Em­pha­siz­ing the im­por­tance of math

China Daily (Canada) - - CHINA - By ZHAO XINYING zhaoxiny­ing@ chi­nadaily.com.cn

Hav­ing es­tab­lished an in­ter­na­tional rep­u­ta­tion in the field of math­e­mat­ics, US cit­i­zen Shing-Tung Yau is now hop­ing other young Chi­nese will fol­low in his foot­steps.

“I sin­cerely hope that, one day, China’s achieve­ments in math­e­mat­ics can be com­pared to those of the United States and Euro­pean coun­tries,” said Yau, who is a pro­fes­sor atHar­vard Univer­sity.

Born in Shan­tou, Guang­dong prov­ince, in 1949, Yau was raised in­HongKong after his fam­ily moved there when he was an in­fant. He stud­ied math­e­mat­ics at the Chi­nese Univer­sity of Hong Kong from 1966 to 1969 and has been teach­ing at uni­ver­si­ties in the US since ob­tain­ing a PhD from the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley in 1971.

In 1982, Yau was awarded the Fields Medal, which has been de­scribed as the No­bel Prize of math­e­mat­ics.

Yau has a strong will­ing­ness to raise aware­ness among Chi­nese of the im­por­tance of math­e­mat­ics and nur­tur­ing tal­ent to im­prove the coun­try’s math­e­mat­i­cal re­search.

To do that, he es­tab­lished am­ath cen­ter at the Chi­nese Academy of Sci­ences, or­ga­nized col­lege stu­dent math con­tests and of­fered those who ex­celled in the con­tests op­por­tu­ni­ties to study at pres­ti­gious uni­ver­si­ties.

He also launched the In­ter­na­tional Congress of Chi­nese Math­e­mati­cians, a tri­en­nial gath­er­ing for Chi­ne­se­math­prodi­gies, in 1998. Dur­ing the congress, the Morn­ingsideMedal ofMath­e­mat­ics, which has been dubbed the “Chi­nese Fields Medal”, is is­sued to those aged un­der 45 who have ex­celled in re­lated re­search. The sev­enth congress was held in Bei­jing in early Au­gust.

“China’s re­search in math­e­mat­ics has pro­gressed rapidly, but it is still lag­ging be­hind that of Europe and the US,” Yau said dur­ing the congress.

“China only has about a dozen ex­cel­lent math­e­mati­cians, a tiny fig­ure com­pared to its pop­u­la­tion, while the num­ber in the US is in the hun­dreds.”

The prob­lem lies in the whole sys­tem of nur­tur­ing tal­ent, Yau said. In his eyes, the teach­ing of math in China is test ori­ented, not in­ter­est ori­ented.

Many Chi­nese par­ents push their chil­dren to study math just for the sake of gaokao, or China’s na­tional col­lege en­trance ex­ams. They don’t ac­tu­ally re­al­ize its sig­nif­i­cance, or the di­verse ap­pli­ca­tions of this dis­ci­pline in dif­fer­ent walks of life, Yau said.

“Those say­ing ‘ math­e­mat­ics is use­less’ know noth­ing about the sub­ject,” he said, list­ing a se­ries of ar­eas where it plays a key role: big data, se­crecy sys­tems and im­age pro­cess­ing, for ex­am­ple.

He also sug­gested that the Chi­nese govern­ment in­vest more in math­e­mat­ics re­search.

“After all, you can­not ex­pect some­one to gen­er­ate the great­est out­put if he is still strug­gling to make a liv­ing,” he said.

Yau is happy that his ef­forts dur­ing the past few decades are pay­ing off. The Chi­nese govern­ment is re­al­iz­ing the sig­nif­i­cance of the sub­ject, with Pre­mier LiKe­qiang stress­ing the im­por­tance of ba­sic math re­search dur­ing his visit to Pek­ing Univer­sity in April.

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