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August 8, 2010

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Home » Metro » Health and Science

Thousands pay final respects to top scientist

TENS of thousands of students and people from all walks of life yesterday paid their last respects to Qian Weichang, one of China's most respected scientists.

His body was cremated at Longhua Funeral Parlor, in Shanghai after the memorial service.

Qian, the former president of Shanghai University, was a renowned physicist and applied mathematician who was credited with founding the study of modern mechanics in China. He died peacefully at the age of 98 on July 30 at Shanghai Huadong Hospital. His death has been met with sadness around the country.

Black scrolls were hung in the funeral hall, where mourners moved in lines and bowed before his body, which was covered with a national flag and among pots of flowers.

"He was very nice to students," said Xia Shiduo, 91. Xia was once a student of Qian and was the most senior participant at yesterday's farewell ceremony.

Despite the summer break, many students from around the country returned to the school for mourning activities after learning of Qian's death. About 1,000 students and teachers from Shanghai University attended the ceremony, while others wrote blessing cards and folded paper cranes on campus to express their sorrow.

After Qian's death, the university set up two mourning halls, one on each of its campuses. They received at least 1,000 visitors every day since Qian's death. People who could not reach the city also paid their respects on the school's website.

According to Qian's will, his manuscript and book collection, totalling more than 10,000 volumes, will be donated to the university. The school said it will set up a library to display the books.

Qian's achievements have made him one of the most prominent founding fathers of modern scientific research in China.

He was the last of three pioneer scientists all surnamed Qian to die. The "three Qians" -- including Qian Xuesen, the father of China's space program, and Qian Sanqiang, a nuclear physicist -- all studied abroad and built the study of modern physics in China from scratch.

Qian Weichang was born in Wuxi, Jiangsu Province, in 1912. When he entered Tsinghua University in 1931, he only scored five points out of 100 in physics in the entrance examination. He received full marks in Chinese and history.

He was admitted as an art student in Tsinghua, but soon transferred to the physics department after Japan invaded China in September 1931. He said he switched because he wanted to build weapons to fight the invaders.

In 1942, Qian obtained a PhD at the University of Toronto. He went on to work as a research associate in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of California Institute of Technology, where he worked out a way to help London avoid being bombed by German rockets.

He returned to China in 1946 and taught at Tsinghua University, Peking University and Yanjing University.

Qian once said the choices he made in his life were made for China's prosperity.

Upon his 1946 return, he said: "I don't have a speciality. I will become a specialist in whatever field my country needs me to serve in."


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