Buqing Su

Quick Info

23 September 1902
Pingyang County, Zhejiang Province China
17 March 2003
Shanghai, China

Buqing Su was a Chinese mathematician and educator, regarded as the founder of Differential Geometry in China. He became President of Fudan University and honorary Chairman of the Chinese Mathematical Society.


Buqing Su, also spelled Buchin Su, was a mathematician, educator, and poet. He was born in Pingyang Country, Zhejiang Province in China on 23rd September 1902; his parents were farmers and his ancestors had come from Quanzhou. Although the family was poor, Su's parents still managed to send him to school; it is said that they sent white rice to the school in lieu of tuition fees. In 1911, Su went to the First Primary School in Pingyang County, more than 100 miles away, as a transfer student. In 1914, he was admitted to the Zhejiang Provincial Tenth Middle School with excellent grades. Then he went to the Zhejiang Wenzhou High School.

In July 1919, when Su was just 17 years old. Mr Hong, the principal of the middle school sponsored him to go to Japan to study. After a month learning Japanese, he took the recruitment examination of Tokyo Higher Technical College and was admitted to the Department of Electrical Engineering with excellent results in February 1920. He studied there from 1920 to 1924. Although all his study materials were destroyed in the fire that followed the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, Su succeeded in graduating from Tokyo Higher Technical College in March 1924. He was admitted as a Chinese student in the Department of Mathematics, Tohoku Imperial University, with an excellent grade that ranked first among 90 candidates with full marks in two courses. Su graduated from Tohoku Imperial University in 1927 and received his PhD from the university in 1931 for a dissertation entitled The relation between affine and projective differential geometry. When Su was in Japan, his research was very effective, and he was praised as "the brilliant mathematical star rising above the eastern country" .

While at Tohoku Imperial University, Su met, and married, Yonako Matsumoto, the daughter of a member of university staff. The couple subsequently had eight children, and Yonako Matsumoto was one of the first Japanese to become a Chinese citizen.

In Japan, Su once said to his senior Jiangong Chen [1]:-
After obtaining a PhD, we will go back to serve our motherland immediately, make suggestions for the development of the Department of Mathematics of Zhejiang University, and train more talents for the country.
On his return to China, Su initiated the development of modern mathematics in China by working with other mathematicians such as Jiangong Chen. Wang Yuan, a famous mathematician and academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, commented [1]:-
Modern mathematics research in China really started in the 1930s.
Su created the internationally recognized Chinese school of differential geometry, making outstanding contributions in affine differential geometry, projective differential geometry, general space differential geometry and projective conjugate network theory. Through his research on general surfaces, he discovered quartic algebraic surfaces of the third order (i.e. with the property that typical straight lines intersect the surface in three points) which aroused great excitement in the international mathematics world; the ◊ Su-cone⁄ was named after him. In the 1940s he developed the theory of K-spreads (families of K-dimensional manifolds) in space. When he was in his seventies, Su started a new research direction in computational geometry when he used the mathematical idea of affine invariants to solve the practical problem of lofting of ships' hulls.

Su often said [1]:-
Personal fame and family are secondary. What is important is to strive to make our country's scientific research and education continue to flourish in accordance with the requirements of the development of the times.
Under Su's leadership, his students published more than 100 papers in journals of the United States, Japan, Britain, France and other countries between 1931 and 1949. In November 1942, the Cambridge academic, Joseph Needham, who was director of the Sino-British Science Co-operation Office in Chongqing (the capital of China at the time) , visited the Department of Mathematics at Zhejiang University, which he praised [3]:-
You are the Eastern Cambridge
Su was elected to the Academia Sinica in 1948, and to the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 1955.

In 1952, when universities across the country were reorganized, Su and his students from the Department of Mathematics of Zhejiang University all moved to Fudan University. Su served first as the Provost and then, in 1978, he became the President of Fudan University.

In January 1982, the National Collaborative Group on Computational Geometry was established under the leadership of Professor Su, with the participation of Zhejiang University, Shandong University, University of Science and Technology of China, Institute of Mathematics, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Fudan University. Since then, academic conferences and classes on computational geometry have been held every two years, providing theories and methods for high-tech projects in computer-aided design and manufacturing in China, and training a group of talented students who combine theory and practice.

On 31st January 1985, the Propaganda Department of the Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee appointed Su as honorary President of Wenzhou University. In 1989, the Shanghai Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics was established under Su's guidance and supervision. In 1990, the China Society of Industrial and Applied Mathematics (CSIAM) was established, and he was hired as a consultant. At various times he also served as vice chairman of the Chinese Mathematical Society, member of the sixth National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative (1983-88), vice chairman of the seventh and eighth National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (1988-98), and honorary chairman of the Democratic League Central Committee (1997-), and Conference and deputy to the National People's Congress.

During his career, Su published over 160 mathematical papers in domestic and international journals and more than 20 monographs and textbooks on topics including projective curves, projective surfaces, and affine differential geometry. Su's main papers are included in Selected Works of Buqing Su (1991). His books include The General Projective Theory of Curves (English translation 1958), Affine Differential Geometry (English translation 1983), and, co-authored with Dingyuan Liu, Computational geometry, Curve and surface modeling (Chinese 1980; English edition 1989). Among his work, "Geometry of K-spread Space and General Metric Space, Projective Curve Theory" won the second prize of the first National Natural Science Award in 1956. He won the 1978 National Science Conference Award for A Program of Hull Lofting. His collaborative "A Production Process of the Hull Form by the Curved-Surface Method" won the second prize of the first National Science and Technology Progress Award in 1985.

Su passed away in Shanghai on 17th March 2003, at the age of 101. Tributes praised him as [3]:-
the brilliant mathematics star in the Eastern country", "the first geometrician in the East", and "the king of mathematics.
In August 2003, the International Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (ICIAM) established the "ICIAM Su Buqing Award" to reward individuals who have contributed to the application of mathematics to economic growth and human development. In 2004, the Chinese Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (CSIAM) established the "CSIAM Su Buqing Applied Mathematics Award".
You can see more about this award at THIS LINK.

In 2019 asteroid 297161 Subuchin was named after him [15].

Su wrote more than 500 poems during his life. His poems revolve around science, love and friendship, closely connecting personal destiny with the worries of the family and the good of the country and nation. One example, written while at a friend's party is [16]:-
Hastily cups and plates are filled with joy,
do not let the talk of rice and firewood bring sorrow.
The spring breeze has already turned the grass green in front of the door,
and we must endure the remaining cold and look ahead.
Another, written when Su was 70 goes [17]:-
Thirty years ago in Guizhou, I was worried because of the singularity.
Now I am old and I am happy to see my old friends competing for the top.
Su once said [6]:-
It is no exaggeration to say that half of my knowledge and achievements are given by my wife.
Su's Japanese wife once asked Su:-
Why are you studying mathematics so hard? Do you really think it is a lot of fun?
Su replied:-
Mathematics is needed for Chinese development. At first I really thought it was not as interesting as listening to songs and dancing, but when you connect mathematics with national fate, you will find how rich and attractive this field is.

References (show)

  1. Y Han. Su Buqing: A life of wind and rain as "geometry". Chinese Journal of Science People. 4th Edition. 2019. https://news.sciencenet.cn/sbhtmlnews/2019/11/351026.shtm
  2. Former Residence of Su Buqing, Pingyang County. Wenzhou City Propaganda Department. 2013.
  3. Su Buqing. Baidu Encyclopedia. 2016.
  4. Su Buqing. Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China.
  5. Distinguished mathematician Buqing Su passed away. Sina. 2003.
  6. The Marriage of Su Buqing, King of Mathematics: Married to him by a foreign daughter, she has not added a new dress for decades. NetEase. 2021. https://www.163.com/dy/article/G9GTDRPI0523DRM8.html
  7. A master of mathematics who came out of Pingyang——Commemorating the 120th anniversary of Su Buqing's birth. Historical Natural Journal. 2022.
  8. Wenzhou University in 1985. Wenzhou University. 2022.
  9. The farmer's son at the foot of Lying Cow Mountain——Remembering Academician Su Buqing, the former honorary president of our school. Wenzhou University. 2012.
  10. CSIAM Su Buqing Applied Mathematics Award. Web of Science. 2015.
  11. The Unveiling Ceremony of the Bronze Statue of Mr. Su Buqing Held in Fudan. Youth Newspaper. 2012. https://baike.baidu.com/reference/166064/2d24SlCrI9r0YJ5oADuNkozcLX5JgAwCw6xUHxZ9oi0kmUGR0kQgpAp1_g5GBn-YHZ4ghdCd0wsiQCIUwF9lTzO1lwor-M7GiCT71-wrA-3XmwwjWfyi1FQEFRwbLkE0AbFHB9nu
  12. Su Buqing Inspirational Education Center was Completed and Opened. Sponsor: Zhejiang Provincial Department of Culture. Organizer: Zhejiang Cultural Information Center. 2015.
  13. Subuchin, International Astronomical Union, Minor Planet Center.
  14. Commemorating the 120th anniversary of Su Buqing's birth, Teller Report. 2022.
  15. The marriage of Su Buqing, the king of mathematics, DayDayNews. 2022.
  16. Zhejian provincial government, "The poetic mathematicians". 2023.
  17. Scientists and poems – poems by mathematician Su Buqing. iNews. 2023.

Additional Resources (show)

Other pages about Buqing Su:

  1. Su Buchin Prize

Cross-references (show)

Written by Kairui Li, University of St Andrews
Last Update May 2023