Postscript by Shen-su Sun

(25 August, 1999,  Canberra, Australia)

A couple of days ago I received some feedback from friends in mainland China and overseas on my Introduction to the Zhang and Chen article on Prof. Tu. I was somewhat surprised and puzzled by these prompt and diametrically opposed reactions. Apparently the overseas scholars of Taiwanese origin endorse my enthusiasm whereas responses from mainland China are not very supportive. After some reflection on the causes of such different reactions I won't be surprised to find that many Earth scientists of mainland Chinese diaspora who are now in their prime age also share the feeling of their counterparts in the mainland.

I venture to say such different reactions may have a lot to do with our different perspective on the history of modern China that has suffered so long and so many humiliations and defeats. People of my generation tend to place great emphasis on patriotic spirit. I thus hastened to pay tribute to Prof. Tu's outstanding career first and foremost as an overseas returned student who has been so fully committed to serving his country.

By contrast, the PRC scholars seem to be more concerned with the state of play in the field of Earth sciences in China. Quite legitimately they feel that China is in urgent need of young and promising scientists who are capable of doing frontier research and achieving the cutting edge stuff. They acknowledge that veteran Chinese Earth scientists had made their contribution. They are, however, men of the past; they do not represent the future. The wise thing for these supra-over-aged to do in China's geoscience is simply play the role of assisting and recommending young scientists, but not the role of a supervisor or a paramount leader. It has been a great concern that many elders in the field seem to think that they are exceptional and that they can defy the natural law and will never get mentally old. Thus, they refuse to retire and feel justified in hanging on to the privilege and benefits of their posts. This severe problem may have stemmed from the current rule that members of the Chinese Academy of Sciences do not have a retirement age.

In all fairness I must say that I share the grave concerns just mentioned above. Yet, instead of repeating my views on these subjects I would simply refer interested readers to my previous zawen (random essay) which appeared in the Special Report Section of this website (20 January 1999). As far as I am concerned it is quite unsatisfying, if not disheartening, to have noticed that there were many invited papers contributed by people of the 70-80 age group and even close to 90 years old in the first pages of Dixueqianyuan (Frontier of Earth Sciences). I surely would like to support the call for retirement of all supra-over-aged scientists. Let the young and the promising have a fair go.

On the other hand, as I understand it, there are many of our colleagues in China who are not so old, generally under 65, and yet occupying powerful positions not so much because of their outstanding academic achievements or advanced management and leadership skills. Their success is attributed to their ability in power struggle, manipulating and deceiving people. They surf on the political tide. One can hardly expect them to cherish intellectual and moral integrity in a repressive political system as well as very corrupted academic environment, which we have witnessed for the past 50 years. In this sense, the role of the elders probably should not be lightly dismissed. In some ways, through their seniority and authority the veteran scientists have had prevented their juniors from behaving too outrageously. In any case, the bottom line is simply that for advancement of Earth sciences China needs a hell lot more young, capable, dedicated and better-qualified scientists. I sincerely hope that expatriate Chinese Earth-scientists can make every effort to promote such a cause.

By the way, the term "supra-over-aged" (chao lao) was first coined by the late Premier, Zhou Enlai at early stage of the "Cultural Revolution" when he was 70 years old. He said jokingly to Guo Moruo, then Head of Chinese Academy of Sciences, that both of them should be considered as "supra-over-aged" (chao lao). They were no longer fit to rule in terms of Chairman Mao's personnel policy of relying on a mixture of the old, the middle aged and the young ("lao-zhong-qing").