A special session honoring BMCC mathematics professor Yibao Xu, who passed away unexpectedly in November 2013, was held as part of the 6th Annual International Symposium on Ancient Chinese Books & Records of Science & Technology on Saturday, October 4 in Richard Harris Terrace at BMCC’s main campus.
A number of speakers, colleagues and friends of Professor Xu as well as symposium participants who had traveled from China and other parts of Asia to join the proceedings, shared their memories of Yibao Xu—scholar, teacher, colleague and father.
“He was my eyes.”
One by one, former colleagues and friends of Yibao Xu approached the podium.
Jean Richard, a professor in the BMCC math department, spoke of the support Professor Xu provided as Richard was writing his dissertation: “He was generous, responsible, a brilliant researcher. He was my eyes and we miss him.”
Feng Lishen, a professor from the Institute for the History of Science and Technology & Ancient Texts at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China, described attending the Institute for the History of Science and Technology with Yibao Xu at Inner Mongolia Normal University, and Guo Shirong, that Institute’s current director remembered Professor Xu’s generous support of graduate student researchers: “He always put others first.”
BMCC math professor Annie Han recalled, “Yibao is the one who turned me on to the history of mathematics,” and she described Professor Xu’s arrival at BMCC: “Joseph Dauben, a Distinguished Professor who was Yibao Xu’s advisor at the CUNY Graduate Center, contacted me and said, ‘I have this incredible doctoral student for you’.”
In addition to joining the mathematics faculty at BMCC, she said, “Yibao brought Chinese mathematics to CUNY.”
BMCC math professor Dwight Pierre, who also helped photodocument the memorial event, talked about visiting China with Professor Han and others from BMCC, inspired by Yibao Xu's work. Mathematics scholar and researcher Wann-Sheng Horng told the audience, “Yibao will always be my younger brother,” and Michael Kent, a BMCC math professor, read a poem he had written in Yibao Xu’s honor.
BMCC Professor Lina Wu told the audience, “Yibao Xu set a good example for young mathematicians like me to follow,” and her colleague, Professor Samuel Sackeyfio, spoke of conversations he shared in the BMCC math department with Yibao Xu, “on how to improve our teaching and help our students improve their skill levels … he was very humble.”
Joseph Dauben read remarks by Professor Karen Parshall of the University of Virginia, who was not able to attend but wrote of her admiration of Yibao Xu, noting that, “the English translation and edition of the classic Chinese text, the Jiuzhang Suanzu (or Nine Chapters on the Art of Mathematics), on which he and Joe [Professor Dauben] worked in such close collaboration for so many years, will be a lasting testament to XU Yibao’s life and scholarly work.”
Last of all, Jonathan Xu—he and his brother Alex Xu are the sons of Yibao and Delia Xu—read remarks in honor of his father’s memory.
Passing on the love of mathematics
Afterwards, the group viewed a pictorial montage of Yibao Xu’s life; from his childhood in an island village of Poyang Lake in Jiangxi Province, China, to his completion at the CUNY Graduate Center of a doctoral degree and dissertation devoted to concepts of infinity in Chinese mathematics.
Professor Xu joined the mathematics faculty at BMCC in 2003 and his last work, Nine Chapters on the Art of Mathematics, a Chinese-English critical edition appearing in the prestigious series, The Library of Chinese Classics, was published posthumously, culminating a decade-long project.
To enable mathematics students of tomorrow to carry on that legacy of learning and research, a scholarship fund “has been created in memory of Professor Xu,” explained BMCC Director of Major Gifts, Barbara Morgan, who attended the memorial service.
“We are looking to establish a scholarship in Professor Xu’s name, so that promising students in mathematics who otherwise would not have been able to continue their studies, can do so,” she said.
“The Yibao Xu Scholarship will keep his memory alive and pass on his love of mathematics to the next generation.”
Contributors to the Yibao Xu Memorial Scholarship Fund already include Paul Chen, Joseph Dauben, Yi Han, Wann-Sheng Horng, Michael Kent, Kyong-Hee Lee, Xuan Li, Goretti Ng, Fred Peskoff, Jun Liang Rice, David E. Rowe, Brunhilde Rowe, Lina Wu, Mingming Yin, Yong Xian Yu and Hong Yuan.
To join them, click here, and in the dropdown menu "Designation," choose the Yibao Xu Memorial Scholarship Fund. Or contact Barbara Perry Morgan, Director of Major and Planned Gifts at 212-346-8650 or firstname.lastname@example.org.