Motherland: His First Choice Forever --Memorial of the 120th anniversary of the birth of Zhou Faqi, a fire explosives expert


Zhou Faqi Photo by New Center of BIT


Zhou Faqi in his youth Photo by New Center of BIT


Zhou Faqi (fifth from left) with foreign experts  Photo by New Center of BIT


A letter from Zhou Faqi to students  Photo by New Center of BIT

Biography of Scholar

Zhou Faqi (1901-1990) was a native of Li County, Hebei Province. He used to be known as Zhou Kangzhi. As a chemist, Zhou is the founder of the discipline of the explosives manufacturing process in China. He studied in France in 1921 and received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Lyon in 1928. In 1929, Zhou returned to China as a professor and head of the chemistry department at the Sino-French University in Beiping, and as a researcher at the Institute of Chemistry of the Beiping Research Institute. After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, he served successively as the Director of the Academic Affairs Department, Director of the Scientific Research Department and Vice President of Beijing Industry College (now Beijing Institute of Technology). Zhou was the editor-in-chief of Synthetic Chemistry of Explosives.

“Our country has become better. Never too old to work. I will complete all the tasks given to me by the Communist Party of China, seize the day, and contribute the rest of my life to the four modernizations” On January 15, 1980, after knowing that he was approved to join the Communist Party of China, Zhou Faqi, a professor at Beijing Industry College (now Beijing Institute of Technology), was so happy as a child that he could not calm down for a long time. That year, the founder of China’s explosives manufacturing discipline was 79 years old.

Never forget the dream of enriching our country and strengthening our people although in foreign countries

On November 8, 1901, Zhou Faqi was born in a peasant family in Li County, Hebei Province. His father ever studied in Japan as a young man and followed Sun Yat-sen in the Revolution of 1911. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the Chinese nation had suffered from significant loss of sovereignty and untold misery. After young Zhou Faqi witnessed the devastating state of the country and its people, his ambition to “enrich the country and strengthen the people” was deeply rooted in his heart. Inspired by the May Fourth Movement, Zhou Faqi actively went to various counties in southern Hebei Province to carry out anti-imperialist and patriotic propaganda. Through his participation in the progressive movement, the ideas of “saving the country through science and technology” and “saving the country through industry” began to take root in his heart.

“To save backward China, we must develop our own industry. Only by learning science and technology abroad can we realize our wish to save the country through industry after returning to China.” With his deep love for the motherland and persistent pursuit of his dream, Zhou Faqi was admitted to the preparatory class for studying in France at the Agricultural Specialized School in 1920. In 1921, he succeeded in obtaining the qualification for studying abroad at government expense established by the Beiyang government at that time.

On August 13, 1921, under the leadership of Wu Zhihui, the then president of the Sino-French University in Beiping, Zhou Faqi left his hometown and went to France to study. When he arrived in France, because of the identity of “official student”, he was guaranteed to study in the first class of the Institute Franco-Chinois de Lyon under the Nobel Prize winner and famous French chemist, Professor Grignard. After eight years of hard work, he received his Ph.D. in physical sciences with distinction, a step closer to his youthful dream.

During his study in France, he made a major breakthrough in the research of magnesium organic compounds and won the Bodro prize of the Institute Franco-Chinois de Lyon and the prize of the Association, which caused a sensation among his peers abroad.

Although he had a place in his professional field, Zhou Faqi never forgot his vow to “save the country with science and technology”. He was the first to raise the banner of “enriching the nation and strengthening the people” in France. Together with Li Linyu (later president of the Sino-French University in Beijing) and other students in Europe, he founded the Chinese Chemical Research Society in Europe, actively engaged in academic exchanges with the Sino-French University and other schools in China, and established the “Five Parties Society”, an academic forum with Li Shu, Yang Kun, Zhang Xi, Zeng Boliang and Yin Zanxun, giving monthly lectures on special topics, and ignited the fire of salvation and strengthening in a foreign country.

The motherland is always the first choice for a wanderer returning home.

“As long as you are willing to stay in France, with just a palm-sized letter, I can recommend you to teach in any university in France.” Near the end of his studies, Zhou’s supervisor, Prof. Grignard wanted to retain him. As a “rising star” in the field of organic chemistry, Zhou Faqi was favored by many institutes and universities in France. At that time, France, after the construction of post-World War I, was a strong country, leading in science and technology, and flourishing in culture and art. Paris was the destination of many intellectuals and progressive people around the world.

The laboratory of the University of Lyon where Zhou Faqi was working was world-class. The laboratory was equipped with fixed glass windows, a well-run air conditioning system. The fume hood alone was equipped with five lines of tap water, refrigerated salt water, gas, nitrogen, and compressed air. No matter what glass instruments were used, as long as they were put in the basket to be cleaned, they could be washed and dried and ready for use when researchers returned to the laboratory the next day. Faced with such the world’s leading scientific research conditions and good prospects for development, Zhou Faqi felt only grateful but did not choose to stay. He gave a fond hug to his mentor and returned to China to develop science and technology and cultivate talents for his motherland, which is a solemn choice Zhou Faqi made in his life.

In 1930, after returning to China, Zhou Faqi was appointed as a professor and head of the chemistry department of the Sino-French University and participated in the preparation and establishment of the Institute of Chemistry of Beiping Research Institute as a researcher in charge of research of organic chemistry.

The Beiping Research Institute and the then Nanjing Central Research Institute were the two highest scientific research institutions in the country during the Republic of China. At that time, the research content of the Institute of Chemistry could be said to cover all aspects of people’s livelihood and military. For example, in World War I, activated carbon was used as the main agent for absorbing poison gas in gas masks. In view of the domestic and international situation at that time, in order to prepare for the war, Zhou Faqi and his colleagues conducted research on activated carbon. Based on the research results, then Hebei Radio made a special program “A little general knowledge about poison gas for war”. Another example is that the roads in China were paved with tar at that time, but they were soft in summer and cracked in winter. So the government asked the Institute of Chemistry to study the scientific ratio. Zhou Faqi was in charge of this project, and after dozens of experimental studies, he added zinc chloride to the hot tar and finally succeeded.

On August 4, 1932, the Chinese Chemical Society was founded in Nanjing. Zhou Faqi, together with nine chemists including Li Linyu and Zeng Zhaoxi, called for the establishment of a chemical liaison group in Beiping. On October 16 of that year, the Beiping Branch of the Chinese Chemical Society was formally established to actively contribute to the anti-Japanese struggle for national salvation. Zhou Faqi was elected as a director. It is worth mentioning that, after the establishment of the branch, Zhou Faqi, risking personal life and safety, covered the underground members of the Chinese Communist Party, protected progressive students, helped his relatives to join the revolution, assisted the rear hospital of the Central Hebei Military Region to purchase medicines, and supported the patriotic struggle of the students of the Sino-French University.

“The country was always first in his heart.” Zhou Faqi’s children and students said of him. In 1937, when the Chinese People’s War of Resistance against Japanese Aggression broke out and the Chinese nation was at stake. Zhou Faqi and a group of other teachers in France, who had been influenced by the progressive ideas of communism in France, responded positively to the call of the Communist Party of China and led progressive teachers and students to join the anti-Japanese democratic movement to save the nation, contributing their efforts and cultivating talents to save and survive.

During the war, the Japanese invaders occupied North China, including Beiping and Tianjin. The faculty of the Sino-French University insisted on their patriotic stand and did not compromise or give in, and were forced to suspend classes in 1938. In 1939, Zhou Faqi, then president of the College of Science of the Sino-French University, together with Xia Kangnong and Qi Yatang, moved the University south to Kunming, where they purchased land and built a new school. Together with the famous National Southwest Associated University, they insisted on running the school and supporting the war. At the same time, the Beiping Research Institute also moved south. Zhou Faqi preserved valuable scientific research strength and scientific talent for the country in hardship.

The “Protest against Kong Xiangxi” march, the establishment of the Kunming Federation of Schools, and the anti-war propaganda ...... Under the promotion of the Communist Party of China, the Chinese united front against Japanese aggression united the greatest number of people, including Zhou Faqi and other students and teachers who moved south. They realized from the actual effect of the war that in order to make the country rich and strong, it was necessary to unite and resist the Japanese. So they followed the command of the Communist Party of China, strived to promote the idea of “saving the country by industry” and “saving the country by science”, and supported the war with practical actions. In the face of the actual needs of the war, Zhou Faqi opened a new course in the Department of Chemistry and took the lead in many research projects to serve the war, such as the development of aviation gasoline to replace imported fuel, and the development of tar, which was urgently needed for road transportation in the war, and made positive contributions to the persistence of the war, the final victory, and the cultivation of war talent.

In 1944, Zhou Faqi, then dean of studies of the Sino-French University, became director of the Institute of Chemistry of the Beiping Research Institute in Kunming, which had been relocated southward again. After the victory of the war, Zhou organized the relocation of the Sino-French University and the Institute of Chemistry back to Beiping, raised funds, and worked hard to restore the laboratories that had been severely damaged by the Japanese invaders and to resume scientific research.

Turning the direction to make China’s own explosives

“Science and technology research should be problem-oriented, studying the most urgent and pressing problems.” General Secretary Xi Jinping emphasized this. At the beginning of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, chemist Zhou Faqi declared his determination to follow the Party with his action aiming at “ the most urgent and pressing problems” of the country.

In September 1950, the Ministry of Education of the Central People’s Government decided to discontinue the Sino-French University and merge its headquarters and three departments of mathematics, science, and chemistry into the College of Engineering of North China University (the predecessor of Beijing Institute of Technology). Zhou Faqi became a professor of the Department of Chemical Engineering in this new socialist university moved from the liberated areas to Beijing.

On New Year’s Day of 1952, the College of Engineering of North China University was renamed Beijing Industry College and made full efforts to build the first heavy industrial university in China. In March of the same year, the Ministry of Heavy Industry of the Central People’s Government approved the request to comprehensively adjust the original development goals of the university to cultivate senior technical backbone talents for serving the major national fields, among which, the chemical engineering department of the university was explicitly requested to focus on cultivating talents in explosives and gunpowder.

During the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea, the building of a high level of fire explosives major was of great significance. At that time, Zhou Faqi, who was in his fifties, had already been an influential scholar in the field of organic chemical reagents research in China. Turning to cultivate talents in fire explosives and building a new discipline not only had a huge safety risk but also was a way to give up what he had accumulated in the first half of his life and start all over again. As the Dean of Academic Affairs of Beijing Industry College, Zhou Faqi also has a very difficult teaching and management task. On the one hand, many majors needed to be adjusted and newly built, the syllabus needed to be redrafted, and the available teaching materials were insufficient and needed to be translated or written; on the other hand, the teachers were inexperienced in building new majors, and the task of establishing a perfect teaching system was very urgent. Once again, Zhou Faqi was faced with a choice.

When he graduated, Zhou Faqi chose to give up his generous treatment overseas and returned to China to serve his country with science and technology. At the beginning of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, many things were waiting to be done. Millet, as part of the salary, was a rare thing at that time. Zhou Faqi took the initiative to report to the organization that his family could not eat that much and applied for less for himself, lowering the level. When the War to Resist U.S. Aggression and Aid Korea broke out, Zhou Faqi’s 14-year-old only son was like him, full of patriotic enthusiasm, proposed to join the army to protect the country. Zhou did not hesitate, but also personally sent his son off ...... In front of a seemingly difficult choice, again and again, Zhou Faqi always chose the motherland in his heart. Now, in the face of the important mission of training fire explosives professionals for China, he still did not hesitate to respond to the national call to adjust the direction of research. Zhou determined to “let China has its own fire explosives professionals.

“The light in my father’s study is always on, and he is always bending over his desk working.” Zhou Faqi’s daughter talked about her father, the most impressive is always his hard-working figure. Since taking up the task of establishing a fire explosive professional, Zhou Faqi rarely rest. To solve the problem of high-performance fire explosives in China from scratch, a good system for training the independent research and development capabilities of professionals must be designed. Facing the problem of a serious shortage of relevant domestic materials, Zhou Faqi led the teachers to collect and translate foreign materials extensively and carry out design seminars in light of the actual situation in China. Finally, they established a whole set of teaching system, improving professional settings, strengthening basic teaching, especially for teaching materials, experiments and internships, and other teaching aspects of the standardized design, directly and effectively promoting the formalization of the construction of the fire explosives specialty. During this period, in order to strengthen the construction of Beijing Industry College, the state transferred the relevant schooling force of the former Northeast Specialized School of Military Engineering to the school, which strongly supported the construction of the specialty and put the school in the forefront of the development of military engineering disciplines in the country.

In order to strengthen the professional construction, Zhou Faqi also gave full play to his influence in the domestic academic community, and actively invited his former colleagues and students to provide support for the construction of the specialty of fire explosives. Qian Sanqiang, Zhuang Changgong, Wu Xian, Zeng Zhaoxi, Yang Shixian and a large number of well-known domestic scholars had provided help for the construction of the specialty. After dedicated preparation, in 1953, China’s first explosives manufacturing major was born in Beijing Industry College, and the first batch of new China’s fire explosives professionals began to thrive. In the mid-1950s, the Explosives Manufacturing Process, written by Zhou Faqi, who was the editor-in-chief, was considered China’s first high-level work in the field of fire explosives. The results and achievements are attributed to night and day work and word by word deliberation. In 1956, among the first list of professors announced by China, Zhou Faqi was selected as one of the six professors from Beijing Industry College.

“To make China’s own explosives, to make the best explosives in the world”, is the spiritual starting point of the first generation of new Chinese pyrotechnicians in their pursuit of excellence, and it is also the common ideal and pursuit of teachers and students. In 1963, the state launched a key scientific research task, and Beijing Industry College undertook the development of key aspects of it. After the university’s study, the best and brightest members of the Department of Chemical Engineering and the Department of Mechanical Engineering were deployed to form a “multi and large” linked research team, with Zhou Faqi as the head of the research team and Ding Jing, the deputy head of the Department of Mechanical Engineering. Facing the national important task, Zhou Faqi calmly commanded, coordinated, and led the teachers and students to work around the clock to develop three types of high-performance materials, and brilliantly achieved the intended research goals. It can be said that this project research has a milestone significance to the construction of fire explosives discipline.

In the 1950s and 1960s, under the leadership of Zhou Faqi, after years of professional construction and major scientific research projects, the fire explosives program of Beijing Industry College gradually embarked on a high-speed track of formal development, training a large number of outstanding talents in the field of fire explosives in China. Among them, Cui Guoliang, Dong Haishan and Xu Shanguang, were enrolled in the same year and later elected as academicians, leaving a good story of “three academicians in one department” and laying a solid foundation for the college’s weapon science and technology discipline to be a national champion.

In the 1980s, the cultivation of complex talents including high-level graduate students became one of the top priorities at that time. Zhou Faqi once again took the lead to set up the Ph.D. program in the discipline of energy-containing materials, which was also the first Ph.D. program in the history of the school. A few years later, Zhou Faqi personally trained the first doctor for the university.

Zhou Faqi, who made great contributions to the cause of China’s pyrotechnics, is regarded as the founder of the discipline of the explosives manufacturing process in China.

A teacher who strives for morality education

Zhou Faqi, Chinese tunic suit, tall and upright posture, snow-white hair, gentle smile, hale and hearty, and amiable. All these are the impression he left on the students and teachers.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Beijing Industry College was in a period of rapid development of comprehensive construction, and all the work was advancing rapidly. As a returnee scientist who had become famous before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Zhou Faqi, with his deep academic accumulation and rich experience in scientific research management for many years, devoted himself to the construction of various work of the college and served as the director of the Academic Affairs Department, the director of the Scientific Research Department and Vice President. In addition, he was also a member and convener of the first Department of Degree Management of Office of the State Council Academic Degrees Committee, and was elected vice-chairman of the Chinese Ordnance Society, a deputy of the Chinese Association for Science and Technology and a deputy to the National People’s Congress.

“Living Class Schedule!” When Zhou Faqi was the Dean of Academic Affairs, teachers and students liked to call him affectionately like this. Zhou Faqi cared about every lesson of the students, and remembered the curriculum of more than thirty majors in the whole school in his heart. No matter which day, which classroom, which lesson, no matter which major, he was clear about the teaching arrangements.

As long as he had time, Zhou Faqi would go to the classroom to listen to the lessons, check the quality of teaching. As long as problems were found, he would urge improvement. Zhou Faqi placed great importance on “nurturing people”. If he found that some teachers did not pay attention to nurturing people and left quickly after teaching, ignoring students’ opinions, he would personally do ideological work for these young teachers, making it clear that nurturing people and nurturing the heart is the duty of every teacher. In this way, he strongly promoted the teaching reform and carried it out by the school according to the national requirements at that time.

“Comrade Nengting, I have read the paper again, there are still some small problems ......” Fan Nengting, a doctoral student supervised by Zhou Faqi, is the first doctor trained by Beijing Industry College. In his doctoral dissertation, there is still a thesis revision letter, written by Zhou 36 years ago. From chemical reaction principles to thesis punctuation, the letter was densely written with detailed revisions, with each word revealing Zhou’s earnest expectations for students. “As research in the field of fire explosives is extremely dangerous, Mr. Zhou always asked us to strictly adhere to the standardized experimental operations. The laboratory has never had a single accident, and this rigorous attitude has laid a good foundation for us to engage in research work in the future." Fan Nengting still admires his mentor’s rigorous approach to learning.

“You should tap your potential, have the determination to overcome difficulties when you encounter difficulties, and rely on yourself.” In the memory of Li Fenming, his mentor Zhou Faqi often encouraged him in this way. Li Fenming is 57 years younger than Zhou Faqi, but the two have become friends despite the difference in age. Li Fenming was assigned to a factory in Inner Mongolia after graduation. There was a time when he was intimidated by the difficult conditions and the bottleneck in his work. At this time, Mr. Zhou, who was far away from Beijing, insisted on writing a letter to him every half month, sending care and encouragement. “Without Mr. Zhou, I wouldn’t be what I am today.” After that, Li Fenming worked hard and was transferred to Beijing for his outstanding performance, having a broader stage of life. When he reported his success to his teacher, Zhou Faqi just smiled and said, “Your wish has come true, and so has mine.”

After the Third Plenary Session of the 11th CPC Central Committee in 1978, the college began to actively resume its work. Zhou Faqi, who was then the vice president of Beijing Industry College, was already 77 years old, still insisted on going to work every day and taking students to do experiments. Basking in the spring breeze of reform and opening up, Zhou finally realized one of his long-cherished wishes - to join the Communist Party of China.

Zhou Faqi did not join the Party out of the blue. As he was growing up, his father, aunts, cousins and many other relatives were involved in the national salvation movement in different capacities. The words “patriotism”, “reform” and “salvation” were always influencing him. Sixty years ago, at the age of 18, Zhou Faqi had already set up a grand ambition to enrich the country and strengthen the people, but at that time he only knew to learn more knowledge and use science and industry to save the country. During his study in France, he was enlightened by communist ideology and began to realize that the cause of science and technology could play a greater role only under the correct ideology and organization, so he promoted the cause of science and technology on the one hand, and united with patriots on the other, actively participating in the patriotic movement. When he returned to China and experienced the great changes before and after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Zhou Faqi became more convinced that only the CPC could save China and only the CPC could make China strong. This also inspired him to actively participate in the building of the Party’s education, to cultivate scientific and technological talents for building China, and to always work diligently in the front line of teaching and scientific research, with his life trajectory constantly moving closer to the Party.

Although he was already in his 80’s and 90’s, Zhou Faqi continued to take the initiative to take up teaching and research tasks and train young and middle-aged teachers in the face of the new development opportunities brought by the reform and opening up of the country to the cause of higher education and the university. He expressed his loyalty to the CPC by his action and set an example for the students and teachers around him.

Time zipped by. Although Mr. Zhou left this beautiful campus of Beijing Institute of Technology long ago, his outstanding contribution to the discipline of pyrotechnics and his moral backbone still inspire generations of people at BIT to aspire to a strong nation, seek knowledge and innovation, and strive for self-improvement. In 2015, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of BIT, the university built a bronze bust of Zhou Faqi, and later established the “Zhou Faqi Scholarship” for students and teachers.

“The Japanese invaders have gone. The civil war has over. The People’s Republic of China is established. Education is promoted. Scientific research is emphasized. We are not afraid of hardships and dangers, and we are willing to climb all the dangerous peaks. You give up your expertise, the organic chemistry to serve the country. You learn a new major with a humble heart, and do all things on your own, to create explosives technology, and finally become a pillar of the stream ......” On September 19, 2015, at the unveiling ceremony of the statue of the famous chemist Zhou Faqi, several students wrote and recited the poem, Dedicated to Mr. Zhou, outlining the founder of the discipline of explosives manufacturing in China and the first generation of pyrotechnics expert at BIT.

Each generation of people has their mission and responsibility. Zhou Faqi uses his patriotic sentiment to anchor the course of life, which is to save the country, uses profound learning to open up the field of disciplines and strengthen the country, and uses the heart of nurturing people to cultivate generations of talent to serve the country.

“Never tired of learning, never tired of teaching”, near Zhou Faqi’s desk hangs these eight big words. It is exactly on this desk, he talks with students about science, ideals and life, and when he is tired of working, he quietly gazes ......