Editor of new book highlighting achievements of China’s Nobel and Lasker award winners hopes stories will inspire young

Gary Cheung
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Editor of new book highlighting achievements of China’s Nobel and Lasker award winners hopes stories will inspire young

An editor of a book recording the achievements of prize-winning Chinese scientists and writers hopes their stories inspire more young people to excel in the fields.

Professor Laurence Chan Kwong-fai, one of the six editors of Nobel and Lasker Laureates of Chinese Descent In Literature and Science, also called on the Chinese and Hong Kong governments to increase spending on research and development.

The Nobel Prize is given out each year in chemistry, physics, physiology or medicine, literature, peace and economics. The Lasker Awards programme was created in 1945 by Albert and Mary Lasker to shine a spotlight on fundamental biological discoveries and clinical advances.

Chan said Japan had produced 23 winners of the Nobel Prize for science, while another three were laureates in literature. In comparison, nine of China’s 11 Nobel laureates were honoured in the fields of science, with the other two winning prizes for literature.

Tu Youyou, a mainland Chinese chemist and winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine, is the only Chinese scientist working in China to have won the award.

China’s spending on research and development in 2015 accounted for 2.07 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product. The proportion was lower than the United States, Germany, South Korea and Japan.

“It’s better than before, but still not enough,” Chan said.

In 2016, China overtook the US in terms of number of scientific papers published.

“The question is how many of them are quoted by their peers in other countries? It still has a long way to go,” Chan said. “[Mainland scientists] need to try harder and develop a culture of excellence, aiming for perfection and excellence.”

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In 2017, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor pledged to double spending on research and development to 1.5 per cent of GDP within her five-year tenure.

The book, the first of its kind, was published by World Scientific last week. The publishing house is an international scientific publisher in English language in Asia-Pacific.

“We are proud that this is the first time that a book like this has been published. It was written out of our love for our culture and heritage,” said Chan, who graduated from the University of Hong Kong’s faculty of medicine in the early 1970s.

Four of the six editors of the book, including Chan, are HKU graduates.

Chan, a professor of medicine at the University of Colorado, said they developed the idea of compiling the book 10 years ago.

Professor Joseph Sung Jao-yiu, former vice chancellor of Chinese University, contributed a chapter on Yang Chen-ning, who shared the Nobel Prize for physics with his colleague Tsung-Dao Lee in 1957, for their work in an aspect of the fundamental law of nuclear physics.

“In 2012, I and more than 100 colleagues and students from Chinese University celebrated the 90th birthday of Professor Yang,” Sung wrote. “During the banquet, I said, ‘Mr Yang, I learned about you as the first Chinese recipient of the Nobel Prize through my textbook when I was a primary school student.

“I would have never imagined that one day, I will be dining with you side-by-side, celebrating your birthday’.”

Kenneth Young, emeritus professor of CUHK’s department of physics, wrote a chapter on the prize-winning physicist and the university’s former vice chancellor Charles Kao Kuen.

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Kao, who is known as the father of fibre optics, died in September at the age of 84, after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

The chapter on Gao Xingjian, laureate in literature in 2000, was written by Mabel Lee, translator of Gao’s major works. Gao, who fled China in 1987 and renounced his Communist Party membership after the Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, lives in France,

“By recounting the intellectual struggles and triumphs of Nobel and Lasker laureates of Chinese descent, we hope to inspire the next generation of scholars in literature and science worldwide in the hopes that they too might become laureates one day,” Chan said.

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