Reuniting a cross-border family of scientists

Updated 2017-09-07 11:00:36 Xinhua

Russian doctor Alexey comes to China twice a year. He speaks fluent Mandarin and his Chinese surname, Zhao, speaks of his Chinese lineage.

Lianqiang was Alexey's Chinese name. His geologist father Zhao Pengda, 86, is a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and former head of the China University of Geosciences.

Father and son, Zhao Pengda and Alexey Zhao, both academicians and separated for many years, have witnessed many changes between their two countries.

DIFFICULT DAYS

In 1954, Zhao Pengda went to the Soviet Union to study, where he met Irina. They were married in 1957.

"I can still recall the fragrance of the wine her elder sister brought from Georgia," Zhao said.

The couple came to China the following year, where Irina found a research post at the former Beijing Institute of Geology.

Lianqiang was born on January 27, 1959. His name literally means "uniting the powerful," and was meant to be a crystallization of China and Russia, said his father.

In the 1960s, relations between China and Soviet Union deteriorated. Many Russians left China and returned home. Irina felt the change.

"Her colleagues were still polite to her, but more distant," Zhao said.

Their marriage reached a crossroads in 1966. Zhao begged his wife to stay in China, but she had an ailing mother to take care of. She asked him to go with her, but he refused.

In March that year, Zhao waved goodbye to Irina and Lianqiang at Beijing railway station.

"I was busy with my work and she took care of the boy most of the time," Zhao said. "I knew how much she loved him and could not be so selfish as to keep him with me."

CHANGING TIMES

Irina married again, but Zhao Lianqiang retained his surname.

As Sino-Russia relations had improved, a delegation of Chinese doctors went to Moscow in 1987.

"Have you heard of Zhao Pengda?" asked a young Russian doctor. "He is a geologist and also my father."

Wang Huiqing, formerly a doctor with the Harbin Medical University, remembers how Lianqiang showed her a comic book that his father had given him before he left. With her help, Lianqiang got in touch with one of his father's students, who told Zhao Pengda that his son was looking for him.

In 1989, Lianqiang received an invitation to visit China and after 23 years, made his way home.

MEETING OF MINDS

Lianqiang began on his journey in April that year. Five days later, the train chugged into Beijing railway station.

"When you get out of the station, you will find an old man holding a windbreaker with his left hand. That is me, your father," Zhao Pengda told his son in a letter.

"In fact, I recognized him the very moment I saw him," Lianqiang said. "I knew I could find him even without the windbreaker."

Since then, Lianqiang has visited China twice each year, celebrating Spring Festival and his father's birthday.

Both Zhaos are academicians. Zhao Pengda continued his geological research, and became the first Asian to win the William Christian Krumbein Medal in 1992, the highest award by the International Association for Mathematical Geosciences. Lianqiang became an outstanding doctor specializing in liver transplants.

"I have a Russian first name, but my surname is Chinese," he said in Mandarin. He has three daughters, all with his surname. They too all speak Mandarin.

Lianqiang has turned down offers to work in Western hospitals, but frequently attends seminars in China. This August he attended a conference in east China's Shandong Province.

Before he left for Russia, the father and the son took a stroll to the China University of Geosciences to see the old house where they used to live as a family.

"No matter how far one travels, lineage can never be cut," Zhao Pengda said.

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