The Two Lives of Cheng Maolan : From the French Silk Road to Astronomy to the Meanders of Mao's China
This book presents the exceptional biography of the 20th century Chinese astronomer Cheng Maolan, who came to France in 1926 on a China-France cooperation program to do his PhD with the idea of returning to China after a few years. Instead, he lived two lives. He first stayed in France and studied astronomy in Lyon, the "Silk city", where he suffered the hardships of the German occupation, but also witnessed the construction of the Haute-Provence Observatory. After the war, he started a promising career at Lyon Observatory. However, in 1957 he decided to live a second life, by returning to the motherland, which had in the meantime become the People's Republic of China. There, he suffered the hardships of the Cultural Revolution, but he managed to play a pivotal role in establishing the Beijing Observatory as its director. In particular, he prepared the ground for the Xinglong 2-m telescope, which saw its first light in 1989, ten years after his death. Cheng Maolan is now considered a "Chinese hero": an "Astronomy and Technology Museum" was built and named after him in 2018, in his native city of Boye, Hebei Province, China, featuring a tall, white statue in front of the building.