November 8, 2009

Rare Chinese Mushroom Collection Comes Home

A Chinese scholar condemned during the Cultural Revolution for moving a unique compilation of mushrooms out of China was celebrated on Saturday when his extraordinary collection finally came home.

At a service at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Cornell University President David Skorton presented the collection that had been painstakingly assembled by researcher Shu Chun Teng to China's Institute of Microbiology.

Teng's specialty was mycology at Cornell University in the 1920s, and for the next ten years he concentrated on collecting molds, lichens, yeasts, rusts and morels in every nook and cranny of his native China.

"I think the most important part about what we're doing here today is really returning a hand to the Chinese people that was outstretched three quarters of a century ago," Skorton said at the ceremony.

During the course of the Japanese invasion of 1937, Teng sent his most valuable samples from his national botany institution to protect them from ruin. During World War II, the collection traveled by ox cart to Indochina and then sailed to the US where they ended up at Cornell University.

His proactive steps meant Teng was targeted during the destructive Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. Fired from his lab, he was beat physically and mentally every day.  This extreme brutality eventually ruined both his health and career. He passed away in 1970 at 67 years of age.

Teng's daughter, Deng Yi, was overwhelmed at the ceremony honoring her late father.

"During that time my father was classified as a counterrevolutionary and labeled with many different crimes. The main crime he was blamed for was maintaining illicit relations with foreign countries "” selling out our heritage. The reason was this collection," she said.

"So now that these specimens have returned to their home country, my father up in heaven would feel a great happiness in his heart," Deng added.
At Cornell's idea, the university meticulously separated and shared its Fungi of China Collection with the China's Institute of Microbiology.

Zhuang Wenying, a mycologist at the Chinese Institute, applauded Teng's accomplishments.

"I think that his motivation and his actions were great things, because he saved this treasure so that we can still see and research with them today. Some of these samples do not exist anywhere else," she said.


On the Net: