Mourning Professor Yuan Longping, Father of Hybrid Rice and Doctor of Science, honoris causa of CUHK

24 May 2021

Professor Yuan Longping, known as the “Father of Hybrid Rice”, an Academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, Doctor of Science, honoris causa of CUHK, and member of Academic Advisory Committee of the State Key Laboratory of Agrobiotechnology (CUHK), passed away in Changsha, Hunan province on 22 May 2021, at the age of 91. CUHK is profoundly saddened by the passing of Professor Yuan and conveys its deepest condolences to his family. 

Professor Rocky S. Tuan, Vice-Chancellor and President of CUHK, said, “Professor Yuan Longping was an exemplary scientist whose agricultural research breakthroughs had transformed China and many parts of the world by enhancing food security and fighting against poverty. His innovative spirit, selfless contributions and lifelong pursuit in perfecting the hybrid rice breeding technology had inspired numerous scientists around the world, including those in CUHK. It is our immense honour to have had bestowed upon Professor Yuan the Doctor of Science, honoris causa of CUHK. He was our visiting professor and had unreservedly shared his expertise and valuable insights with our faculty members and students. His passing is undoubtedly a great loss for the country and academia at-large. On behalf of members of the University, I sincerely offer our deepest condolences to Professor Yuan’s family.”

Professor Yuan graduated from Southwest Agriculture College, China in 1953. In the early 1970s, he was successful in developing three strains of hybrid rice and cultivating the world’s first high-yielding hybrid rice strain. It made possible the feeding of 22% of the world population on only 7% of the world’s total arable land. The pioneering work in hybrid rice from Professor Yuan made a major contribution to the food security of the nation and the world, and earned him the title “Father of Hybrid Rice”. He served as Director General for the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Centre and Hunan Hybrid Rice Research Centre, Vice-Chairman of Hunan Provincial Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and Honorary President of Hunan Agricultural University, China. He was also elected as an Academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering (1995), International Member of the National Academy of Sciences (2006) and Fellow of the Chinese Association of Inventions (2018).

Professor Yuan’s revolutionary research in hybrid rice won him numerous awards and honours from the United Nations and worldwide. Among them were, the Science Prize of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, the Gold Medal Award for the Outstanding Inventor of the United Nations World Intellectual Property Organisation, the Medal of Honour for Food Security and Sustainable Development of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, the Wolf Prize in Agriculture of the Wolf Foundation, Israel, the Rank Prize for Agronomy and Nutrition of the United Kingdom, and the Fukui International Koshihikari Rice Prize of Japan. Professor Yuan was one of the first cohort of recipients of the State Supreme Science and Technology Award (2000) by the Chinese Government. He received the Lifetime achievement award of the fourth “China Eliminates Poverty Awards” (2013), the “Medal of the Republic” (2019), the country’s highest honour, and was named the “Reform pioneer” (2018).

With a deep connection to CUHK, Professor Yuan Longping collaborated with the Department of Biology in research on the improvement of hybrid rice. Jointly with Professor Sun Sai-Ming Samuel and Professor Lam Hon-Ming, former and current director of the State Key Laboratory of Agrobiotechnology (CUHK), and Professor Maurice Ku from the School of Biological Sciences at Washington State University, the project implemented a genetic enhancement programme of Chinese hybrid rice to further improve the grain yield, quality and stress resistance of the super hybrid rice for the 21st century. The project is subsumed in the University’s Area-of-Excellence in Plant and Fungal Biotechnology, which is one of the first three Areas-of-Excellence funded by the University Grants Committee in 1999. He received the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa from CUHK (2001) and also visited the University as Wei Lun Visiting Professor and delivered a public lecture on the recent developments of Chinese hybrid rice. From 2008, Professor Yuan was a member of Academic Advisory Committee of the State Key Laboratory of Agrobiotechnology (CUHK).