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Cheng Yuqi, 1912-2002

Professor Cheng Yuqi was born in Zhenjiang Province on October 7 1912 and became, in terms of seniority and the number of geoscientists whose lives he touched, perhaps the most important and influential geologist of his generation.

A graduate of the Tsinghua University (1933) and appointed to the Geological Survey of the Ministry of Commerce in Beijing, he soon attracted the attention of senior colleagues. When his professor (visiting Britain in the early 1930s) heard the late Prof. HH Read lecture on the two metamorphisms of Unst, he decided Cheng Yuqi should work for a higher degree in Britain, funded by repayments of reparations exacted by the Allies after the 1900 Boxer uprising. This grant allowed him to pay for his own wet chemical analyses and to travel widely in Europe - including Norway, where he met Prof. Victor Goldschmidt.

By the time his move to Britain had been arranged, Read had become Herdman Professor of Geology at Liverpool, and it was there that Cheng Yuqi came to work for his PhD, studying the Bettyhill migmatites, Sutherland (1935-1938). His objective was to test "granitisation", a process of which Read was a major advocate. Having gained his PhD (1938) Cheng's findings were communicated by Read to the Geological Society (1942, 1943) by which time he had incorporated them into his Imperial College teaching programme on the origin of granites.

On the 50th anniversary to the week of his PhD, Cheng Yuqi (by then an Academician, a past-President of the Geological Society of China, President of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences and an Honorary Fellow of the Geological Society) was awarded a DSc honoris causa by his UK alma mater to honour his extraordinary accomplishments. That he was able to return to Bettyhill after the degree ceremony in 1988, to be affectionately welcomed by that community was a tribute to the warmth of his personality and that of his wife, Academician Prof. Tan Juan-jie, the distinguished entomologist.

Returning (1938) to a China at war with Japan, he resumed his duties with the Geological Survey. In the course of the war he became research professor of the Central Geological Survey, Ministry of Economics in Chongking. Here, he served concurrently as director of both its Mineralogical/Petrological and Economic Geology laboratories. These appointments presaged his major scientific contributions and reflected his early contributions to Precambrian geology and metamorphic petrology in China and Scotland and to mineral resources, where he established early expertise in boron and phosphate deposits.

His most notable achievements in his 70-year research career are reflected in seminal maps and books on the Precambrian rocks of China, their metamorphism and mineral deposits. Particularly notable are his contributions to the origins and classification of China’s iron deposits. He was in charge of compiling the Geological Map of China (1:5million), and An Introduction to the Regional Geology of China (with an abbreviated English version). His concern to communicate with an international audience bore fruit with the English edition of Acta Geologica Sinica (1986) during his 25-year stint as Editor-in-Chief.

His extraordinary contributions were recognised in his many academic and administrative appointments, for example his first appointment (1950) by the newly-founded Peoples' Republic as director of a "brigade" to investigate mineral resources in NE China. In the autumn of that year he was appointed vice-director of the Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Science. The period from 1950 until the Cultural Revolution saw numerous appointments of increasing seniority and status to the Ministry of Geology and the Institute of Geology and Mineral Resources. He had been elected Academician in 1955 and in 1964 was appointed Director of the Institute of Geology in the Ministry of Geology.

During the Cultural Revolution, Professor Cheng was imprisoned and set to manual labour, not resuming scientific and administrative work until 1966. By 1979 he was appointed to his most senior administrative post (vice-Minister in the Ministry of Geology) while in 1980 he became Chairman of the Chinese National Committee for the IGCP. A small selection of his appointments over the next four years include: vice-Director of the Geoscience Division of the Chinese Academy of Science (1981); Chief Engineer of the Ministry of Geology and Mineral Resources (1982); Honorary Fellow of the Geological Society of London (1982); Chairman of the Chinese National Committee for the Lithosphere (1983); and Chairman (President) of the 33rd Council of the Geological Society of China.

Many consultancies and honorary appointments to the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences and the Ministry of Geology and Mineral Resources followed in the late 1980s and the 1990s. Most notable of these were to the Geological Survey Bureau (1995) and Senior Academician of the Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences (1998).

Professor Cheng's affection for the UK, fostered at Liverpool and in the Scottish Highlands, was encapsulated in the extraordinary detail of his memories of Britain in the late 1930s, including the turmoils of the monarchy of that time and the events surrounding Munich. Such feats of memory perhaps came easily to a man who could name the resting-places of 120 generations of his forebears. Nevertheless, his affection did great service to Anglo-Chinese relations, ensuring a welcome to China for visiting UK geologists and facilities for important expeditions, such as those to the Himalayas.

Importantly for the health of Chinese Geology, Academician Cheng believed that geological work of economic importance and "blue-skies" geological research hold a symbiotic relationship, and that practical field geology should be fully integrated with experiment and scholarship. Despite his heavy administrative load, he remained closely involved with research until the end of his long and fruitful life on January 2. His wife survives him.

Tony Harris, with contributions from Fred Dunning & Wallace Pitcher