instead of jogging right you jog left, you go through something called Tianjun Dian Xiang, the ďPalace of the Heavenly Prince Alley.Ē Itís like being in 16th century Spain or someplace like that.

Yang:

They are very narrow lanes.

Israel:

Thatís right, very narrow. Itís a whole rabbit warren of little lanes. I used to jog every morning. Every morning Iíd take a different route, sometimes through one, sometimes through another, down to Green Lake. Green Lake has changed.

Yang:

By the way, is that filled with water now?

Israel:

About half filled. According to what people told me, that has something to do with air raid shelters, the fact that thereís so little water in it. There are many theories but one of the theories is that in 1970, when you had this nation-wide program of building air raid shelters, that they built some right next to the lake, and that a lot of the water has drained off into those shelters. Some people have other explanations. Did you ever discuss that with anyone? (break in interview)

Yang:

In 1940ó1943 we lived near Da Puji in the northwestern countryside of Kunming. I went to Da Puji frequently, because the Qinghua Universityís Radio Communications Institute was there. I oftentimes, in the summer, walked over there in the morning, and used their library and then went back for lunch at home.

Israel:

Is that where Ren Zhigong was then, in Puji?

Yang:

Yes. One of his colleagues Meng is a professor at Qinghua now, and he just came with a delegation Tuesday to Stony Brook. I think they might still be in New York. If that is the case, he might show up at tomorrowís meeting.

Israel:

Oh, fine, very good.

Yang:

His name is ďMeng Zhao-ying.Ē

Israel:

Speaking of the research institutes, I wanted to ask you a question. When you were a graduate student at Qinghua did you have some kind of ongoing association with the research institutes? Were those more a part of a graduate studentís life than an undergraduate studentís?

Yang:

Really neither. They were research institutes, occasionally accepting graduate students. I had no official connection with them. But, some of my fellow graduate students had more things to do with them. For example, two of my roommates, one, Sheldon Chang, who is now a professor of electrical engineering on this campus, worked there for a summer. Another, Gilbert Ling, who is now a research biologist at the Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia, worked in another institute in Da Puji; I think itís called Institute of Physiology. Both of these were research institutes of Qinghua University, and they were both graduate students at that time. So graduate students in the particular fields that Da Puji had research work in often would go there to work, and did become associated with them.

Israel:

You said you werenít sure why a graduate student was required to be associated with one of the three schools and not with Lianda and I was wondering if that might have had something to do with the fact that Qinghua was so much better endowed in terms of research institutes, perhaps that Qinghua would have been a little bit jealous about these graduate students — I imagine Qinghua attracted more graduate students in the sciences, certainly, than Beida or Nankai. Do you suppose that has anything to do with that?

Yang:

You may very well be correct. I think you should ask Ren Zhigong this question. Letís see who else. Maybe Mrs. Mei would be able to tell you, you know her?

Israel:

Yes, I met her in Beijing.

Yang:

Or Zha Liangzhao might be able to tell you.

Israel:

Itís hard to discuss hard questions with Zha Liangzhao. He likes to wander a bit. Heís a very hard man to pin down on something that specific. I think Ren Zhigong should know.

Yang:

I havenít seen Zha for a long long time.

Israel:

Heís a remarkable old man. He still has that twinkle in his eye, you know, that habit of rolling his head like this, sort of rolling his eyes.

Yang:

Heís 80 something.

Israel:

Yes, heís well into his eighties, Iím sure.

Yang:

But there are other old timers in China from Lianda. There is Zheng Tianting.

Israel:

I saw Zheng Tianting and I saw Chen Daisun, I saw Qian Duansheng, I saw Jin Yuelin, I saw Zheng Tianting, I saw Huang Yusheng. In Kunming I saw Qin Zuan of the economics department at Yunda. [11]

Yang:

Is he still there?

Israel:

Yes. Yes, heís still at Yunda.

Yang:

Did he tell you about the story of his daughter?

Israel:

I didnít want to ask about that. Somebody said she wanted to marry somebody and he forbade it and she committed suicide. Is that the story?

Yang:

No.

Israel:

Am I confusing it with somebody else? You tell me the story.

Yang:

I think my story is probably the correct one. At least itís the story that we all heard in the war time. Itís one of those terrible things. Qin Zuan must be just a few years younger than my father, and he had several children, one a boy that was a close friend of one of my brothers, so we knew very much about what went on in that family. And one, I think his eldest daughter, maybe four or five years younger than I — I didnít really know her — was very pretty. They lived in the same Wenhua Xiang as we. She liked to sing Chinese opera, and, I forgot, which son of Long Yun (he was the warlord), I forget which of these —

Israel:

Oh, the really bad one? The bad one was Long San.

Yang:

Probably Long San. I think you can attribute every possible bad thing to him. Anyway, he took a liking to her because she was singing I think in an amateur opera group, and essentially he abducted her, and then of course she disappeared for a few days. Finally she came back, and I think within a day or two she committed suicide. That was the story that we learned from her brother, who was a close friend of my brotherís, so I would think it was the correct story.

Israel:

Yes, thatís the story I heard. There was some embellishment about how he got her drunk and she was unconscious and he seduced her under these conditions. I donít know whether youíve heard all these embellishments or not, but the basic story is the one that I heard.

Yang:

Well, itís more than 30 years.

Israel:

But Qin Zuan had so many interesting things to talk about, and I didnít wait to open that wound, so I didnít ask him about that. He has a theory of the ďDa Tong.Ē [12] He looks to a utopia of the future. So it was nice to find an old man so optimistic.

Yang:

What field is he in?

Israel:

He is an economist. You talk about different traditions in a field — he contrasted his training very sharply to Chen Daisun. Apparently theyíre good friends or at least they get along all right, but he said, ďChen Daisun is the Harvard school. I am the Columbia school.Ē

Yang:

I see. I didnít know him.

Israel:

We should really get back to you and your experience. I know that Larry in particular has some questions concerning your childhood and family background and education and so on. Could we go back to that and work ourselves up to the present systematically.

Yang:

Compacting.

Schneider:

Compacting, yes. Thereís a question or two I want to ask before we do that. You mentioned your undergraduate thesis and your Masterís thesis. Were those published? Are they in the public realm? I assume you still have copies of them?

Yang:

Yes. You can have this. This is a copy of my undergraduate thesis. But thatís a modern xerox copy. This is the original of it.

Schneider:

I think the xerox is better than the original. Iím very happy that you saved this.

Yang:

This is what I bound as my Masterís degree thesis. I typed it myself, and the papers then were terrible.

Schneider:

I recognize this paper. Iíve seen journals that tried to print on these.

Israel:

You werenít a bad typist.

Schneider:

Not at all. Do you have a copy of this as well?

Yang:

I donít have a copy. I can make a copy for it, but part of it is published. I can show you the published work.

Schneider:

By any chance, have you placed copies of these with the American Institute of Physics, with their historical archive? Would you have any objection to my doing that on your behalf?

Yang:

But I want to hold onto this one.

Schneider:

Oh no, not the original of course.

Yang:

Oh, copies?

Schneider:

Copies, yes.

Yang:

No, I have no objection to that.

Schneider:

Iím sure they would appreciate that very much.

Yang:

This is part of my thesis, half of my thesis. Half of the thesis was published in China.

Schneider:

This is the JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS.

Yang:

The first part of the thesis — the first part of the thesis was published in China. And the second part of the thesis was published here. This is a reprint of the first part, and itís a Chinese reprint.

Schneider:

Chinese JOURNAL OF PHYSICS.

Yang:

Yes, which already was published at that time. And the second part of it was published in the JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL PHYSICS, of which that is a xerox copy.

Schneider:

Iíll just copy down this reference, if I may, from the CHINESE JOURNAL OF PHYSICS. I have doubts about finding that in the States but it would be interesting to try it.

Yang:

Oh, Iím sure the Congress —

Schneider:

Do you think the Library of Congress has it?

Yang:

They have everything.

Schneider:

Very good. I can copy this down as we go along. Please hold onto that. Take good care of it. Now, this xerox, may IÖ?

Yang:

You may have this one.

Schneider:

Good, these two xeroxes. Thank you very much for that. I think it would be very useful for us to fill in some information about your father, and grandfatherís education, and their occupations, because weíve gotten some very interesting information in our general conversation but unsystematically. Was your grandfather, your fatherís father, at all involved in science or science-related areas?

Yang:

No. My paternal grandfather died in 1906 plus or minus two years. My father was either 10 or 12 when he died and my father was born in 1896. He was a low grade Qing dynasty official of some sort, and he was not a xincai. [13][14] You know that terminology? He had some education but did not go through the route and somehow became a low grade official of some sort. At the time my father was a boy, my family was quite poor, and they were living in Hefei which is now the capital of Anhui where my family was among the poorer of the more educated people in the cities. At the time that he died, he had been absent from Hefei for a long time. At his death, he left some money for his brother to raise my father and my uncle. He had two sons: my father, and my uncle, who was two years my fatherís junior. (They are both dead now. My father died in 1973 and my uncle died in 1979.) The money however was not enough. At that time my family lived in one of those old, big household arrangements. There was not enough money to send both boys to school, so my father went to school and my uncle, at the age of maybe 12 or 14, went to become a huoji in a store. That is a lower grade than a clerk. He just ran all kinds of errands. And he told me in 1978 that while he was a huoji he tried to learn Chinese classics. He would write to my father who was at that time in Peking in the Shifan Daxue — the normal college — and my father would then send back the letters that my uncle wrote him, correcting the mistakes. This left a very profound impression on my uncle because he felt that that was a very essential part of his education. To return to my father, after he graduated from high school, his uncle — because there was no money — decided that the best thing was for him to enroll in a military academy, because then everything would be taken care of. This must have been sometime around 1915, but I am not quite sure. So he went to Hubei. There were warlords in China at that time, and each warlord would have a military school to train cadets who would later serve in his army. My father went to one of those, and after a couple of months he ran away. He just couldnít stand it. My father was a very talented person. He was very good at singing opera. He was excellent at playing weigo, and he was also some sort of an athlete. After he ran away he went to Peking and enrolled at the Beijing Shif an Daxue. At that time itís called Beijing Gao Shi — The Peking Higher Normal College. Later on it became Shif an Daxue. I donít know what it is today. Probably it still exists today in Peking. So he became a student there and the advantage of that is that in the normal school system, you get full scholarship and you also have all your room and board taken care of. So he was there while my uncle was a huoji in a store. After my father graduated from that college, he went back and taught in several high schools in Hefei and in Anquing. Anquing was at that time the capital of Anhui Province. He also got married, and it was during that period that I was born, in 1922. I was not the oldest of the family. I had an older brother, but he unfortunately died before he reached his first birthday because of the stupidity of a doctor when my brother got the whooping cough, and in continual coughing developed hernia. The doctor tried to push it back, which was extremely painful to the baby, so he had to give him some anesthetic. He stupidly gave too much. So my older brother died. This was a great shock to my parents. In those days, babies died very frequently, and therefore each one was treasured, and especially the boys. Slightly more than a year later I was born, in 1922. Ten months after that, my father came to this country and became first an undergraduate student for a year at Stanford, then a graduate student at Chicago.

Schneider:

How was it that he came to the United States?

Yang:

He took a provincial examination to send scholarship students from Anhui Province to the United States.

Schneider:

Was this Boxer money?

Yang:

No, this was not Boxer. This was a provincial arrangement.

Schneider:

Just a local arrangement?

Yang:

Yes. I think another Anhui provincial scholarship student named Yang Lianggong is still alive. Heís a prominent member of the government of Taiwan. Iíve met him several times, both a long time ago in China and also in Princeton when he came to visit in the fifties. (writing) His name is Yang Lianggong. I think he was for a while the Kaoshi Yuan Yuanzhang[15] in Taiwan. Yang Lianggong and my father were contemporaries, and they were both provincial scholarship students from the Province of Anhui. My father took the examination and won the scholarship. He came here in 1923, and he decided that his college education was defective and he wanted to make up for that. So he went to Stanford for a year as a senior to brush up on the undergraduate courses and he got a Bachelorís degree from Stanford in 1924. Then he came to the Midwest and became a graduate student at Chicago, earning a Ph.D. degree with Dickson in 1928. L.E. Dixon was one of the very prominent American mathematicians at that time. My father earned a degree in number theory with Dixon. He went back in 1928, five years after he came, and taught for a year in the University of Amoy. Then in 1929 he moved to Qinghua. So he was with Qinghua and Lianda for many many years. From 1938 to 1949 my family was in Kunming. In 1949, [16] in the spring, he moved the family to Shanghai and the family was there when Liberation came. He had expected to go back to Qinghua in Beijing after liberation but that never materialized, for a very complicated reason — we can go into that if you want — but anyway he remained in Shanghai, and after 1950 he became a professor at Fudan until he died in 1973.

Schneider:

Just to go back a little bit — had he showed interest in mathematics before he went overseas? He was teaching?

Yang:

He was in the mathematics department already in the normal college in China. Yes, he was very much interested in mathematics.

Schneider:

With whom did he study originally in China before he went overseas?

Yang:

You mean, in the higher normal college?

Schneider:

Yes, from whom, did he receive his highest mathematical training before going overseas for graduate work? Do you recall who that might have been?

Yang:

No. He might have told me once, but I donít remember.

Schneider:

It wasnít foreigners? It was Chinese teachers? Because there were some foreigners teaching in —

Yang:

Yes, but he went to the higher normal college. It had very few non-Chinese teachers. Either Chen Shengshen or Hua Luogeng would know, because both of them were graduate students or instructors in Qinghua when my father became a professor there. In fact, the reason that Hua LuogengÖ (off tape)

Yang:

Hua Luogeng came to Qinghua without a college education, and he was already interested in number theory, but it was because of my father being in number theory that he got into that field.

Schneider:

May I ask, did your mother receive some kind of higher education?

Yang:

Not only did my mother not receive any higher education, she essentially didnít receive any regular education at all. And she somehow taught herself how to read and write. She in turn taught me, from the ages of 3 to 6, how to read Chinese characters, and I think 95 percent of my knowledge of Chinese characters came from that period. After that, I added some words but not very much. She therefore essentially received no regular education at all. At that time, when my mother was a little girl — she was born in 1896, the same year that my father was born — unless you are a very rich family, your daughters will not get educated. Sheís still alive. Sheís in relatively good health. Sheís almost 85.

Israel:

Where is she living?

Yang:

She lives in Shanghai. Just before the Communist government took over in 1949, the whole family moved to Shanghai, and they have been there ever since.

Schneider:

After your education with your mother, could you bring us forward to your experience at Lianda?

Yang:

Well, I learned Chinese characters from my mother, and then in 1928, my father went back to China, and my mother brought me to Shanghai to meet him. Then he brought us to Amoy where he became a professor. That was when I was six. But between five and six, for about a year or so, I went to a sishu. A sishu is a private tutoring system. (I was going to write it — itís one of the characters I learned from my mother but Iíve forgotten.)

Israel:

You have to write her an apology.

Yang:

At that time, my familyís economic circumstances had greatly improved. I told you about my uncle. He later became quite successful. In the mid 1920ís, although he was not yet 30, he was already doing quite well, and he was the one who, sort of, sustained the whole big family at that time. It was economically feasible to engage a person to teach in our household, so a teacher came every day to teach several of my cousins and me — I was the only child of my mother. This is the old Chinese system for any family that can afford it. So I studied in that school and what I learned was San Zi Jing. [17] You know about the San Zi Jing?

Israel:

Yes. But youíre talking about the period around 1930?

Yang:

This is 1927-28.

Israel:

Ď27, Ď28 and the San Zi Jing is still being taught?

Yang:

Oh, much later than that, when there were guests, these were still served opium. Itís incredible. Today Hofei would still convey an impression that itís more backwards than Kinming. Have you been to Hefei?

Israel:

No, I havenít.

Yang:

I donít know whether you are familiar with such novels as JIA[18] by Bajin?

Israel:

Yes.

Yang:

Or HONG LOU MENG, [19] which describes a tremendous large below, household, and JIA describes a smaller household. Now, mine was scaled down by another factor of ten from Ba Jinís. But the family, the person to person arrangement, much of whatís going on, has a direct connection with that system. [20] But anyway, I studied SAN ZI JING. I didnít understand because you were just reciting it.

Israel:

You must have known most of those characters from your mother.

Yang:

Yes, but they were not thrown together in that particular way. When I saw my father in Shanghai in 1928, he said, ďTell me what you learned.Ē I was six. He had given me a fountain pen from the U.S. as a present. So I told him what I learned, but when he asked me to explain it, I couldnít. But in Amoy, in 1928, he taught me Chinese poems, and a lot of the Chinese poems that I remember now still date back from those days. I think that poetry should be taught to children. Itís one of those things whose meaning increases with years. You gradually understand more, and then you suddenly see new aspects — Shakespeare is the same. You suddenly see meaning in Shakespeare that you have never imagined existed before. My father also taught me how to play go during that year. Unfortunately Iím never any good at go. I wish I were as good as he was, but I am not talented. He was very talented. So even to his last day, he could give me a handicap of 12 pieces, which is like giving a handicap of two castles or something like that in chess. So I was in Amoy[21] for a year. We never really learned the Fukien[22] dialect. Itís just too complicated. But there were many non-Fukienese faculty members, so there was a small school established, I think, in Jimei Lou, Amoy. One of these days I must go back and visit that campus. It is a beautiful campus right next to the bay. There was a Mr. Wong who was our teacher and he taught everything. There were something like 15 kids who were all children of faculty members. I studied for a year with him. The advantage of that system is that you find your own level. Because there are few students, you can progress very fast. In 1929 my father became a professor at Qinghua. So we moved to the Qinghua University campus, where I went into Chenzhi Xiaoxue-chenzhi Elementary School. The school house, I think, is still in existence. (Although I did not see it in recent years, but in 1971 I visited it. At that time it was a shop. They converted it into a shop during the time of the Cultural Revolution.) It was a small school of some 60 or 70 students, all faculty and staffís children. I enrolled as a third grader in 1929, and received four years of elementary school education there. In 1933, I graduated from this elementary school, and became a boarding student at the Chong. De Middle School.

Israel:

Now, after you left the sishu, after that period, was all the rest of your education in these schools attached to the universities, all of it quite modern, as modern education was understood at that time?

Yang:

Yes.

Israel:

No more classics?

Yang:

Well, there were still classics courses. Itís a bit like one studies Homer here. I do not know enough about the present Chinese educational system. I do not know whether students are required to take a course in Tang poetry or to learn LUN YU, [23] but in those days in China, the elementary schools all taught some courses in traditional Chinese classics. I did receive more training in Chinese classics, starting from the summer of 1934, just after my 7th grade. I was already a boarder in Chong De which was in the city. (Chenzhi Xiao Xue is on the campus of Chinghua which was just outside of the city.) My father thought that I should know more about Chinese classics, so he got hold of a very brilliant young university student in the history department, Ding Zeliang. Do you know him?

Schneider:

Oh, heís very famous. Of course.

Yang:

I think he died in the Cultural Revolution.

Schneider:

Yes.

Yang:

He was a brilliant student. Apparently my father talked to somebody in his department who recommended Ding Zeliang. So for two summers after 1934, I spent a couple of hours with him every day. He taught me Mengzi (The Mencius). What I learned this time was much more enlightening than what I had learned in the sishu. He would explain things to me, and also told me a number of things about Chinese history as he understood it. He had a modern way of looking at ancient Chinese history, which was very different from what we were learning from textbooks. That was a very interesting experience for me. I believe he liked the experience too. We did this for the summers of 1933 and 1934. Why we didnít continue in below Ď35 and Ď36, I no longer remember. If youíre asking me, what kind of classic education in Chinese I had in a formal way, thatís about it. Except of course I kept on learning some more Chinese poetry from my father from time to time. I went through four years of high school, in the Chong De Zhong Xue until the summer of 1937. Then the Marco Polo Bridge Incident and the war with Japan started. About two weeks after July 7th when the Incident occurred, my family moved to Hefei. This was partly because there was a feeling that maybe the war would peter out. Earlier in 1933 when the Japanese began to try to occupy Rehe Province, my father moved my mother and my younger brothers and sisters to Hefei and he and I went back to Beiping. Later on when the situation quieted down, he brought them back to Beiping again. So in 1937 there was the impression on my fatherís part that the history might repeat itself. It was with that feeling in mind that we all moved to Hefei. But then of course history didnít repeat itself and Lianda moved to Changsha. My father then went to Changsha, leaving the rest of the family including myself in Hefei, where I went to the Di Liu Zhong Xue — the sixth middle school of Anhui — at that time in Hefei — for a few months. Then the Japanese came very close to Nanking. My father rushed back from Changsha to Hefei and took all of us by Hankow, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Hanoi, to Kuming. We arrived in Kuming in February 1938. The trip took a long time, because my brothers and sister got the measles when we were in Kowloon and we stayed there for more than a month for them to recuperate.

Israel:

You were among the early arrivals.

Yang:

Yes. We were not among the earliest. We were not among the walkers, but we were among the very early ones.

Schneider:

May I ask, kind of a summary, your impressions of your education up to that point? Two particular kinds of things Iíd like to know about. Did you have any foreign languages experience before you got to Kuming in your education? What languages were being taught in the schools?

Yang:

English. The overwhelming majority of the high schools or the middle schools taught English. My official English lessons started in the 7th grade, in the middle school. But of course I knew a little English from my father, mostly things like Good morning, Thank you. I took four years of English in the Chong De Middle School, then a few months in Hefei. Then I also went to Kunhua Zhong Xue[25] for a couple of months in 1938 in Kunming. As I told you, we arrived in Kuming in February, 1938, and I was in the 11th grade, in my education. So I enrolled at the Kunhua Gong Xue in Kuming, which at that time was at the corner of Wenlin Jie and Qianju Jie. I will show you where it is on the map. This is Wenlin Jie. This is Qianju Jie right here.

Schneider:

Oh, I see, the other side of Wenhua Xiang is called Qianju Jie. I didnít even know it had a changed name on the two sides.

Yang:

I was a student there for a few months, so my 11th grade consisted of a few months in Hefei and a few months in Kunhua Zhong Xue. But then in the summer of Ď38, after I had finished my 11th grade, it was announced that one could take an examination for Lianda or any university, no matter whether you had a diploma or not, because there were too many people whose education had been disrupted. So I then started to cram for that, and passed the examination. I skipped the 12th grade and went directly to Lianda in the fall of 1938.

Schneider:

How early on do you recall deciding that science or science-mathematics was something you would be comfortable with, or something youíd like to do professionally?

Yang:

Oh, quite early. It was quite obvious during the year in Amoy when I was between my 6th and 7th birthdays, that I was good at mathematics, and that impression intensified after I went to Beiping. It became quite clear in the elementary school that I was exceptionally good in mathematics.

Schneider:

Did your father ever tutor you in mathematics? Did you ever study with him?

Yang:

Tutoring is not the right word. My father was very influential in this respect, with my mathematics. He very rapidly realized that I was good at mathematics, so he would from time to time discuss things mathematical with me, in a very stimulative way. I had no problem with anything of the usual mathematics classes. But he would, for example, ask me could I prove that there are infinitely many prime numbers. This was a question that he posed to me when I was an elementary school student. He was delighted when in a few days I figured out a proof. And earlier he had ask me how to sum an arithmetical sequence and a geometrical sequence. I remember I did not succeed. So he told me how to do it, and I appreciated the methods. Throughout the years in a non-formal way, I picked up odds and ends of mathematics (from him). For example, in high school, he taught me the elementary operations of group theory. I found it very interesting but just a sort of a game. And of course he had books in mathematics, and I loved to browse around in his books. They were mostly in English and I didnít completely understand English that well. But the browsing around helped me in English too. More importantly, it helped me to get acquainted with some elements of number theory, and also especially group theory. Group theory books sometimes have beautiful illustrations, because one important aspect of group theory is symmetry. By the way, group theory is now one of the most important topics for a theoretical physicist to learn. Itís a branch of mathematics, a very beautiful branch of mathematics. Its use in physics has now become of the greatest importance. Itís one of the areas that Iíve been working in. I learned the elements of the beginning part of group theory from my father. And I was fascinated by the beautiful illustrations in a book on group theory by Speiser that he had. These early happenings may have something to do with my later interest in group theory. However, he urged me not to go into mathematics. He felt that itís not useful enough. And therefore when I, in the summer of 1938, decided to take the exam for admission to college, I filled in ďchemistryĒ in the forms. I wanted to do something useful, and I had not learned senior high school physics, which usually is taken in the 12th grade and I hadnít been to the 12th grade.

Schneider:

Let me interrupt a second. Had you had any physics, formal physics courses?

Yang:

Yes, I had in the 8th grade, junior high school, chu zhong — thatís the 8th grade in China — physics. Mostly descriptive. I found it very interesting. But it didnít go into details as in the senior high school. As I said, that would come in the 12th grade and I didnít go to the 12th grade. But to pass the examination, the entrance examination to Lianda, I had to study some physics. So I began to cram in physics. I forget which textbook I used. And I found physics to be much more interesting than chemistry. So as soon as I entered Lianda I switched. It became very obvious very soon that I was good at physics. I am very fortunate in that as a college student, and later as a graduate student, there was never any wavering. There was no problem about where I was going to go. I knew that physics is what I would study. I say, fortunate, because Iíve seen many bright young people since, who had a very difficult time deciding where they wanted to go, and many of these are very bright people. The wandering around loses time for them, and itís not advantageous to their future. I, fortunately, didnít have this wandering around.

Schneider:

Who were the first people you worked with in physics at Lianda?

Yang:

Well, I took courses. My college physics, freshman physics, was taught by Zhao Zhongyao. He is a deputy director of the High Energy Physics Institute in Peking. The next year, in the sophomore year, I took electricity from Wu Youxun. He died in Ď78. He was a vice president of the Academy of Sciences in the 1960ís and 1970ís. I took theoretical mechanics from Zhou Peiyuan who is now the president of Peking University. In my junior year, I took courses with Ren Zhigong and Ye Qisun. (Ren Zhigong you know. Ye Qisun is dead), and Rao Yutai, who is also dead. Rao Yutai was the chairman first of the physics department of Peking University, then of Lianda. And then in my senior year I took courses with Ma Shijun, a new professor at Beida and Wu Dayou. So I was in contact with most of the professors in Lianda at that time.

Schneider:

Did you, at any point early on in going through these various phases of physics education, begin to make decisions about which elements to —

Yang:

Specialities?

Schneider:

Yes, specialties — Theoretical versus — and so on.

Yang:

Well, it was clear very early in the game that I was good at theory. Now, it was not clear how good or how nonógood I was with experiment. But I knew enough, by the time I left China in 1945, to realize that my education in experimental physics was very defective. I spent the four years, Ď38 to Ď42, as an undergraduate student in Lianda. Then I spent two years as a graduate student in Lianda (technically Qinghua. See above.) from Ď42 to Ď44. Then I spent another year, Ď44 to Ď45, teaching high school in Kuming.

Schneider:

Which one?

Yang:

Itís the Lianda Fuzhong. [26] And at that time, Lianda Fuzhong was in the old campus of Kunhua Zhong Xue, which I just pointed out on the map for you. So I spent altogether seven years in some ways related to Lianda — four years undergraduate, two years of postgraduate, then the last year as a teacher in the attached high school of Lianda. I was very close to the University and I often went to the university library and talked to the faculty members. So, to be entirely correct, I was attached to Lianda for seven years, and those three years after the Bachelorís degree were very important for me too, because I continued to forge ahead. I matured. I read much more and therefore I knew more things. So therefore by the time I came here, I had a good sense of what physics was about, and what areas of physics I should pay attention to. In particular, I felt that physics is an experimental science and I did not have enough training in experimental physics. Therefore when I came, I decided, and my father agreed with that, that I should write an experimental thesis. I went to Chicago. And I went to see Fermi very soon — this must be maybe in January or February of 1946 — and said, I would like to do experiments with him. Fermi was one of the last physicists who did both theory and experiments. Now there are practically no physicists who aspire to do both, while in the 19th century many people were both theorists and experimentalists. Gradually it became more difficult to be on both sides, and Fermi was one of the last ones who excelled in both directions. I went to him and said I would like to work with him in experimental physics and write a thesis with him. He said, ďThere is some difficulty.Ē He investigated and it turned out it could not be done, because his experiments were done at Argonne National Laboratory at that time, and that was classified. Not being a citizen, I could not get to work there. Later on he said, ďWell, why donít you work with Allison?Ē Allison was doing research work right on the campus of the University of Chicago and it was not classified. Thatís how I became a graduate student of Allisonís, starting from the fall of 1946. I worked with Allison for about 20 months and the experience was very useful for me in various ways. But several things happened. First what we were doing — by we, I mean, several other graduate students and I together — one of them you might have met in China, Joan Hinton. Do you know who Joan Hinton is?

Israel:

Yes, sure, William Hintonís daughter.

Yang:

No, sister. She was a lab mate. Another was Harold Agnew. Harold Agnew was the director of Los Alamos, now the president of General Atomics. Anyway, five or six of us helped Allison to build a small accelerator, a Van de Graaff, today a very small accelerator, but in those days itís a big project, and we spent a year and a half building it and I was a member of this group. Then we each had a problem to work on, and my particular problem was to resolve two helium 5 levels. It was not successful, and I was very much frustrated. But on top of this, I should also say that I was not good in the laboratory. There were things that were mysterious to me. I found that some of my lab mates had senses about apparatus that I didnít have. Itís a very strange thing. Give you an example — our equipment always leaked. Thatís a very common phenomenon. And we had to find out where the leaks were, and when I went to look for the leaks, I never found it. And when Wayne Arnold went to look, he invariably within a few minutes would find it. So I asked him, ďHow do you know itís there?Ē He just shrugs his shoulders. When our electronics did not work, he would just kick it a few times and it began to work. I never knew how to kick it to make it work. There is something that I could not get the hang of, so I was not a good lab student. They were all nice to me because, I guess, I get along with most people very easily. Furthermore, I could help them with theory. So I was great friends with them, but they make jokes about me. One of the jokes that Allison particularly liked was, ďwhere thereís a bang thereís Yang.Ē I was, in some sense, having some complexes about my ability as an experimental physicist, and then, in the spring of 1948, my experiments were not going well. One day Teller talked to me. I had worked with Teller theory wise in Ď46.) Teller dropped in the laboratory and said, ďHow is your experiment going?Ē I said, ďItís doing very poorly.Ē He said, ďYou have just written this paper. Why donít you take it as your thesis? I will sponsor it for you.Ē That was very much of a letdown to me. I said, ďIíve got to think about it.Ē So I went back and thought about it. But soon I recovered from that and was in fact quite relieved. Two days later I told him I accepted his kindness. So thatís the end of my experimental career. I thus became a full fledged theorist, and my thesis was a theoretical thesis sponsored by Teller.

Schneider:

Let me backtrack just a moment because you raised some questions that have resonance with things that Iíve read over and over again about the development of Chinese science during the late twenties and the thirties. One thing that Western observers have said, people who came to guest lecture in China during the thirties, was that there was still a resistance on the part of Chinese scientists to working in the laboratory, to so-called working with the hands. Of course, in talking with you weíve learned that one of the problems was the severe shortage of equipment, and that not because of a desire necessarily but because of fate, the opportunities to do a lot of experimental work werenít there. But did you ever have a sense, in retrospect, that there was something cultural about a desire to go off in a less experimental direction, or not to be a scientist in China who was going to be working with laboratory equipment, but rather there was something that drew one toward theoretical work and so on?

Yang:

Yes, there definitely is. To start with, you all know that in the ancient Chinese tradition, people who used their hands were looked down upon. Was that very much still in existence in my generation? Yes, but we have to explain this ďyes.Ē Itís certainly not so simple as it used to be, when there was a social stratification. But still in the universities, a person who can do examinations very well, who can calculate very fast, is somehow regarded as more smart. But thatís not just in China. Itís here too. In any physics department in the United States, you would find that the smartest kids are doing theory. Thereís an element of that too. But this phenomenon is married to another one in China. Maybe I shouldnít say ďin ChinaĒ — all over the world, except the United States. Here, I think, it is American culture thatís different from elsewhere, rather than that itís something which singles out the Chinese culture on the opposite side. In American culture, there is the ďdo it yourselfĒ spirit. I have oftentimes thought about this. I think this is related to the fact that America is a young country, and the opening of the West is still very much a part of the historical tradition of the United States. People build their own houses, and you take the garbage out and you paint your own house. In ancient cultures, in France — France is changing too, but 30 years ago, a French professor would not paint his house. It is just not something a professor would do. An older culture has a tendency to respect the learned more than American culture. America is a young country. When I came to this country, I found that in this respect it was very different. And when I began to encounter physicists from Europe, I found that in this respect, the value judgment in Europe was much more similar to China than here. But of course Europe now has changed quite a bit. You find do-it-yourself kind of shops in Europe too, but 25 years ago you would not find them in Europe. What Iím talking about is something which made American experimental physics greatly flourish after the Second World War. American high energy physics led the world for all these years — although the situation is changing very rapidly — partly because there were people my age who grew up in the American culture, who were extremely good at using their hands.

Israel:

I wanted to ask you about the reason that you didnít come very well prepared in experimental science. Was it precisely because Lianda lacked equipment or were there other aspects to it?

Yang:

That I did not grow up from my childhood with the ďdo it yourselfĒ spirit did have something to do with it. But I think thereís something more. I think that naturally Iím just not good. Iím not clumsy, but Iím just not good. I have a son who is a chemistry graduate student at Berkeley. When we both looked at the garage door when somethingís wrong, he made the correct diagnosis much faster than I did in a way which I did not understand.

Schneider:

He finds the leak.

Yang:

He finds the leak more easily.

Israel:

But generally speaking, was the whole curriculum at Lianda much more theoretically oriented?

Yang:

Yes. Thatís partly because of lack of equipment.

Israel:

But also partly because of the inclination of a large percent of the faculty?

Yang:

I would say yes. But I would say the first reason was the determining one, because even those whose field was experimental physics could not really do anything.

Israel:

I wanted to ask you one more question. You said earlier that your father pushed you away from mathematics because he felt it wasnít practical enough. Why did he let you stop, or why did you stop, at physics? Why not go all the way into engineering, if the injunction was to do something practical, why not go right ahead and become an engineer, I mean in your fatherís view?

Yang:

No, he didnít try to push me into engineering. I guess I was interested in science, and he felt science was useful enough, perhaps, so he didnít do any more pushing. There was never any exertion on his part to push me into engineering. I would also say that if Iíd insisted on doing mathematics, Iím sure he would not have objected. It was not that strong kind of a pressure. But there was a pressure, and since the middle ground was quite easy for me to accept, so I settled for chemistry and later backtracked a bit into physics. There was no struggle in this respect between my father and me.

Schneider:

And I take it from what Iíve just heard that there were no tensions about becoming as a profession some kind of a scientist, that this was at least within the family.

Yang:

No, not at all. My father at no time tried to push me into, say, engineering. My father settled for chemistry or physics very happily. I did not think about this question, we never discussed it. Maybe he thought that this was the best profession that he could envisage anyway. But in this respect, I would say the following. I was intensely interested in mathematics. This is both because of my fatherís influence and because I guess Iíd been very good at it all the way. I could easily envisage that I went into mathematics. I would say my two natural fields are theoretical physics and mathematics, and I could envisage that I would end up in mathematics rather than theoretical physics. But itís rather difficult for me to imagine the circumstances which would push me into anything other than these two. What I am saying really is that if I somehow got into chemistry, I would eventually find my way into either of these two sometime.

Israel:

What about your generation of people at Lianda who didnít come to the United States? You spoke of the sort of marvelous chemistry between your Chinese base and your American graduate education and so on. People who didnít come here — you probably have kept in touch with your colleagues today — what contribution are they making?

Yang:

One of them is Huang Kim. He went to England.

Israel:

Well, I was thinking mainly of those who stayed in China. But Huang Kim as you said went to England.

Yang:

Huang Kim went to England at about the same time that I came to the States. He did extremely well as a graduate student and later on a research worker in England. He wrote a very important book with Max Born on crystals, and he then went back to China. I was just looking the other day at our correspondence in the time before he went back to China and immediately after. I think it described his feelings very well. He became a professor at Peking University and later on the director — he now still is — of the Semi-Conductor Research Institute in China. He made a great contribution in the fifties by being the chief person responsible for the training of the semi-conductor scientists in China. He was responsible for the Chinese semi-conductor industry in the last 30 years. Heís an internationally known physicist. He was my classmate and roommate.

Israel:

How about the people now who never left China or who went to the Soviet Union? Have any of them become distinguished, really prominent?

Yang:

Yes. Thereís Zhou Guang Zhao who is right now visiting VPI. Zhou Guang Zhao is about five years younger than I am, and I did not meet him until the seventies. He worked in Dubna near Moscow in the fifties, and he was one of the two most brilliant young physicists in that laboratory, the other one being Okun — a Russian who is a distinguished physicist in Russia. Then Zhou Guang Zhao went back to China. Usually one says he disappeared, in the papers, but though I donít ask him, it is clear that he went to do defense work. Heís now back in physics, and heís visiting VPI for six months. I think on the average it is true that if a person remained in China, his chances of contacting the current research directions were much more limited, and as a consequence, his performance statistically was likely to suffer. This is a truism. There are many many smart people at the frontiers, and yet their performances eventually are quite different. One of the main differences is because there are people who happen to be working on the right field at the right time, and to know what is the right field at the right time and get at it early, you have to be in places where there is information going through, there is appreciation of the information. That is something which severely handicaps a person who did not go abroad.

Israel:

As far as information went during the war, did you have any need for current information about the state of physics in the West, I mean as a student? or did your teachers? or were you getting stuff through Needham?

Yang:

No, no, not Needham. The journals did go through. They were received, after a delay. In the wartime of course most non-applied research stopped all over the world, so it was not as competitive. We did get information, with a delay. We were not as handicapped at that time because other people were not progressing very much either.

Israel:

You said non-applied research stopped all over the world. What you mean is, most people turned toward war problems.

Yang:

Yes.

Israel:

But in Kunming, except for a little bit of school of engineering, I donít have the impression that Lianda was all geared up to play directly into the war effort.

Yang:

No, no, I didnít mean that. I meant over the industrialized world. For example academic research in the United States in physics, chemistry, mathematics largely stopped. China was not in the industrial development stage in which she could really profitably do science and technology work in war research. So I was not referring to that. I was referring to the face that over the industrialized world —

Israel:

Yes, I was simply contrasting the situation in China generally. (Interview continued in car en route to LIRR Station) How do you find the young students now coming out of the last ten years and so on? Are they ready for the world? [27]

Yang:

Well, the lectures I gave at Beida were usually to a very large crowd. I really didnít have the chance to contact the students. But we have some students from China here, and visiting scholars here. Some of them are very good. Especially the very young ones, namely those in the twenties. Some of those who are older are clearly very well prepared, but they suffer from the fact that they are over 30, some of them over 40, and itís difficult for a person whoís older to absorb a completely new field. So there are some problems. We have here about 20 graduate students, and 20 research scholars.

Schneider:

From China?

Yang:

Yes.

Schneider:

At this one place?

Yang:

Well, we are not the biggest. I think Berkeley must have 70. Wisconsin has probably 100.

Israel:

Well, this really blows my mind, because at the rate at which things are moving — very exciting —

Yang:

Yes. Just a year and a half ago the newspapers here were full of news about the first arrivals. Three came.

Israel:

Well, thatís the way it is at Virginia. Weíre a little behind you. We have four now. Weíre going to have five by next spring. Weíre moving very slowly. You know, it may become the way it was in the twenties and thirties, that if you donít have a Ph.D. from an American university, then you canít hope to rise in the academic world of China. Do you think that might happen again?

Yang:

Sure. (Hiatus in Tape. Continued in car at the Station.)

Yang:

I think, thatís right. If there is only one novel about Lianda this is not it. [28] Whatever Lianda signified, you do not find traces of in this novel; as for personal experience, thatís something else.

Israel:

Yes. You were associated with Lianda through the whole war. Was the Lianda that you first saw in Ď38 and the one that you left in Ď45 — how would you talk about this question of continuities and discontinuities? Was it the same institution basically or were there qualitative changes?

Yang:

Well, there were changes, because first one has to settle in there, and then there were all those moving to Xuyong and coming back and so on.

Schneider:

Did you go to Xuyong?

Yang:

No, I didnít. But I meant the whole university. I would say that in the spirit, you know, itís perfectly consistent from the beginning to the end. And in the value judgment of what the university is supposed to be for, I donít think there were any great changes. Living conditions became progressively more difficult. But on the other hand, there were more bombings in the beginning. No, I would say that it is an entity, and it is a remarkable entity with consistency.

Israel:

You saw what a professorís life was like from inside the home. I mean, all the pressures. With all the pressures your father was under and so on, did he seem to be able to cope with all of these things? Keeping the family together, bombing? I donít know what else he had to do during the war.

Yang:

Well, in retrospect itís a little bit difficult to see how people coped. But human beings are very elastic. Iíll just give you an example, because I was thinking about this the other day. I told you that our house, or the rented house, was bombed out, and then we had to leave. We slept in a friendís house not very far from it that evening, and the next day we moved. And a few days later I went back to the big heap with a spade. I sort of knew where things were, and I began to dig. When I dug up quite a few books, I was really just impossibly happy. Itís hard to imagine today why a few books meant that much, but it did. So I guess one adapted to it. And the meaning of the meaningful things in life became much more concentrated, and thatís what sustained people. But in looking at some of my diaries, I realize that toward the end, my father was constantly worried — and that got onto my thinking too — about the finances of the family. He said one day to me, if I remember correctly, that first, that his savings as a professor were essentially wiped out because of inflation, and he knew how much money we had at that time, and he calculated, with the deficit that we were running in the household budget, that it would last only another ten months. As a matter of fact, after I came here (I had some journals of that period), throughout the forties, that worry was very much still in the family correspondence between me and my father. So it was a difficult time, but the amazing thing is that somehow one went about oneís business, and an enormous number of very good students were produced, and these good students evidently learned an enormous amount. It means that fancy equipment and buildings and libraries are not necessary. It doesnít mean that they are not helpful, but —

Israel:

How about the simple question of the energy level? Did you ever feel, I mean, feel so hungry that you really werenít able to apply your mind to the work?

Yang:

Thatís a very good question. In retrospect I realize that I was a bit hungry, but not so much so that it really affected anything. Why do I say that I know that I was a bit hungry? Because sometimes now when I donít eat, for some reason I miss a meal or something like this, there is a certain feeling which evidently derives from lack of food, and that faintly I recognize as a constant type of general feeling in Kunming. I think to say half-starved is a totally wrong statement. We were not that hungry. But that we did lack nutrition and therefore everybody was underweight, was, in retrospect, a very clear situation. But I donít think that had anything to do with my energy or zeal about anything whatsoever. Certainly I could concentrate with no difficulty at all in those days. Again, this shows how the human body and mind is constructed in a very elastic way.

Israel:

Yes. There is a lot of controversy over this problem. Thereís a correspondent from the SATURDAY EVENING POST who went to Lianda in 1943 and reported back, he said that people, the energy level he thought was really low and people werenít able to concentrate. You may remember this, Larry. Larry was at a seminar I gave at Columbia, and I mentioned this, I didnít say it was the POST writerís opinion. I adopted it as my own. I said this seems to be the case. The first question from the floor, a man stood up and, Chinese of about your age, and said that he was graduated from there in the mid-1940ís and he didnít feel his energy level was low. It turned out to be Wang Hao.

Yang:

In terms of physical labor, I would think, there is a difference. Also if you are a runner I would think lack of nutrition and food would sap your energy. But for mental activities, I didnít see that there was any real — as I said, people operated on a very wide margin of error in this area. But everybody was underweight. That, I think, is obvious.

Israel:

Well, look, even today students in China donít carry a lot of extra flesh on their bones, to say the very least.

Yang:

Right.

Israel:

I donít know how one defines underweight.

Yang:

— part of this may be genetic. The weight structure of the Occidentals and the Orientals, that may be part of it. You can look at my children. They grew up in America. They grew up on American food. They are influenced by some Chinese food at home but they are mostly living on American food. Itís clear that their bones are not as large as the average Occidental. So part of it must be genetic.

Israel:

Thereís the bone equation and the flesh equation, I guess, two independent variables. If you find that whatever wartime diary, sporadic though it may have been, that you kept, is not too personal and itís possible to run off a copy, I would dearly like to see some of that.

Yang:

Sure. But I think most of it is very personal. Maybe someday it can be published. It shows me as a youngster who would periodically make up a table of what I should do every day, and then after two months blame myself for not having been able to stick to the schedules. This is probably not just my own experience. Probably many people do this. I come to the conclusion, thinking about this and reviewing my own life, that itís not useless, because it urges you on, at least for a few months, to do some regular things. Provided you do not let the guilty feeling overwhelm you, itís, not bad. The net result is positive.

Israel:

Well, there are all kinds of psychological states which are useful. In China you have one now. You have a kind of nationally induced inferiority complex. But that may be useful too up to a certain extent, because if you feel that fundamentally youíre as good as everybody else but that youíre not achieving as much — isnít that the psychology now behind the ďFour ModernizationsĒ? People always saying, ďConditions here arenít as good as they are in your United States; we are so backward.Ē Almost a litany. At least this is what I was getting over there all the time.

Yang:

Would you say there is a perceptible difference in this respect compared to a few years ago? When were you there before this time?

Israel:

My earliest experience was Ď78. Iíll tell you what it sounds like now. It sounds like Taiwan in 1960. But of course you see how well theyíve done in Taiwan, so maybe it will have the same effect. When I went to Taiwan in Ď73, nobody was doing that anymore, because in Ď60 as an American graduate student I was one of the richest people in Taipei. In Ď73 as an American professor, I was not. And thatís the difference, because it was obvious in 1960 that all Americans somehow had it much better than any Chinese. In Ď73 that just wasnít true anymore. When did you first go back?

Yang:

I went there in Ď71. I have been there essentially once a year ever since.

Israel:

Well, youíve got a lot of experience to work on.

Yang:

Yes. In some respects I have an advantage observing China, compared with you. In other respects, I may have a disadvantage. There are some things that one may perceive better as a complete outsider, with no past observations. Sometimes. Itís like a person who is outside who may have a better overall understanding than a person who is too much immersed in it. China is a very complex country, and I realize that many of the things that I thought I understood in the early seventies were just totally wrong. They were wrong because one cannot understand such a large country, with hundreds of millions of people, from just a few corners. You can try to generalize, but oftentimes you may completely misunderstood the point.

Israel:

Thatís just it. I came back in Ď78 after my first two week tour to China and gave lectures with great confidence. Now that Iíve been there for six months, I canít do that anymore, because Iím not as confident.

Yang:

You have been to China?

Schneider:

No, I havenít had a chance. Iím looking forward to doing the kind of thing John did, as a visiting research scholar, perhaps a year or so after Iíve done my homework. But Iíve just decided the homework is going to have to be twice as much now as I thought Iíd have to do. Part of the problem is dividing oneself between archival research and oral history, and I can see that the oral history must be first and foremost. The archives will wait. The people wonít. Also the archives can create illusions about what places were like, what things were like, and I think so much is not going to be in the archives at all, about the experiences of developing sciences, particularly about the kinds of questions that might be of interest to me that come out of rather high level policy and theory, things about nativist movements in science and populist interests in science after 1949. And I think one really must talk to individuals about this, rather than read statements that may have nothing to do with reality. Iíll leave you with that question.

Israel:

Well, Professor Yang, it was a great pleasure.

Schneider:

Thank you for a wonderful day.

Israel:

If youíre ever near Virginia, come and see us.

Yang:

OK.

[1]Southwest Associated University. Hereafter "Lianda."

[2]Zhongguo Kexuejia Zhuanlue Cidian. Zhongguo Kexuejia Zhanlue cidian Weiyuanhiu, ed., Vol. 1, 1980.

[3]Central University.

[4]Zhenjiang University.

[5]Generally rendered as Chu Cochling.

[6]Yang Wuzhi.

[7]NATURE MAGAZINE.

[8]A period of cultural, intellectual, and political ferment, ca. 1917-1921.

[9]During wartime years in Kunming.

[10]"Culture Alley" is the exact translation. Center of the University neighborhood near the north wall of Kunming.

[11]Yunnan University.

[12]"The Great Harmony" — a Chinese utopia.

[13]Holder of the lowest of the three major degrees in the imperial examination system.

[14]Letter from Chen Ning Yang, Feb. 2, 1994 (copy at end of paper transcript): "According to the transcript I said that my grandfather was not a xiucai. That was a mistake. I found out in the mid eighties that my grandfather was a xiucai." March 10, 1994.

[15]Head of the Examination branch of government.

[16]Letter from Chen Ning Yang, Feb. 2, 1994 (copy at end of paper transcript): "1929 should read 1949." March 10, 1994.

[17]THE THREE CHARACTER CLASSIC, traditionally the first primer for Chinese children.

[18]THE FAMILY.

[19]DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER.

[20]Letter from Chen Ning Yang, Feb. 2, 1994 (copy at end of paper transcript): "I had said that what I studied was San Zi Jing. I found out later that that was wrong. What I studied was Lung Wen Bian Yin. March 10, 1994.

[21]Amoy. Now rendered as Xiamen.

[22]Now rendered as Fujian.

[23]THE ANALECTS.

[24]Letter from Chen Ning Yang, Feb. 2, 1994 (copy at end of paper transcript): "The last two sentences should read 'We did this for the summers of 1934 and 1935. Why we did not continue in 1936 I no longer remember."

[25]Kunhua Middle School.

[26]Lianda Associated Middle School.

[27]Referring to Yang's recent experience in China.

[28]Referring to Nelson Wu's novel, WEI YANG GE.