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Deng Will Become the First President of PKU’s College of Modern Agriculture

NOV . 05 2015
Peking University, Nov. 3, 2015: When being invited to this interview, Deng Xingwang, the famous biologist and the first president of PKU’s College of Modern Agriculture under construction, was plugging along on an article about his contemplation of China’s agricultural modernization. In this profound and concise article, he talks about a bunch of sensitive and heated topics of Modern agriculture in China:

Why the United States can become the largest food-producing country and food exporter in the world, with one farmer capable of feeding 98 Americans and 34 foreigners? How does Israel as one of the countries in severe shortage of natural resources create an agricultural miracle in the Middle East desert and become the model of resource-conserving agriculture? What about the fact that with 7% of the world's arable land, the use of fertilizers and pesticides in China is 35% of the world's total, although yield of grain in China has been increasing for the past 11 years?

Deng Xingwang was enrolled in PKU when he was not yet 10 years old, entered the University of California, Berkeley at about 23; then he was employed as a tenured professor in Yale University at 36, and won the award Kumho, the most important award in Plant Molecular Biology, and later became a fellow of American Academy of Sciences. He is a legend in the field of biological science. What kind of possibilities will his return from abroad bring about to Peking University and to China’s agricultural technology innovation?

In 1978, Deng was admitted to PKU from a country in Hunan Province, becoming one of the first students enrolled in the Department of Biology. At that time, he did not know that the pursuit of biology would last for his whole life and would get him closely involved with the studies of plants and agriculture. Majoring in plant physiology and biochemistry, he studied on plant growth mechanism which is the most fundamental that human beings live on.

At the beginning of his scientific research, Deng had realized that only by hard work and huge efforts devoted to research literature, experiments and sets of data, could he make great achievements.

He went to the University of California, Berkeley to follow a doctorate after obtaining the master’s degree. During that period, he was preoccupied with the research of how plants sensed the light and how they adapted to the environment, which was still a new realm remaining to be explored in the mid-1980s. He was completely immersed in this study and spent almost 16 hours in the lab every day.

Deng finally chose to return to China after he was elected fellow of American Academy of Sciences. He says, “Somehow I have engaged the first half of my life in scientific research, and now I wish to do something for my homeland and for Chinese farmers through my life after.”

Deng believes that biology should never be a restricted scientific realm for ordinary farmers who know more about plants than anyone else and who are in more urgent need of scientific guidance in botany. He gives a simple example--growing hybrid rice is just an arduous work, so can we use machine to finish the whole production so that farmers can be liberated from hard manual work?

On July 1, 2014, Deng went back to PKU and was engaged in establishing the College of Modern Agriculture. He found that compared with developed countries, China lags behind in ideas, technology and talents. Therefore, his most ardent wishes are to bring back the most advanced ideas and technologies and to cultivate the first-class agricultural students in China. “Many of Chinese agricultural colleges are no longer able to catch up with the development of modern agriculture.” For him, the urgent task are setting up majors of Management of Agricultural Economy and of Food Nutrition and Safety.

“It is the folks of my village that helped pay my traveling fees when I came to Beijing to pursue my study. I always cannot forget the scene of my fellow countrymen working hard farming the land. And they have worked so hard but still cannot get the ideal yield of grain for lacking the support of necessary technologies. I hope through what I have learned, I could do something for them, for my own people, to make them live a better life”, Deng tells us.

Written by: Zhang Xinyu
Edited by: Xiao Yunyun
Source: China Daily (2015-11-02)