Xiong Qinglai

Quick Info

20 October 1893
Xizhai village, Mile County, Yunnan, China
3 February 1969
Beijing, China

Xiong Qinglai was a Chinese mathematician who served as a highly successful president of three major Chinese universities. His outstanding research as a function-theorist was claimed by a reviewer to be of the first rank even comparable with Émile Borel and Rolf Nevanlinna.


Xiong Qinglai (also known as King-Lai Hiong) was the son of Xiong Guodong, who worked for the Zhaozhou government. As a hobby, Xiong Guodong was interested in calligraphy and painting. We have given Xiong Qinglai's date of birth according to the Georgian calendar as 20 October 1893 but it was 11 Ninth Month 1893, the year of the snake, in the Chinese lunar calendar. In 1907, Xiong Qinglai came to Kunming with his father, and was admitted to Yunnan Higher School for preparatory studies. The courses mainly included Chinese, mathematics, natural sciences, and foreign languages. Two years later he studied English and French in Yunnan. In 1911, he entered the Yunnan Provincial Institute of Higher Learning [17]:-
At that time, the Manchu Qing Dynasty was in decline, and anti-Qing struggles were surging in various places. Resistance to taxes led to school strikes, market strikes, and mutiny spread all over the country, and the Qing government was caught in a precarious situation. Xiong Qinglai was given a demerit by the school for participating in the anti-fascist and anti-Qing demonstrations to "take back the mining rights". The life people led and the struggle they had, made Xiong Qinglai realise that: To make the country prosperous and strong, it is necessary to master science, and science can strengthen the country and enrich the people.
While still at school, when sixteen years old, following his parents instructions, he married Jiang Juyuan, the daughter of a teacher from his hometown. Jiang Juyuan was also sixteen years old; in fact she was born on 18 October 1893, two days before Xiong Qinglai. A family custom was to celebrate both their birthdays on 19 October each year. The most famous of their children was Xiong Bingming (1922-2002), also known as Hsiung Ping-Ming. He was born in Nanjing, China, and was admitted to the University of Paris in 1947 to study for a PhD in philosophy. He then entered the School of Fine Arts to study stone sculpture. He is the author of the article [6] about his father.

In 1913, the Yunnan provincial government decided to select a group of outstanding young students to study in Europe or in the United States. Xiong Qinglai immediately applied for the examinations. He achieved third place and was admitted as a public-funded student to study mining in a Belgium college. He travelled to Belgium and in the autumn of 1913 began his studies there. On 4 August 1914 Germany declared war on Belgium, despite Belgium declaring itself neutral, and German troops entered the country. Xiong Qinglai decided to seek safety in France and he journeyed there going first to the Netherlands, then to the United Kingdom before finally reaching France. He contracted a serious lung disease on the journey but, after he recovered, he was able to enter the Lycée St Louis in Paris where he studied mathematics.

After graduating from the Lycée St Louis in 1915, Xiong Qinglai began his undergraduate studies later that year at the University of Grenoble. He moved from Grenoble to Paris where he continued his studies of mathematics, analytical mechanics, physics and astronomy at the Faculty of Science in Paris, then going to the University of Montpellier, and finally to the University of Marseille. He was awarded a Master of Science degree by the University of Montpellier in 1920. In the spring of 1921, Xiong Qing returned to Kunming in China where he taught at the Kunming Yunnan Industrial School and the Yunnan Road School.

The Sanjiang Normal School had been established in 1902 and became Liangjiang Normal School in 1905, then Nanjing Higher Normal School in 1914. It obtained university status as the National Southeastern University in 1920 but the Nanjing Higher Normal School continued to operate until 1923. This move to university status was accomplished by Kuo Ping-Wen (sometime written as Guo Bingwen) (1880-1969) who was president of Nanjing Higher Normal School from 1919-23, becoming the first president of the National Southeastern University in 1921. Kuo Ping-Wen invited Xiong Qinglai to become a professor of mathematics at the National Southeastern University, and to establish a Department of Mathematics there. Xiong Qinglai went with his wife and son to Nanjing in September 1921 and began teaching at the National Southeast University and also at Nanjing Higher Normal School. In [17] an episode is related which tells us much about Xiong Qinglai's character:-
As early as 1921, when he was a professor at the Southeast University, he discovered that a student named Liu Guang was very talented, and he often instructed him how to study and undertake research. Later, with a professor who had taught Liu Guang, he co-sponsored Liu Guang, who was from a poor family, to study abroad, and regularly sent him living expenses. Once, Xiong Qinglai even sold the leather robe he was wearing to send money to Liu Guang. After Liu Guang became a famous physicist, he often mentioned this past event with affection. He said: "I heard about the professor selling leather robes for me ten years ago. At that time, I was moved to tears. What happened to me is unforgettable and will never be forgotten. How caring, how passionate and loving he was for our generation!".
In the autumn of 1925, Xiong Qinglai taught at Northwestern University for one semester, and after that he returned to Southeast University in the spring semester of the following year. In the autumn of 1926, he was invited to go north as a professor at Tsinghua University in northwest Beijing. This university had been established as Tsing Hua Imperial College in 1911, and renamed Tsing Hua College in the following year. In 1925 a university section was established at the College and the name National Tsing Hua University was adopted in 1928. The president of Tsinghua College, Cao Yunxiang, on the advice of the Dean of Science Ye Qisun, invited Xiong Qinglai to join the mathematics department which, at that time, was headed by Zheng Tongsun. Xiong Qinglai was given advanced courses to teach on calculus, differential equations, and analytical functions. In 1928 he took over as the head of the Department of Mathematics from Zheng Tongsun. In 1930 he replaced Ye Qisun at the Dean of Science.

Hua Loo-Keng attended middle school at the Chinese Vocational College in Shanghai but his family were unable to continue paying fees so he left before completing his final year. He then suffered from typhoid fever and was in bed for six months. Although he never attended university, he studied mathematics on his own and began to write papers. Some Researches on the Theorem of Sturm, appeared in the December 1929 and in 1930 he published a short note showing the error in a 1926 paper claiming to prove that the quintic could be solved by radicals. In 1931 Xiong Qinglai read Hua Loo-Keng's paper in the Shanghai Journal of Science and saw at once that the article was clear, well-argued, and concise. He asked his colleagues if they knew at which university Hua Loo-Keng was a professor. When he discovered that Hua Loo-Keng had never had a university education and was working as a secretary in Jintan Middle School he invited him to Tsinghua University where he worked as an assistant in the library and, at the same time, studied undergraduate courses. Hua Loo-Keng became an assistant in mathematics and in 1934 was promoted to lecturer. He spent the two years 1936-38 at Cambridge, England, at the invitation of G H Hardy and, thanks to Xiong Qinglai, became a mathematician of high international standing.

Xiong Qinglai attended the International Congress of Mathematicians in Zurich Switzerland in September 1932, then went to Paris to spend a year undertaking research and had two papers published in 1933, namely Sur les fonctions méromorphes dans le cercle-unite , and Sur les fonctions méromorphes d'ordre infini . In Paris he was advised by Georges Valiron and his research went so well that he took leave of absence from Tsinghua University for 1933-34 and at the end of this second year submitted the thesis Sur les fonctions entières et les fonctions méromorphes d'ordre infini . It was examined by E Borel (President), A Denjoy and G Valiron and approved on 29 June 1934. At the end of the Introduction he wrote:-
It remains for me, to end this introduction, to express all the gratitude I have contracted towards MM Borel and Hadamard. I particularly thank M Valiron who suggested this work to me and whose indications and criticisms were very precious to me, and M Denjoy who was also good enough to give me advice. Allow me once again to express my sincere gratitude to MM H Villat, P Montel and P Humbert. Nor can I forget those who helped me and made my stay in Paris possible.
For further information about this thesis, see THIS LINK.

In 1934, Xiong Qinglai returned to Beijing and continued to serve as a professor and head of the Department of Mathematics at Tsinghua University. In July 1935, the Chinese Mathematical Society was established in Shanghai, with Xiong Qinglai as one of the founders and a member of the first board of directors.

In July 1937 the Second Chino-Japanese war broke out and the Japanese army soon took control of Beijing. Xiong Qinglai was offered the role of president of Yunnan University in Kunming and he accepted. Yunnan University had been founded in 1922 as the Private University of Donglu and officially opened in April 1923. It became the Provincial University of Donglu in 1930, then renamed as the Provincial University of Yunnan in September 1934. When Xiong Qinglai took up the role of President in 1937 the university only had a School of Arts with departments of liberal arts and education, a School of Science and Technology with a department of engineering and a department of science, and a Special training course in medicine. There were 39 professors, 8 lecturers, and 302 students. The teaching equipment was poor and the teaching quality was not high. Under Xiong Qinglai rapid improvements took place, with the university becoming the National University of Yunnan in 1938. Over the next few years the university grew to have five schools with 18 departments, three special training courses, and three laboratories. Xiong Qinglai was able to bring outstanding scholars to the university and in this he was aided by academics finding safety in Kunming, when forced to flee from the areas where the Chino-Japanese war was being fought [10]:-
In 1939, Xiong Qinglai founded the High School affiliated to Yunnan University; he also continuously enriched the teaching equipment and books, so that the library had a collection of more than 100,000 volumes. Each department of science had relatively complete laboratories, the Medical School has an affiliated hospital and an autopsy room, the Agricultural College had an experimental farm, the Mathematics Department established an astronomical observatory on Fenghuang Mountain in the eastern suburbs, the Engineering College had an internship factory, and the Aviation Department had three planes, which was rare among colleges and universities in the country; he also wrote the "Yunnan University School Song" himself and formulated the school motto of "honesty, integrity, sensitivity and perseverance", requiring every student to be honest, upright, intelligent and persevere in learning.
In 1948, as a result of the Chinese Civil War, Xiong Qinglai ceased to be president of Yunnan University. In March 1949, the Department of Education ordered him to attend the UNESCO conference held in Paris and he stayed in France to engage in mathematical research. He no longer had any main source of remuneration and was not recognised by the Chinese regime. His wife remained in China, so this added to his problems. Despite life in Paris being difficult, he published Sur une extension du second théorème fondamental de R Nevanlinna (1950) and Sur les fonctions méromorphes et leurs dérivées (1950) but, in 1950, he suffered from a cerebral haemorrhage, which led to a paralysis of the right side of his body. Xiong Qinglai struggled with the disease with amazing perseverance, practicing every day writing with his left hand. After one year, he was able to write as well with his left hand as he had before with his right. He was greatly helped in his recovery by his friends and his health slowly improved. By 1953, at the age of sixty, he was producing a remarkable research output having twelve papers publishing in 1953-55. For the titles of these papers, see THIS LINK.

In 1957 Xiong Qinglai published a book, Sur les fonctions méromorphes et les fonctions algébroïdes, extensions d'un théorème de M R Nevanlinna . He had been asked to write this work by Henri Villat (1879-1972), the professor of fluid mechanics at the University of Paris, to include in his series of works Mémorial des Sciences Mathématiques . You can read an extract from the Introduction and an extract from the review [2] at THIS LINK.

While Xiong Qinglai was in Paris major changes took place in China. In September 1954 the National People's Congress in Beijing unanimously approved the 1954 Constitution of the People's Republic of China. Taiwan, which had been under Japanese rule until 1945, became Chinese but was not controlled by the People's Republic of China when it formed in 1954. Chen Lifu (1900-2001), who had been Minister of Education in China from 1938, had relocated to Taiwan in 1949 but moved to the United States in 1950. In 1956, while on a visit to France, he went to Xiong Qinglai's Paris residence and tried to persuade him to go to Taiwan as head of a university attached to the Taiwan Institute of Atomic Energy. Xiong Qinglai thanked him for the offer but categorically refused. Around the same time, Hua Loo-Keng sent a letter to convey that Premier Zhou Enlai, the first Premier of the People's Republic of China serving from October 1949, had invited him to return to the People's Republic of China to participate in socialist construction. Xiong Qinglai accepted and returned to Beijing in June 1957. He said [10]:-
I would like to devote myself to the academic construction of the motherland in the light of socialism.
Back in China he worked at the Institute of Mathematics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He had over 20 papers published over the following eight years [8]:-
At the same time, he recruited graduate students, instructed young scholars, advocated and participated in academic exchange activities, and from 1961 to 1964 attended national or Beijing function theory conferences every year and gave academic lectures. During this period, he also hosted a seminar on function theory in the Beijing area at his home, once every two weeks.
His last years, however, were very difficult. The Cultural Revolution had been launched by Mao Zedong, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party, in 1966 with the aim of ending any opposition to Communism. Xiong Qinglai was labelled a "reactionary academic authority" by the Cultural Revolution [17]:-
According to Xiong Qinglai's granddaughter Xiong Youde: "One of my grandpa's students was the leader of the 'rebel party' squad. My grandma accompanied my grandpa to the denunciation meeting. The slogan at the meeting was to criticise 'Xiong Hua's black line'. Hua Loo-Keng stood up but, at the beginning, grandpa sat and listened to people fighting against Hua Loo-Keng. Later, when they shouted 'bring Xiong Qinglai up', grandpa went up tremblingly, unable to stand still. Someone kindly brought him a chair, but he didn't sit. Hua Loo-Keng came to support him, but he couldn't stand still, so grandma went up to support grandpa. Suddenly, a 'rebel' came up and took off the Chairman Mao badge on Grandpa's chest. Grandpa looked at the familiar and unfamiliar faces around him, and felt a dull pain. Could it be that he had returned to his motherland for this desperate reason? Grandma told me ...: 'Everyone shouted down your grandfather, only Yang Le hid in the back and didn't say a word, perhaps Yang Le had a conscience'."
Xiong Qinglai died on 3 February 1969 at the age of 76. After approval had been sought, his body was sent to the crematorium. Hua Loo-Keng sent a request to the Revolutionary Committee to allow him to visit the crematorium, which was approved. There he found Xiong Qinglai's body among piles of corpses. Hua Loo-Keng, when later talking to Xiong Qinglai's granddaughter Xiong Youde, said [17]:-
I didn't expect your grandfather, the famous mathematician back then, to die so tragically. Lying in the middle of a pile of corpses, there was no wreath for him and no memorial service.
The Cultural Revolution came to an end with Mao Zedong's death in 1976 and, beginning in 1978, those 'unjustly, falsely, or erroneously' persecuted during the Cultural Revolution were rehabilitated. Xiong Qinglai's name was among the first to be rehabilitated in 1978. On 20 November 1992 China issued the 3rd series of 'Modern Chinese Scientists' stamps. The first of the four stamps in the series, with a value of 20 fen, was to honour Xiong Qinglai. See THIS LINK.

Other honours given to Xiong Qinglai was the setting up of the Xiong Qinglai Scholarship at Yunnan University [11]:-
The scholarship was proposed in 1989 by Jiang Juyuan, wife of Xiong Qinglai (1893-1969), the noted mathematician and educator and Yunnan University's deceased president, to commemorate the latter, carry forward his devotion to scientific research, and inspire the students to develop their abilities in an all-round way.
Among other honours, his former residence is preserved and open to the public. It was given the status of a national key cultural relic by the State Council in May 2013 [5]:-
The former residence of Xiong Qinglai was built in the late Qing Dynasty. It covers an area of 1055 square meters. It sits on the west and faces the east. The door opens to the north, with a screen in front of the door, and a plaque with the inscription "Xiong Qinglai's Former Residence" hangs on the door. The whole building is irregularly framed according to the terrain, just like the "infinite function" defined by Xiong Qinglai, which is fascinating.
This is in the village of his birth, originally Xizai Village, renamed Qinglai Village with the approval of the County People's Government in 1998. There is a "Qinglai Middle School" named after him in Mile County, Yunnan Province.

We end with this tribute from [15]:-
His life-long work, almost all his life and energy spent on China's scientific research and education, has personally created the three major universities in modern China (National Southeast University, National Tsinghua University, National Yunnan University), cultivate a large number of outstanding talents and improve the influence of Chinese mathematics in the world.

References (show)

  1. Ling Wenfeng, Xiong Qinglai: Founder of Modern Chinese Mathematics (Chinese), Journal of Chinese Social Sciences (2012).
  2. S-N Patnaik, Review: King-Lai Hiong: Selected mathematical papers (1987), edited by Xianying Yang, zbMATH 04075010.
  3. Sun Jiajia, The legend of Xiong Qinglai, a mathematician (Chinese) (Beijing Book Co. Inc., 2017).
  4. Wenlin Li and J-C Martzloff, Aperçu sur les échanges mathématiques entre la Chine et la France (1880-1949), Archive for History of Exact Sciences 53 (3-4) (1998), 181-200.
  5. Where is Xiong Qinglai's hometown?, Minnews (May 2013).
  6. Xiong Bingming, My father Xiong Qinglai (Chinese), Xiong Bingming's Essays on Art (People's Literature Publishing House, 2008).
  7. Xiong Qinglai (Chinese).
  8. Xiong Qinglai (1893-1969) (Chinese), Tsinghua University (2021).
  9. Xiong Qinglai, the father of modern mathematics in China (Chinese), Museum of Mathematics.
  10. Xiong Qinglai: Pioneer of Modern Mathematics in China (Chinese), Sogou Encyclopedia (2014)
  11. Xiong Qinglai Scholarship, Yunnan University (6 December 2017).
  12. Yang Le, A biography of the late Professor King-Lai Hiong, 1893-1969, in Binglin Gu and Shing-Tung Yau (eds.), Frontiers of mathematical sciences (Int. Press, Somerville, MA, 2011), 123-130.
  13. Yang Le, Kinglai Hiong: a brief outline of his life and works, in Proceedings of the Conference on Complex Analysis, Tianjin, 1992 (International Press, Cambridge, MA, 1994), 3-7.
  14. Yang Le, Founder of the Department of Mathematics, Tsinghua University - Xiong Qinglai (1893-1969) (Chinese), Biography of Chinese Science and Technology Experts (2011).
  15. Yazi Wang, Yanling Wu and Hongjie Li, Modern Mathematics Bole - Xiong Qinglai, Frontiers in Educational Research 2 (10) (2019), 103-107.
  16. Zhang Wei, Xiong Qinglai Biography (Chinese) (Yunnan Education Press, 2003).
  17. Zhi Xiaomin, Mathematician Xiong Qinglai's late years of the Cultural Revolution: Painful but not afraid to cry, Observing China (Chinese), Centre for Chinese Studies, Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Additional Resources (show)

Other pages about Xiong Qinglai:

  1. Some Xiong Qinglai publications
  2. Miller's postage stamps

Cross-references (show)

Written by J J O'Connor and E F Robertson
Last Update March 2022