After graduating in 1953, Mr. Yuan took a job as a instructor in an agricultural school in Hunan Province, maintaining his curiosity in crop genetics. His dedication to the sphere took on better urgency from the late 1950s, when Mao’s so-called Great Leap Forward — his frenzied effort to collectivize agriculture and jump-start metal manufacturing — plunged China into the worst famine of recent instances, killing tens of tens of millions. Mr. Yuan mentioned he noticed the our bodies of at least 5 individuals who had died of hunger by the roadside or in fields.
“Famished, you would eat whatever there was to eat, even grass roots and tree bark,” Mr. Yuan recalled in his memoir. “At that time I became even more determined to solve the problem of how to increase food production so that ordinary people would not starve.”
Mr. Yuan quickly settled on researching rice, the staple meals for a lot of Chinese individuals, looking for hybrid varieties that might increase yields and touring to Beijing to immerse himself in scientific journals that had been unavailable in his small school. He plowed on together with his analysis even because the Cultural Revolution threw China into lethal political infighting.
In current many years, the Communist Party got here to have a good time Mr. Yuan as a mannequin scientist: patriotic, devoted to fixing sensible issues, and relentlessly hard-working even in outdated age. At 77, he even carried the Olympic torch close to Changsha for a section of its path to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.
Unusually for such a distinguished determine, although, Mr. Yuan by no means joined the Chinese Communist Party. “I don’t understand politics,” he instructed a Chinese journal in 2013.
Even so, the Xinhua state information company honored him this weekend as a “comrade,” and his loss of life introduced an outpouring of public mourning in China. In 2019, he was considered one of eight Chinese people awarded the Medal of the Republic, China’s highest official honor, by Xi Jinping, the nationwide chief.
Mr. Yuan is survived by his spouse of 57 years, Deng Zhe, in addition to three sons. His funeral, scheduled for Monday morning in Changsha, is prone to convey a brand new burst of official condolences.