Ding Wenjiang (V. K. Ting)

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(b. Huangqiao Village, Taixing, Jiangsu Province, China, 13 April 1887;

d. Changsha, Hunan Province, 5 January 1936), geologist, educator in geology.

Ding Wenjiang was one of the founders of geological undertakings in China, especially of the renowned Geological Survey of China that began in 1916. Ding’s geological studies were mainly carried out in Yunnan, Guizhou, and Guangxi provinces in the second and third decades of the twentieth century; they contributed greatly to the understanding of Palaeozoic stratigraphy and geological structures in southwestern China. He was later a research professor of geology at Peking University (1931–1934).

Early Life . Ding was born into a local gentry family. His father, Ding Zengqi, married Miss Shan and had four children. Ding Wenjiang was their second son. His exceptional intelligence was shown in one of his examination papers when was eleven years old. In his paper he wrote about the accomplishment of the Emperor Han Wu Ti (140–87 BCE) in developing the southwestern areas of China. His interest in this region seemed to predict his later geological career.

Ding was educated first in Japan (1902–1904) and then in the United Kingdom (1904–1911). He stayed in Tokyo learning Japanese only one and a half years and then went to England where he studied at Cambridge University (1904–1906) and Glasgow University (1907), majoring in zoology and geology. He received two bachelor’s degrees from Glasgow in 1911 at the age of twenty-four.

Geological Survey of China . In 1913, Ding was appointed chief of the Section of Geology under the Ministry of Industry and Commerce of the Peking government of China. From early on he recognized the urgent need to train young Chinese geologists to do research. Through negotiations with the authorities in the Geology Department of Peking University, which had not accepted students since 1903, Ding and his colleagues, Zhang Hongzhao and Weng Wenhao, were able to use the building and equipment of the department to establish in 1913 the Geological Institute of China, which was actually a training college in geology. Some thirty students were enrolled and received three years of serious training. In this temporary educational institute, Ding taught geology and paleontology and was especially rigorous in field training and mapping. In 1916, eighteen students graduated. They were the first generation of Chinese-trained geologists and became the backbone of the newly established Geological Survey of China.

Ding was director of the Geological Survey of China from 1916 to 1921. In that post he initiated systematic prospecting of mineral resources and regional geological mapping. He established the National Geological Library and the National Geological Museum, both in Beijing, and authored various geological publications, including the Bulletin of the Geological Society of China, which was initially published annually and became a quarterly in 1948. The journal was renamed as Acta Geologica Sinica, affiliated with The Geological Society of China since 1952.

Palaeontologia Sinica . Of special note was Ding’s role in the development and publication of the multivolume Palaeontologia Sinica, one of the most important palaeontological publications. Ding organized it with the help of Johan Gunnar Anderson of Sweden. Ding was the chief editor from 1921 (its first year of publication) until his death in 1936. Another contribution of note was the first issue of the Special Report of the Survey, titled A General Statement on the Mining Industry of China, by Ding and Weng Wen Hao, published in 1921. In it the authors point out that unsuccessful prospecting for oil in northern Shensi (Shaanxi) Province was probably the result of insufficient drilling, not lack of oil. This supposition proved correct, and the area later became one of the biggest oil and gas basins in North China.

Geological Society and Peking University . In 1922, Ding helped establish the Geological Society of China in Beijing, one of the earliest natural science organizations in China. He was president of the society in 1923 and was reelected in 1929.

Ding was a renowned geological educator. The Geology Department of Peking University, founded in 1909, but closed in 1912, was restored in 1917. In 1920, Ding invited Amadeus William Grabau from the United States and Li Siguang (J. S. Lee) from England to assume professorships in Peking University, and they greatly improved the department. From 1931 to 1934, Ding was himself a research professor at the university. The joint efforts of Ding, Li, and Grabau brought about the first era of success for the department in the 1920s and 1930s.

Travel in Europe . In 1933, Ding attended the Sixteenth International Geological Congress in Washington, DC, with Grabau and presented papers on the subdivision of Carboniferous and Permian, then a much-discussed problem in stratigraphy. Afterward he visited the United Kingdom and returned to the University of Glasgow. Then he traveled in Europe and spent more than a month visiting geological institutes in the Soviet Union. He was deeply interested in that country and wrote an article for the Independence Review in Beijing, praising the great efforts made by the Soviets in geology.

Central Academy of Sciences . In the summer of 1934, Ding was appointed secretary general of the Central Academy of Sciences of China in Shanghai. During his tenure of eighteen months, he contributed significantly to reforming the administration of the academy. He helped change the senate and the funding and budget systems, establishing the Adademician Committee, which enabled the senate to qualify academicians. These changes greatly enhanced the efficiency of the academy and improved the working efficiency of its research institutes. He also did his best to support independent scientific research free of prejudices.

Work in Southwestern China . Ding emphasized the importance of firsthand geological field observations and originality in geological studies. En route back to China from abroad in 1912, he visited Haiphong, Vietnam, and then traveled to Kunming, China, to begin a geological reconnaissance through the Yunnan, Guizhou, and western Hunan provinces. His routine geological survey was Ding’s first fieldwork in southwestern China and this and his subsequent work there was of monumental importance to both Ding and Chinese geology. He revisited southwestern China twice, in 1914 and again in 1930. In 1914, he studied the Carboniferous, Permian, and Triassic sequences in northwestern Guizhou and established the Late Palaeozoic stratigraphic successions. In 1929–1930, he organized several groups for a systematic, comprehensive survey of the southwest region. These groups investigated from the perspectives of paleontology, geology, mineral resources, geography, and anthropology. On the basis of the rich material obtained, Ding established the Fengninian system of the Lower Carboniferous Age, the system that had been in use for many years in China.

Ding remained interested in paleontology and in 1932 published a paper on the brachiopod species, Spirifer tingi and Spirifer hsiehi, using statistical research methods.

Social and Political Contributions . Ding possessed wide interests in geology and mining. As a geologist and natural scientist, he contributed to mining exploration and industrial administration. Ding contributed eminently to academic and social enterprises. He wrote social and political commentaries and criticisms for many journals and led the well-known countrywide debate regarding his article “Metaphysics and Science” (1923) and “Science and Outlook of Life,” the latter a compilation of articles including three papers by Ding. This was an intense debate about life outlook and points of view on social problems. Ding attempted to make “Mr. Science” an integral part of China’s everyday life.

Death and Legacy . In the winter of 1935, the Ministry of Railways invited Ding to survey the Xiangtan coal mine in Hunan province to find coal for use by the Canton-Hankow Railway. Simultaneously, the Ministry of Education asked him to propose a new site for Tsinghua University. He began his work from Hengshan in Hunan. Ding lived in the Tanjiashan coal mine and was poisoned by the old-fashioned coal stove in his bedroom. He was sent to the Xiangya Hospital in Changsha for first aid, and some of the best Beijing doctors were sent to treat him. They were too late. He died on 5 January 1936, and was buried at the foot of Yuelushan Hill, west of Changsha His grave was restored in 1986.

Long after his death, Dr. Huang Jiqing (T. K. Huang) edited his manuscripts and created a volume with many attached maps, titled Geological Reports of Dr. V. K. Ting(1947), published by the Geological Survey in Nanjing.

Ding Wenjiang was first of all a patriot and then a most renowned geologist, natural scientist, scholar, and the most eminent and competent organizer and administrator in China of his time. He was awarded the fourth A. W. Grabau Medal by the Geological Society of China in 1932.



With F. Solger and H. B. Wang. (Report on the Geology and mining industry along the Zhengding-taiyuan Railway). Journal of the Ministry of Agriculture and Commerce Republic of China 1, no. 1 (1914): 14–17; no. 2 (1914): 15–19.

With J. C. Zhang. (Report on the coal fields of Yu-hsien, Yang-yuan, and Kuang-ling of Shansi-Hebei Provinces). Geological Society ofChina Bulletin 1 (1919): 1–14. Includes an English-language abstract.

With W. H. Wong. “General Statement on the Mining Industry of China.” Special Report of the Geological Society of China, Series C, no. 1 (1921): 1–36.

“Metaphysics and Science.” Nuli Zhoubao (Endeavor weekly) no. 48 (15 April 1923) and no. 49 (22 April 1923).

“The Orogenic Movements in China.” Geological Society of China Bulletin8 (1929): 151–170. Ding’s presidential address at the sixth annual meeting of the Geological Society of China.

“On the Stratigraphy of the Fengninian System.” Geological Society of China Bulletin 10 (1931): 1–48.

(A statistical study of the difference between the width–height ratio of Spirifer tingi and that of S pirifer hsieh). Geological Society of China Bulletin 11, no. 4 (June 1932): 465–472.

With Y. L. Wang. “Cambrian and Silurian Formations of Malung and Chutsing Districts, Yunnan.” Geological Society of China Bulletin 16 (1937): 1–28. This issue appeared in the bulletin’s V. K. Ting memorial volume, compiled and completed by T. H. Yin.

Geological Reports of Dr. V. K. Ting. Edited by Huang Jiqing. Nanking, China: Geological Survey in Nanking (1947).


Furth, Charlotte. Ting Wen-chiang: Science and China’s New Culture. East Asian series no. 42. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1970.

Hu Shih. Biography of Dr. V. K. Ting. Haikou, China: Hainan Publishing House, 1993.

Huang Jiqing, Pan Yuntang, and Xie Guanglian, eds. (Selected works of Ding Wenjiang [V. K. Ting].) Beijing: Peking University Press, 1993. Includes an English-language introduction.

Pan Yuntang and Cheng Yuqi. “Ding Wenjiang.” In Chinese Encyclopedia: Geology. Beijing: Chinese Encyclopedia Press, 1993. In Chinese.

Wang Hongzhen, Sun Ronggui, and Cui Guangzhen. (The early history of geological undertaking in China, in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of Dr. V. K. Ting’s birth and the 110th anniversary of Prof. H. T. Chang’s birth.) Peking: Peking University Press, 1990. Includes an English-language abstract.

You Zhendong