China 1986

I spent three weeks of September 1986 in China at the invitation of the Chinese Academy of Science (Academica Sinica).   The economic reforms initiated by Deng Xiaoping were by then well underway, and China was beginning to open up to academic visitors from the West.  My first meeting with  scientists from China had been in 1978, at the meeting of the General Assembly of IUTAM, held on that occasion at University College London.  China had applied to become an 'Adhering Organisation' of IUTAM and was represented by  Zheng Zhemin, Director of the Academy's Institute of Mechanics,  and Wang Ren, Chairman of the Department of Mechanics at Peking University; their presence at this meeting, just two years after the death of Mau Tsetung and the end of the Cultural Revolution, had made a dramatic impression;  China was duly admitted to IUTAM at the next opportunity, the 1980 Congress of IUTAM in Toronto. 


The 1980s continued to be a period of extraordinary developments in China, and I was lucky to be invited at such a critical time of change. I was accompanied on this journey by my mother Emmeline, then aged 78, who had always longed to visit China, and who jumped at this opportunity.  She kept a detailed journal of the visit, and I have been able to draw on this in the following account.   The Chinese have a great respect for 'senior citizens', the more senior the better, and this was very evident in the great courtesy with which we were welcomed and treated throughout our travels.  As regards the various sight-seeing trips, I cannot improve on Emmeline's account of our experiences, so will give here only the briefest summary. 


Our visit started and ended in Beijing, and included a round trip to Hangzhou, Shanghai, Chengdu, and Xian, where  I visited Universities and gave lectures.


We were welcomed in Beijing by Professor Wenrui Hu of the Institute of Mechanics, and escorted to the Friendship Hotel, which was to be our base.  The following day being a Sunday, we  were escorted by Wenrui's colleague Professor Jai-Fu to the Temple of Heaven, the first of several sight-seeing trips that had been pre-arranged. On the way back, we paused at  Tiananmen Square, which was to hit the world headlines so shockingly three years later. 


On the Monday and Tuesday mornings, I lectured at the Institute of Mechanics, where I was happy to renew acquaintance with  Zheng Zhemin.  In the afternoons we were escorted to the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace;  and on Wednesday on that tour of tours to the Great Wall on which 300,000 men toiled for 10 years, and the Ding Ling Tomb (one of the Ming Tombs) in the bowels of the earth, described by Emmeline as  "a subterranean stone-built palace, a grim and fearful place indeed with its side alleys and now empty sarcophagi. The one cheerful thing about the Ding Ling Tomb is its name!"


On the Thursday, we flew to Hangzhou, where we were accommodated in the University Guesthouse, and where we were guided in succession to "the most beautiful lake, the largest Buddhist temple, the highest Pagoda, the first Communist iron-built road bridge, the finest tea made with the purest (Dragon Spring) water".  It rained incessantly throughout our three days here, leaving us with a somewhat soggy impression before we continued by train to Shanghai, where we were met by Professor Dai, of  the Shanghai University of Technology (as it then was).  


On the following day, I was taken on a tour of the University, first to the Computer Science Department, where an IBM 4167 had been recently installed; then to the Library where, according to Prof. Dai  "we take all journals" - since 1984, that is;  third, to the Department of Mechanical Engineering, where the speciality was high precision optics applied particularly to the problem of detecting stress patterns in elastic bodies subjected to bending and twist; and finally to the Institute of Applied Mathematics and Mechanics (where I lectured), actually a small house formerly owned by a priest, now containing a 10-month old VAX computer with 15 terminals.  Here I met a Professor Cai, distinguished by the Mao jacket and sandals that, as I was told,  he always wore.   This Institute had plans to move in 1987 to a new five-storey building with a fluid mechanics lab in the basement. 


We then flew on to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan Province in South-West China, and the gateway to Tibet. Here I was welcomed by Professor Han of the Institute of Mathematics and Physics, one of 7 or 8 Institutes of the Chengdu Branch of the Chinese Academy of Science.  His small group of five graduate students and four assistants focus mainly on non-Newtonian fluid mechanics, with interest also in drag reduction and wave surges in lakes caused by landslides.  I gave two lectures here on slow viscous flow, which seemed the appropriate topic.   We were accommodated at the new guesthouse of the Economics Institute, simple but adequate, and enjoyed excellent spicy Sichuan-style food.


Then on to Xi'an where, under the guidance of Li Ou of the Shaanxi Astronomical Observatory, I was taken to see the famed terracotta warriors,  discovered in 1974 and excavated since then.  It has to be seen to be believed! An amazing relic of an ancient civilisation.


And finally we returned to Beijing,  where on 24th September, I visited the Department of Mechanics of Peking University, at the invitation of its Chairman, Wang Ren.   Here, they are well equipped with wind tunnels, water channel, shock tubes, etc.  The Department admits 70 students each year, of whom 30 ultimately stay on for graduate work.  


I gave my final lecture at the Institute of Mechanics, and had interesting discussions on astrophysical fluid dynamics with WenRui Hu,  who had been much influenced by C.C.Lin when he returned to China in 1975 to lecture on his controversial work on density waves in explanation of spiral galaxy structure.   [I also had been much influenced by C.C.Lin, through his earlier book (c.1955) on Hydrodynamic Stability, which I studied in preparing my Yeats prize essay at Trinity College Cambridge in 1959.] 


It was a great honour and privilege to be entertained to dinner that evening in one of the banqueting rooms of the Great Hall of the People by Academician  Zhou Pei Yuan, President of Peking University, whose early work on turbulence was known to my own mentor George Batchelor.  This was a fitting climax to these three wonderfully memorable weeks.