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The home, the herbalist and the high school: Feverish interest in Nobel Prize-winner Tu Youyou's background

Nobel Prize winner Tu Youyou has become a phenomenon, stirring up interest in her past

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 October, 2015, 11:00pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 08 October, 2015, 6:03am

In just a few days Nobel Prize-winning scientist Tu Youyou has become a household name and everything about her a source of public fascination - from the school she went to, to the house she lived in, and the Jin dynasty herbal specialist who reportedly inspired her.

In an interview with Beijing News, Tu said the four million Swedish krona (HK$3.7 million) that came with the award was "too little, and not enough to buy half a living room in downtown Beijing".

READ MORE: How the West waited 20 years to use Tu Youyou's Nobel prize-winning malaria discovery

But one of her former homes in Ningbo , Zhejiang province has become such an attraction that property agents say it could be worth 150 million yuan (HK$182 million). The Qianjiang Evening News reported the home used to belong to Tu's late uncle, Yao Qingsan, but was now owned by a property company.

The report said local authorities were mulling whether to list the home as a heritage site and open it to the public. "I brought my daughter to have a look at it and soak up the atmosphere," a resident was quoted as saying. "I hope she can study hard and be as outstanding as Tu."

I hope my daughter can study hard and be as outstanding as Tu
Local resident

The Xiaoshi High School, where Tu studied more than half a century ago, has also become a centre of attention. More than 10 of its alumni have gone on to join the prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences or the Chinese Academy of Engineering, but Tu is not a member of either.

The school was criticised online in the summer when a widely seen post claimed its students' results were on the decline because the school refused to offer extra classes, a common practise to prepare students for the college entrance exams.

The school's principal responded, saying: "Xiaoshi is a school with an education ideal. We hope education can go beyond short-term goals and leave the students with three fruitful years and another 30 years of happiness!"

Mainland media also gave extensive coverage to the inspiration for Tu's research. Beijing Youth Daily reported yesterday that 4th century herbalist Ge Hong gave her one idea.

In one of the earliest books on Chinese remedies, Ge recounted the medical use of sweet wormwood - Artemisia annua in Latin, or qinghao in Putonghua.