Li, C(hing) C(hun) 1912-2003

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LI, C(hing) C(hun) 1912-2003


See index for CA sketch: Born October 27, 1912, in Tientsin, China; died October 20, 2003, in Pittsburgh, PA. Geneticist, educator, and author. Li was a biostatistician and founder of population genetics, a field that has greatly influenced medical research. Li became fascinated by genetics as a student at the University of Nanking, where he earned his B.S. in 1936. For his graduate work, he went to Cornell University's College of Agriculture and studied plant breeding, biometry, and genetics, completing his Ph.D. in 1940. After doing postgraduate work at the University of Chicago for a year, he took a trip with his wife back to China. But with Japan's invasion of China at the onset of World War II, Li and his wife found themselves unable to get out of the country. After some desperate times, he managed to get a job as an assistant professor at National Kwangsi University for a year, followed by three years as a professor of genetics at Nanking University. After the war, Li was professor of biometry and genetics and chair of the department of agronomy at National Peking University. However, the Communist government would not tolerate Li's adherence to Mendelian genetics rather than the government-approved theories of Trofim Denisovich Lysenko. Lysenko's hypotheses have been discredited by scientists, but they were favored by Communists because they supported the government's ideas relating to the enforced control of people's living and working environments. The Communists tried to discredit Li and pressured his friends to testify against him. Although his friends and colleagues refused to incriminate Li, Li ended up resigning from his university post. He left China and returned to America, where he joined the University of Pittsburgh's faculty. Here he chaired the department of biostatistics from 1969 to 1975. Retiring in 1982, he maintained an office as a professor emeritus there for many years after. Able to enjoy scientific freedom in the United States, Li proved to be an innovator in the field of biostatistics and population studies. For example, while conducting research for a National Institutes of Health chemotherapy study, he developed standards for random and "blind" testing; he also codeveloped the "singles method" that was used to more quickly trace inherited genetic defects within populations. Named president of the American Society for Human Genetics in 1961, Li was the author of the seminal book Population Genetics (1955), as well as over a half dozen other scientific works, including Human Genetics: Principles and Methods (1961), Path Analysis: A Primer (1975), and Analysis of Unbalanced Data: A Pre-Program Introduction (1982). Named Pittsburgh Statistician of the year in 1970, Li was also made a university professor in 1975, the highest academic position possible. Another of Li's many accomplishments was his work in molecular population genetics, which has led to the DNA profiling methods used in criminal investigations.



Notable Scientists from 1900 to the Present, second edition, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Notable Twentieth-Century Scientists, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1995.


Chronicle of Higher Education, November 7, 2003, p. A48.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 24, 2003, p. B19.