Samuel Ting on history and the Republic

This clip of an old interview between CCTV host Qu Xiangdong and Nobel Prize Winner Samuel Ting (丁肇中) has been circulating recently. In it, Ting talks about his studies, Chinese history, and the meaning of his siblings’ names. Translation below.

The original interview is about 40 minutes long and was aired on CCTV4’s Great Masters, a TV program featuring interviews with Chinese dignitaries and prominent ethnic Chinese.

Below is the transcript of this clip, translated into English:

A: When I was at school, I faced two choices: one is to study science, the other is to study Chinese history.”

Q: Which one is your true interest?

A: The so-called interest…What does interest mean to a middle school student? At least to me, it means something you can get a good grade in without having to work very hard. This is what is called an interest. No one would be interested in anything where you can only get a zero. I used to have perfect scores on my Chinese history tests…

Q: And you didn’t work very hard at it?

A: No. I also did fairly well in physics, chemistry, and math, but not as good on “Three Principles of the People” (三民主义).

Q: Why didn’t you choose history back then?

A: Because I found that it was very hard to find truth (in history), because in China, after a dynastic change, the first thing to do is to modify history. At least in my very shallow understanding.

Q: I have read something about you saying that you have two brothers, you are [in pinyin] Ding Zhaozhong (丁肇中), one brother is Ding Zhouhua (丁肇华), another brother is Ding Zhaomin (丁肇民)…”

A: Sister.

Q: Your sister is Ding Zhaomin. If you had another sibling, would he or she be named Ding Zhaozu (丁肇族)? [making 中华民族, “the Chinese people”]

A: No, it would be Ding Zhaoguo (丁肇国). [making 中华民国, “Republic of China”]

Q: Ding Zhaoguo?

A: There was no “guo” (国 “country”) here then; we moved to Taiwan.

Q: (chuckles) When your father chose these names, why did he bestow them with such a deep Chinese meaning?

A: My mother’s father participated in the revolution. He joined the Tongmenghui (同盟会) to follow Sun Yat-sen and sold all his possessions to finance an uprising in Zhucheng, Shandong Province. He was caught and decapitated. It was about in 1911.

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