-- Yuan Longping, whose high-yield hybrid rice helped fend off hunger in the world's most populous country and beyond, died of illness on Saturday.
-- His memorial service in the city of Changsha attracted tens of thousands of mourners, including many arriving from other cities to "see Grandpa Yuan for the last time." The mourning crowd stripped the city's florists bare of chrysanthemums.
-- Condolences came from across the globe. The UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs called Yuan "a true food hero," praising him for saving millions of people from hunger.
People lay flowers to pay their homage to deceased scientist Yuan Longping at the Mingyangshan funeral parlor in Changsha, central China's Hunan Province, May 24, 2021. (Xinhua/Chen Zhenhai)
by Xinhua Writers Yao Yuan, Liu Fangzhou, Zhang Yujie and Chang Yuan
CHANGSHA, May 24 (Xinhua) -- China on Monday morning held a memorial service to bid farewell to Yuan Longping, known as the "father of hybrid rice," who passed away on Saturday.
Despite being a busy workday, thousands of people dressed in black showed up and laid flowers at the site before the service began at 10 a.m. in Changsha, capital of central China's Hunan Province.
The country's top rice scientist, who cultivated the first high-yield hybrid rice strain, died of organ failure at 91 in Changsha.
The agronomist helped China work a great wonder -- feeding nearly one-fifth of the world's population with less than 9 percent of the world's total arable land.
He is deeply respected in China, where getting enough to eat was once a serious problem. In 2019, Yuan was awarded the Medal of the Republic, China's highest state honor.
In a condolence message conveyed to Yuan's family, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke highly of Yuan's contribution to China's food security, innovation in agricultural technology, and world grain development.
File photo taken on Aug. 19, 2013, shows Yuan Longping inspecting the trial plantation of hybrid rice in Guanyang County, south China's Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. (Xinhua/Lu Boan)
On Monday morning, the influx of mourners created a traffic gridlock miles long, prompting many to descend from their vehicles to walk to the memorial site inside a mortuary house. Some mourners arrived by train from other cities to "see Grandpa Yuan for the last time."
"People from outside Hunan are coming to bid him farewell," said Liu Haohui, one of the taxi drivers who offered free rides to the mourners. "As a local taxi driver, we hope to do something to pay tribute to Yuan."
Also among the huge crowd of mourners were couriers holding flowers that they said were ordered by distant buyers.
Many florists in Changsha told Xinhua that their chrysanthemums had sold out.
"Online orders kept flowing in. We worked overnight to prepare the flowers but still couldn't meet the demand," said florist Tan Lijuan.
People are seen on their way to bid farewell to deceased scientist Yuan Longping at the Mingyangshan funeral parlor in Changsha, central China's Hunan Province, May 24, 2021. (Xinhua/Chen Sihan)
Yuan began his pioneering research on hybrid rice in 1964. After nine years of painstaking research and testing, his team successfully cultivated the hybrid-rice strain in 1973. Yuan spent the next four decades improving hybrid rice, which has now progressed to its third generation.
In China, the annual hybrid rice planting area has exceeded 16 million hectares, or 57 percent of the total rice planting area. The increased yield helps feed an extra 80 million people a year.
His more recent achievements included developing varieties of saline-alkali tolerant rice. In January, his team said they planned to use the rice to transform 6.7 million hectares of saline-alkaline land in China over the next eight to 10 years.
Yuan's lifelong dedication to reducing hunger has made him a national hero and a household name in China.
"We traveled all the way here to see him off. We farmers owe him gratitude," said Zhou Xiuying, 70, inside the memorial hall.
"We must thank him for bringing us food," a woman was seen telling her young child at the site.
In 1999, an asteroid discovered by the national astronomical observatories was named after Yuan. He won the World Food Prize in 2004.
Deng Ze, wife of deceased scientist Yuan Longping, attends his funeral at the Mingyangshan funeral parlor in Changsha, central China's Hunan Province, May 24, 2021. (Xinhua/Xue Yuge)
LEGACY FOR WORLD
Agronomists and officials outside China also joined in remembering Yuan, whose hybrid rice is credited with helping fend off hunger and reduce poverty on a global scale.
Calling Yuan "a true food hero," the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs on Saturday mourned his passing on Twitter, saying that he "saved millions of people from hunger."
"He passed away today at 91 (due to illness) but his legacy and his mission to end hunger lives on," the tweet said.
His hybrid rice has been grown in more than 60 countries, with a total growing area of 8 million hectares outside China, according to the China National Hybrid Rice R&D Center where Yuan worked.
Yuan's team has also conducted training courses in dozens of countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia since the 1980s, to provide a robust food source in areas with a high risk of famine.
"Thank you very much Professor Yuan Longping and we hope that the whole world will remember you and continue to support the work that you and your colleagues have undertaken to improve agriculture in the world," Ramboasalama Arolalaina Ratsira, a hybrid rice expert of Madagascar, said in an interview with Xinhua.
In 2010, Yuan's team went to the African country long troubled by insufficient rice production. With their assistance, a hybrid crop variety produced a harvest of 10.8 tonnes per hectare in Madagascar in 2019, far exceeding the yield of local rice.
"It's a great loss for China and humanity," Madagascar's minister of agriculture, livestock and fisheries Fanomezantsoa Lucien Ranarivelo said on Yuan's passing.
Ivo Mello, technical director of Rice Institute of Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, said his institute has started adopting and promoting the hybrid rice technology through cooperation with Hunan Hybrid Rice Research Center.
"He has left a legacy that will certainly be remembered for many, many centuries," he said. Enditem
(Lou Chen, Yuan Ruting and Zhou Mian have contributed to the story)
(Video reporters: Ding Chunyu, Cheng Ji'an, Yao Yu, Li Ziwei, Liu Yu, Wen Hao, Zhou Shengping, Jiang Chao, Li Hao; Video editor: Peng Ying.) ■