Atom Bomb Scientist Deng Jiaxian, China’s Oppenheimer

A bust of nuclear bomb scientist and important weapons program leader, and Purdue engineering PhD Deng Jiaxian 邓稼先 in Mianyang’s People’s Park. Deng Jiaxian received his PhD in Physics at Purdue University in 1950. Only shortly before his death was his leadership of China’s atomic and hydrogen bomb projects revealed.

The inscription on the plaque beneath Deng Jiaxian’s bust reads:

“Deng Jiaxian, a native of Huaiyu County, Anhui Province, was an outstanding Chinese physicist and nuclear scientist who made seminal contributions to neutron physics, the physics of explosions, ion physics, fluid dynamics, and statistical physics. Deng served as director and researcher of the Ninth Institute of the Nuclear Industry, as a Vice Chairman Deng Jiaxian Chinese Atomic Bomb Scientistof the Nuclear Industry Ministry and of COSTIND, a member of the academic department of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and a member of the Twelfth Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party. Deng was one of the founders of nuclear weapons research in China and was the principal organizer and leader of research and development work on nuclear weapons technology. Deng devoted decades, working in anonymity, for the success of the Chinese atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb tests and for the development of the nuclear weapons organizations. Deng Jiaxian made great and everlasting contributions to smashing the nuclear monopoly of the superpowers, to China’s national defense and to world peace. Deng was awarded a national natural sciences prize and four prizes for contributions to the advancement of Chinese science. Deng was also recognized as an outstanding young or middle aged worker and as an outstanding expert and as a national model worker.”

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Despite the great contributions of  Deng Jiaxian to the Chinese atomic bomb and hydrogen bomb programs, his family suffered terribly during the Cultural Revolution.

An article about Deng Jiaxian on the website of the Modern Chinese History Research Institute notes that Chinese atomic scientists were not spared from political persecution attacks after the Cultural Revolution began in 1966.  Atomic scientists too saw their labs filled with posters and criticism for their alleged incorrect political stance. Nearly all were labelled as “capitalist class reactionary authorities”.   Contending political factions even arose among scientists in the labs.

Deng Jiaxian’s wife, a professor at the Beijing Medical Institute as labelled part of a “black gang” that supported the “black Beijing city committee”. Big posters criticized her were glued to her body and she nearly had a nervous breakdown.  Sometimes when his wife didn’t come home, Deng Jiaxian would go to the Beijing Medical Institute to look for her and see her caught there as the object of a public political struggle session.

Deng Jiaxian’s second elder sister, couldn’t stand the incessant harassment of the so-called Rebel Faction of the Red Guards, and killed herself.  Deng’s third elder sister was also harassed for no reason at all as a suspected enemy spy and subject to daily interrogations and struggle sessions.

The article notes that despite all that, Deng kept going to his office and calming himself down so that he could continue to do his theoretical work.

[This story about Deng Jiaxian makes me recall one of my visits to the Mianyang People’s Park in September 2005.  In another corner of People’s Park is an obelisk Monument to the Chinese revolution topped with a red star. As I walked around in the park I struck up Monument to the Revolutiona conversation with a physician who worked in the hospital next to People’s Park.  The physician told me that he remembered seeing people who had been pressed so hard by political persecution that they killed themselves in the Park near that red star topped obelisk right in front of the crowds.

A few years later, when I worked in Chengdu, the Fan Jianchuan, the director of the Jianchuan Museum complex of museums of Chinese history — including a museum of the Chinese Cultural Revolution — told me that the museum had collected in its archives the diaries of many people who killed themselves during the Cultural Revolution. Fan added that those diaries are not yet available to scholars because the people who  persecuted those victims of the Cultural Revolution were still living.]

逆境中对核事业痴心不改

1966年开始的“文化大革命”冲击着各个领域,核事业单位也未能幸免,理论部的研究室里、走廊上都是大标语、大字报,科学家被点名批判、被点名勒令检查,几乎都被扣上了“资产阶级反动权威”的大帽子。邓稼先的日子也不好过,而且越来越不好过。理论部随意祥和的气氛一夜之间荡然无存,科研人员之间分起了派,打起了派仗,科研工作处于半停顿状态。

厄运也降临到邓稼先的家庭。他的夫人许鹿希是北京医学院的教授,不知因何被打成彭真、刘仁“黑市委”的“黑帮分子”,贴大字报的浆糊弄了她一身,使她精神几乎崩溃。有时邓稼先不见妻子回家,就到北京医学院寻找。当他看到妻子被批斗后的惨景,心都快碎了。

邓稼先甚为敬重的二姐,因忍受不了造反派无休止的折磨,选择了自杀。消息传来,邓稼先的精神几乎崩溃,他欲哭无泪。

对邓稼先的打击并没有到此为止,他的三姐又被无缘无故打成特务分子,天天接受审查、批斗。

在一连串打击之下,邓稼先没有倒下,没有消沉,仍然是早晨一大早按时关上自己家的门,走进理论部办公室的门,稳定情绪,控制自己,振奋精神,埋下头来,又展开了他也一天的理论计算攻关工作。

My Mianyang photo collection on Flickr

More in Chinese here:

邓稼先

缅怀“两弹元勋”邓稼先

 

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About 高大伟 David Cowhig

Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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