China

'Undisputed genius' is city's most famous son

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 July, 2011, 12:00am

Perhaps the best-known figure from Hangzhou in China's modern history is Qian Xuesen, honoured as the Father of China's space and missile programmes.

Born in December 1911 in Hangzhou to a family of scholars and government officials, his life began in the dying days of the Qing dynasty and ended in October 2009, at the age of 98. He had witnessed the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. His career had spanned China and the United States, and it took into account the historical developments of the two nations at key points in time. Hailed an 'undisputed genius' by his mentors, he received a degree from Jiaotong University before taking up a scholarship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was later awarded a doctorate from the California Institute of Technology.

During the second world war, his research focused on jet propulsion and, with a group of other US scientists, he also concentrated on missile technology. Alongside Albert Einstein, he also worked on the Manhattan Project, developing the world's first atomic bomb.

At the height of the Joseph McCarthy-era witch-hunt on suspected Communists, he was suspected of being one, especially after the 1949 revolution in China, and his application for US citizenship was denied. He was imprisoned on the basis that he knew too much about American weapons systems and was unable to leave the country until 1955. He felt betrayed by the West and never returned to the US.

Upon his eventual return to China, his work continued and, after establishing the Institute of Mechanics in Beijing, he went to work for the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

After being admitted to the Chinese Communist Party's ranks in 1958, he began work on the Dongfeng and Silkworm missiles, the latter is still in use today.