Bai Chunli appeared surprised when a reporter asked him for his reaction to being elected a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States.
"I didn't tell my colleagues" at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), of which he is the vice-president, Bai said yesterday, trying to downplay the honor.
The announcement that Bai and Yuan Longping, director-general of the China National Hybrid Rice Research and Development Center in Central China's Hunan Province, would join the elite US academy was made on Tuesday night (local time) in Washington.
Bai and Yuan are among the newly-elected 72 members and 18 foreign associates from 16 countries to be named for "one of the highest honors in American science and engineering."
"I think the fast development of Chinese science has drawn increased attention from the US academy," said Bai, 51, who is considered to be at the forefront of China's molecular nanostructure and nanotechnology study.
Yuan, 76 dubbed the "father of hybrid rice" for his extraordinary contribution in developing high-yield rice is a household name in China.
With more than half the country's paddy fields growing his hybrid rice, Yuan, indeed, has plenty to be proud of; but to him, honors are secondary.
"I do believe this is a grand honor, not only for me but also for my colleagues who also devoted themselves to hybrid-rice technology," Yuan told China Daily.
"Of course, we have to be level-headed, not be proud, and try to maintain China's leading position in the field."
A global meeting of the US academy members and foreign associates is slated for next spring, Yuan said.
Yuan, who used to drive a motorcycle to go to office or the fields, said that he has now "raised his standard" to a small sedan with low emissions because of health and safety concerns.
The mahjong lover said he had stopped playing as it is very "time consuming."
"I now like playing Chinese chess with my grandson and occasionally try my hand at volleyball," he said.
In 1996, Yuan set up an agricultural science and technology fund to recognize and support those who have made achievements in agriculture, with an initial amount of US$15,000. Today, there is more than 10 million yuan (US$1.25 million) in the fund with company and individual donations.
(China Daily April 28, 2006)