Yang Zhongjian

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(b. Hauxian, Shaanxi Province, China, 1897;

d. Beijing, 1979), vertebrate paleontology.

Yang Zhongjian—anglicized as Chung Chien Young and more commonly recognized in scientific circles as C. C. Young—was undoubtedly the most famous and important student of Chinese vertebrate paleontology of the twentieth century. Almost single-handedly responsible for generating research in the field of vertebrate paleontology through the century’s central decades, Yang also named many of the most iconic dinosaurs from the Mesozoic formations of China. His enduring intellectual legacy is represented by the renowned IVPP (Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology) in Beijing.

Early Life. Yang graduated from the Geological Sciences Department of Beijing University in 1923. He received a doctorate degree at Munich University in 1927, and during his stay in Germany he established contacts with many leading European paleontologists. Yang returned to China in 1928 to join the China Geological Survey and almost single-handedly built the reputation of Chinese vertebrate paleontological research. His industry and originality were quickly recognized, and he established a Laboratory of Vertebrate Paleontology in the Geological Survey. As his authority grew, he rose to hold a number of key positions, including professorships at the Geological Survey of China, Beijing University, and Northwest University of Xi’an, and the directorships of both the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (Beijing) and the Beijing Natural History Museum. His publication record began in 1929 and continued until the year of his death in 1979 and even then a number of his manuscripts were completed and published posthumously in 1982.

Era of Great Dinosaur Discoveries. Yang’s life and career fits neatly into the worldwide development of vertebrate fossil research (and a notable resurgence in interest in dinosaur research) that occurred during the 1920s. Following a relative lull in the intellectual “hostilities” associated with the period of the “bone wars” in the American Midwest, perpetrated by Othniel Charles Marsh and Edward Drinker Cope in the latter half of the nineteenth century, new discoveries began to be made in other parts of the world. In the first decade of the twentieth century, German East Africa (now Tanzania) witnessed the discovery of some colossal dinosaur remains at Tendaguru. The 1920s (following World War I) was especially important with respect to Yang and his burgeoning career. It was a period of spectacular discoveries in the form of new dinosaurs at Trossingen in southern Germany and those made by the remarkable Central Asiatic Expeditions (1922–1925) launched by the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The latter expeditions revealed that rather than barren wastelands, as they were often portrayed, Mongolia and Chinese Inner Mongolia were richly fossiliferous, with an abundance of new and fascinating dinosaurs as part of a rich and varied fossil fauna.

These exciting discoveries were being published and widely promoted during the mid- and late 1920s, just at the time when Yang Zhongjian was learning his trade in geology in Beijing and Munich. Following the problems generated by the auctioning of a dinosaur egg collected from Mongolia by the American museum expedition, relations between the Americans and the Chinese, Mongolians, and Russians deteriorated badly, and further expeditions were curtailed. However, throughout this period various Swedish scientists had been involved in expeditions and geological survey work in China on a more cooperative basis. From 1927 onward, expeditions were organized jointly by Chinese and Swedish scientists, and some of the scientific research of these later expeditions was published by Yang. One of his earliest papers concerned discoveries of a rich fossil fauna at the “Peking Man” site at Zhoukoudian (formerly Choukoutien) in collaboration with the natural historian and Jesuit missionary Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (who was himself at this time also acting as a geological advisor to the Beijing government). Yang was also able to describe some of the dinosaurs collected during the Sino-Swedish expeditions led by the Austrian paleontologist Otto Zdansky.

Geological Expeditions. From the time of Yang’s return to China, and given the intensity of interest in the fossil history of China, his primary research focus became fossil vertebrates. As part of his role in the geological survey he was involved in a series of exploratory expeditions and excavations in Sichuan, Yunnan, Xinjiang, and Gansu provinces. This work identified new vertebrate fossil faunas (including dinosaurs) and led most spectacularly, in 1938, to excavations that focused on a site near the city of Lufeng in Yunnan Province. This site revealed abundant remains of the prosauropod dinosaur Lufengosaurus, and rich associated fauna of dinosaurs and other reptiles, particularly early mammal-like synapsids. The most dramatic and public product of these discoveries was the first Chinese-mounted dinosaur skeleton (Lufengosaurus huenei), which was put on display in Beipei, Chongqing, Sichuan Province in 1941. This discovery echoed, to a remarkable degree, the important discovery of a collection of closely related prosauropod dinosaurs in a quarry at Trossingen in the Neckar Valley of southern Germany in the 1920s: Plateosaurus. The fame of the German discovery and its detailed description by the most eminent of German vertebrate paleontologists, Friedrich Freiherr von Huene, would have been very familiar to Yang from his time as a doctoral student. Hence, Yang named the new but relatively closely related prosauropod from China Lufengosaurus huenei, in honor of von Huene.

Political Harassment. From the fieldwork and descriptive papers that he generated in the 1930s, Yang firmly established himself as one of the foremost researchers in China. His productivity increased with a series of substantial and important monographs on new dinosaurs during the 1940s. At the time of the Communist Revolution (1949) he was the most eminent researcher in his field in China. Out of that social and political upheaval, he emerged at the forefront of the development of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology, which was sponsored by Academia Sinica. This institute became China’s first research center devoted to the study of vertebrate fossils. Yang became its founding director, and in 1958 the laboratory was renamed as the later renowned Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP). He established it as the leading training institute for the development of fossil preparation skills and as an intellectual breeding ground for future Chinese paleontologists. According to John W. Olsen, under Yang the institute was known for its promotion of openness and free exchange of ideas, including with non-Chinese paleontologists. During the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s, Yang was forced to wear a dunce cap in public, and to accept the assertion that Teilhard de Chardin was his father.

Nonetheless, he returned to research and until his death in 1979 Yang produced a steady and consistent stream of publications on the fossil vertebrate fauna of China. In addition to important monographs describing some of the striking new dinosaurs such as Psittacosaurus, Yunnanosaurus, Mamenchisaurus, and Tsintaosaurus, he also published on a bewildering variety of other forms: early mammal-like reptiles (synapsids), early true mammals, fossil footprints, dinosaur eggs, pterosaurs (flying reptiles), marine reptiles, and crocodiles, and produced numerous descriptive reviews of entire faunas that had been newly discovered right across China.

In many ways Yang occupies a unique position as one of the “greats” involved in the birth of the field of vertebrate paleontology in China. He may well have come into the field at a propitious time, given the undoubted excitement of discoveries in Europe and Asia in the 1920s, but his intellect and personal drive allowed this branch of science to flourish in China (where it had previously languished, largely unrecognized). In helping to found the IVPP in Beijing, he established a lasting center of academic excellence in this field and established the careers of a stream of students and younger colleagues who rose to prominence in their own right, including Pei Wenzhong (or W. C. P’ei, 1904–1982) and Jia Lanpo (or Yusheng Jia, 1908–2001).


Universally reported as C. C. Young in the literature.


With P. Teilhard de Chardin. “On Some Traces of Vertebrate Life in the Jurassic and Triassic Beds of Shansi and Shensi.” Bulletin of the Geological Society of China 8 (1929): 131–133.

“On Some New Dinosaurs from Western Suiyan, Inner Mongolia.” Bulletin of the Geological Society of China 2 (1931): 259–266.

“On a New Nodosaurid Dinosaur from Ningshia.” Palaeontologia Sinica Series C, 11 (1935): 1–33.

“A New Dinosaurian from Sinkiang.” Palaeontologia Sinica Series C, 105 (1937): 1–23.

“A Complete Osteology of Lufengosaurus huenei Young (gen. et sp. nov.).” Palaeontologia Sinica Series C, 7 (1941a): 1–53.

Gyposaurus sinensis (sp. nov.), a New Prosauropoda from the Upper Triassic Beds at Lufeng, Yunnan.” Bulletin of the Geological Society of China 21 (1941b): 205–252.

Yunnanosaurus huangi Young (gen. et sp. nov.), a new Prosauropoda from the Red Beds of Lufeng, Yunnan.” Bulletin of the Geological Society of China 22 (1942): 63–104.

With Min-chen. Chow. “New Fossil Reptiles from Szechuan, China.” Acta Scientia Sinica 2 (1953): 216–243.

With A. L. Sun. “Note on a Fragmentary Carnosaurian Mandible from Turfan, Sinkiang.” Vertebrata Palasiatica 1 (1957): 159–162.

“The Dinosaurian Remains of Laiyang, Shantung.” Palaeontologia Sinica Series C, 16 (1958): 1–138.

“Fossil Eggs from Nanhsiung, Kwangtung, and Kanchou, Kiangsi.” Vertebrata Palasiatica 9 (1965): 141–170.

With Xijing Zhao. “Mamenchisaurus hochuanensis.” Memoires of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, Academia Sinica 8 (1972): 1–30.

Selected Works of Yang Zhongjiang (C. C. Young). Beijing: Science Press, 1982.


Etler, Dennis A. “Jia Lanpo (1908–2001).” American Anthropologist 104, no. 1 (2002): 297–299.

Jia Lanpo and Huang Weiwen. The Story of Peking Man: From Archaeology to Mystery. Translated by Yin Zhiqi. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press; Hong Kong: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Olsen, John W. “A Tribute to Jia Lanpo (1908–2001).” Asian Perspectives: The Journal of Archeology for Asia and the Pacific 43, no. 2 (Fall 2004): 191–196.

David Norman