Posted November 26, 2007

Temple Professor Man-Chiang Niu, biologist who opened ties with China, dies at 95

Man-Chiang Niu
Photo by Ryan S. Brandenberg/Temple University

Man-Chiang Niu, professor emeritus of biology at Temple and architect of the university's groundbreaking relationship with the People's Republic of China, died on Nov. 7 at his home in Beijing. He was 95.

A funeral ceremony was held in Beijing on Nov. 16. Among the many scientific and state leaders present was Hu Jintao, president of China, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and chairman of the Central Military Commission.

"The entire extended Temple family is saddened by the passing of Professor Niu," said Temple President Ann Weaver Hart, who met with Niu at Temple's first alumni reunion in Beijing only 10 days before his passing. "His impact on international higher education, particularly here at Temple, has been felt by generations of students, and will continue to grow as Temple's close ties with China strengthen in the future."


Niu's research focused on the role of messenger ribonucleic acid, or mRNA, in cells. Although a renowned developmental biologist, Niu was perhaps better known as a key figure in the growth of scientific exchanges between China and the United States in the years leading up to and immediately following the normalization of relations between the countries at the end of 1978.

When Deng Xiaoping, then vice premier of China, visited the United States in 1979, Niu encouraged Deng — who knew of Niu's scientific achievements — to accept an invitation from Temple to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree from President Marvin Wachman (pictured below right). Deng responded with an invitation for Temple to come to China; Niu joined the university's delegation later that year.

"Everywhere we went on that trip, people would recognize Niu as one of the nation's leading scientists," said Temple Senior Chemistry Professor Joseph S. Schmuckler, who accompanied the delegation. "His name was magic; it opened doors for Temple."


That Temple visit spawned a series of pioneering educational exchanges, including an effort led by Fox School of Business faculty member Kailin Tuan that created the first actuarial science program at Nankai University and collaborative programs between Schmuckler and scholars at Tianjin Normal University to improve chemical education in the Chinese school system.

The relationships that Niu helped build in China created the foundation for an unprecedented invitation in 1997, when Temple was asked to support reform of the Chinese legal system by designing programs to teach Chinese legal professionals about American and Western legal practices. Since then, Temple's Rule of Law programs — which include the Master of Laws program, the first foreign law degree-granting program approved by the Chinese Ministry of Education and the American Bar Association — have educated 711 Chinese judges, government officials, prosecutors, law professors and workers for non-governmental organizations.

Photo courtesy Steve Harlin
Niu (second from left) participated in an honorary degree ceremony for Deng Xiaoping (third from right), then vice premier of China, in 1979 in Washington, DC, along with Temple President Marvin Wachman (far right) and Fitz Eugene Dixon Jr. (far left), chair of Temple's board of trustees.

Born in China, Niu earned a bachelor's degree in biology from Beijing University in 1936. After graduating, he worked for seven years as a lecturer at National Southwestern Associated University, an institution created in Kunming during the Second Sino-Japanese War.

In 1944, he and his wife, Lillian Paoying Niu, moved to the United States and studied biology at Stanford University, where he earned a Ph.D. in 1946 and she earned an M.S. in 1947. The Nius then moved to New York, where he took a job at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University).

Niu joined the faculty of Temple’s Biology Department in 1960 as an associate professor. After receiving tenure in 1962, he served as a professor until his retirement at the end of 1981.

With the help of a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, Niu helped found the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Developmental Biology in Beijing in 1980, where he directed a laboratory until his death. The creation of the institute is acknowledged to be among the first attempts to help Chinese researchers to rejoin the international scientific community after the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and '70s.

Niu was appointed honorary professor or advisor to more than 80 institutes and organizations in China. He was a two-time recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, and was elected an academician by Academia Sinica, Taiwan's Academy of Science.

An American citizen, Niu spent part of the year in Elkins Park, Pa., and part in Beijing. Niu and his wife were generous contributors to Temple; their donations included gifts to support research in the Biology Department in the College of Science and Technology.

In addition to his wife, Niu is survived by two daughters, both of whom are Temple alumnae: McYing Niu, a resident of Montgomery County, Pa., earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1969 and Manette T. Niu, a physician in Maryland, earned a bachelor's degree in anthropology in 1973.