Qin Dahe is head of the Chinese National Meteorological Administration and a doctor of geology. In 1989 he went to the Antarctic with an international scientific research expedition and became the first Chinese person to reach the South Pole on foot.
Qin Dahe was one of the generation that finished school at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) and so did not have the opportunity for further study. But he never gave up his pursuit of scientific knowledge.
To prepare for his adventure to the Antarctic he had ten teeth pulled out just so they couldnít cause a problem on the expedition.
In 1997 and again in 2000, he went to Mount Qomolangma to conduct scientific research and he did this despite having nearly died there in 1993.
An experienced scientist, Qin has been appointed head of the National Meteorological Administration, a role that represents a very different new path for this adventurer to follow.
Zeng Tao who is producer and anchor of Beijing Televisionís ďDate of the CenturyĒ program recently interviewed Qin Dahe. The interview is translated here by china.org.cn.
Zeng: Mr. Qin, as a child did you have any idea that you would go on to become an explorer?
Qin: I remember saying when I was young that I should like to leave my footprints all around the world.
Zeng: What fired your imagination about exploration?
Qin: I read many foreign works of science fiction such as Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea. I think it was my natural curiosity and interest in nature that led me on the road to science.
Zeng: Itís been said that you had ten teeth pulled out before you went to North America for training for your chance to go to the Antarctic. Is that true?
Qin: Yes, but the dentist pull them out. I didnít do it myself.
Zeng: Didnít you hesitate even a little at that time?
Qin: Medical treatment is not readily available in the Antarctic. Itís very cold there and often impossible to have a fire or other heating facilities. You acquire all the calories you need from the food you eat. Wisdom teeth can be a particular danger because if anything goes wrong with them even slightly you may not be able to eat properly. For an explorer in the Antarctic not to be able to eat is life threatening. So I had them pulled out. Itís a necessary procedure for explorers going to the Antarctic in the winter. Now quite a few of the teeth in my mouth are not the ones nature gave me.
Zeng: Didnít your hand tremble just a little when you were signing the papers before setting off for the Antarctic?
Qin: Well I did stop to think. It was a tense moment for all of us, but the others signed and I signed too.
Zeng: What I wonder most is what on earth motivated you to go to the Antarctic?
Qin: The Antarctic is a huge continent with its interior covered by ice and snow. What led to the formation of this ice-sheet? The secrets of how the earth developed are locked up in the ice. What can be discovered? These are questions that can only be answered on the spot through field research, by taking and analyzing samples and so on. You just canít leave this for others to do. With our interest in glacier research not only myself but my colleagues too couldnít let this opportunity pass by.
Zeng: Your family must have been very concerned about your safety when you were in the Antarctic. Did they talk about their concerns when you came back?
Qin: There is a popular English saying, ďNo news is good news.Ē For family members of scientists doing fieldwork itís always good news not to get a telephone call. Any news is most likely to be bad news so if there are no messages it means we are safe.
Zeng: Do you believe that explorersí lives are just the price that has to paid for scientific survey and exploration?
Qin: Of course that could be said. But we are all using up our lives every day whatever we are doing, arenít we?
Zeng: Later you went to Mount Qomolangma to conduct a scientific survey. Did you have any life threatening moments there?
Qin: Yes once but fortunately I came back to life.
Zeng: You must think you were extremely lucky?
Qin: Well not really, it was more good procedure than good luck.
Wang Wei who was deputy-leader of the team recalls, "Dahe seemed barely alive. A member of an American mountaineering expedition advised us to try to keep him semi-conscious, as he might never come to again if he was allowed to sleep for any length of time. A student of Qin Dahe slapped Dahe on the face to keep him awake. Dahe said that he was in pain and asked us to let him sleep. We told him to hold on, that we were doing our best to save him and that he would be letting us down if he didnít pull through. We reminded him of his wife and daughter waiting at home for him. The pain he was suffering is difficult to imagine. It was his own strength of character and endurance that saved him in the end."
Zeng: Are you still scared when you think of that life and death moment?
Qin: Yes the fear still lingers on, but I did learn lessons about safety from it. I can tell you that in 1997, I went back to revisit the place where the accident happened.
Zeng: If you had to go to such places as the Antarctic and Mount Qomolangma again today, would you still have the same courage as before?
Qin: In 2000 I went back to Mount Qomolangma a third time.
Zeng: What are your views on the dangers inherent in your work?
Qin: Our work is of a dangerous nature. However in the view of some of my veteran colleagues you can still be completely safe if you keep a careful lookout for any possible dangers. But if on the contrary you treat the whole thing lightly, you will be completely unsafe. In retrospect it has occurred to me that the real reason for my accident is that I lowered my guard on some small points of detail. Because I stayed alert at all times on my return visits in 1997 and 2000, I was quite safe even though I was older than on my first visit in 1993. The priorities have to be meticulous planning and avoiding any moments of carelessness.
Zeng: Has becoming head of the National Meteorological Administration changed your approach to life?
Qin: I now feel that I have 80,000 people in the field of meteorology watching me. I know I must take my work most seriously and try to make sure everything runs without a hitch. I am determined to do my best to deliver what I promised.
(china.org.cn, translated by Zhang Tingting, October 6, 2002)