Yin Zanxun

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(Yin Tsan Hsun)

(b. Dashi Village, Pingxiang, Hebei Province, China, 2 February 1902;

d. Beijing, China, 27 January 1984), geology, stratigraphy, and paleontology; educator in geology.

Yin Zanxun was one of the most conspicuous among the outstanding geologists who initiated modern geological studies in China in the 1920s and 1930s. A veteran stratigrapher and paleontologist, he took an interest in a broad range of earth sciences. He contributed greatly to China’s geological undertakings, both in academic research and administration. Yin was director of the Geological Survey of China ( dizhi diaochasuo) and chaired the section of Earth Science of the Chinese Academy of Sciences ( zhongguo kexueyuan dixue) for many years. He was always at the leading edge of Earth science, focusing on its fundamental aspects. He worked assiduously to promote the drafting and improvement of the Chinese stratigraphic code in order to regulate and standardize stratigraphical work in China. He introduced plate tectonics theory to China in the 1970s.

Yin Zanxun grew up in an intellectual family. His father was a middle school teacher and had once been a county magistrate in Hebei Province; his mother was a housewife taking care of three children, Yin being the youngest. As a boy he was first educated i a private school and then entered the Yude middle school in Baoding, Hebei Province. After graduation he studied at Peking University from 1919 to 1923, majoring first in Chinese literature and then in philosophy. In 1923 he went to France and studied geology at the University of Lyon. He received his doctorate in geology there in 1931.

Soon after his return to China in the 1930s, Yin began his work on the Geological Survey of China in Peiping (now Beijing). He published altogether more than 150 papers and monographs, covering many disciplines in geology. His main interests were in stratigraphy and paleontology, especially in the Paleozoic, Triassic, and Quaternary eras and in graptolites and mollusk faunas. But most of his research concentrated on the Silurian period of China, including biostratigraphy, lithostratigraphy, paleogeography, tectonic frame, and worldwide correlation of the stratigraphic system in China. During the years from 1931 to 1935, he published several monographs and many papers on the Permo-Carboniferous and Triassic mollusks and the Late Paleozoic ammonoids (ammonites). He was also the first geologist to report on the icnogenus Cruziana and coprolites in China.

Yin was a leading member of the Chinese Commission on Quaternary studies. In that capacity he contributed much to the excavation of Quaternary fossil mammals in northeastern China, the study of Quaternary volcanoes in Shanxi, and the examination of the Yunshui caves near Peiping in the early 1930s.

In 1936 Yin took the post as director of the Geological Survey of Jiangxi Province and in 1940 became the acting director of the Geological Survey of China. Under extremely difficult conditions during the war years (1937– 1945) he was able to organize and complete seven sheets of the 1:200,000 series of geological maps of China’s extensive and remote regions in the northwest and southwest.

After the founding of People’s Republic of China in 1949, Yin was appointed first deputy chairman of the All-China Planning and Guiding Commission of Geological Undertakings (zhongguo dizhigongzuo jihuazhidao weiyuanhui), in charge of geological education. As the main organizer, he became vice president of the Beijing College of Geology, one of the mono-disciplinary colleges established in imitation of the Soviet system. During the four years of his tenure from 1952 and 1956, Yin did his best to set up and improve the overall administration and teaching staff of the college and made great contributions in providing tens of thousands of graduates in geology that were urgently needed for the economic development of the country.

Yin was always concerned with the fundamental problems and documents of stratigraphy. His Zhongguo quyu dicengbiao cao’an (1956; Regional stratigraphic tables of China) was awarded National Natural Science Prize by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. As vice president of the All-China Stratigraphic Commission, he organized the compilation of regional stratigraphic correlation charts and Zhongguo dicengdian:VII shitanxi (1966; Stratigraphic lexicon of China: VII Carboniferous system) in the 1950s and 1960s. He was the leading organizer of the First and Second All-China Stratigraphic Congresses in 1959 and 1979, after which his Zhongguo diceng guifan (cao’an) (1961; Stratigraphic code of China) and Zhongguo diceng zhinan ji diceng zhinan shuomingshu (1981; Stratigraphic Guide of China) were published. The Stratigraphic Code mainly followed the Soviet code, and the Stratigraphic Guide adopted the multiple stratigraphical classification of Heidelberg (1976). Both were successful in standardizing and enhancing the overall efficiency of stratigraphical work in China. Furthermore, after both congresses, he helped issue systematic summaries consisting of serial publications of fossil faunas in different classes and stratigraphy in different periods.

In the meantime, Yin had also contributed much by introducing and promoting new geological ideas. These included the new global tectonics—the plate tectonics theory and the idea of paleontologic clock. These ideas advanced the overall modernization and progress of geological science in China.

As a result of his great effort over the preceding twenty years in geological undertakings and his great attainments in stratigraphy and paleontology, he was awarded the fourth Ding Wenjiang Prize from the Geological Society of China in 1946. The Chinese Academy of Sciences elected Yin a member in 1955. He became director of the Earth Sciences Division in 1957, a post he held for over twenty-five years. He was elected president of the Geological Society of China and of the Paleontological Society of China (zhongguo gushengwu xuehui) several times.

Yin was married and had two daughters and one son. The elder daughter, Professor Yin Wenying an entomologist, is a member of Chinese Academy of Science. She works for the Institute of Entomology in Shanghai. Yin died of leukemia on 27 January 1984, six days before his eighty-second birthday.



“Étude de la faune du Tithonique coralligene du Gard et de e’Herault” (The research on the fauna of Tithonian stage from Gard and Herault provinces). In Travaux du Laboratorire de geologie Université Lyon. Fascicule 17. 1931.

“Gastropoda of the Penchi and Taiyuan Series of North China.” Paleontologia Sinica, series B, 11, no. 2 (1932): 1–53.

“Upper Paleozoic Ammonoids of China.” Paleontologia Sinica, series B, 11, no. 4 (1935): 1–49.

“Brief Description of the Ordovician and Silurian Fossils from Shitien.”Bulletin of the Geological Society of China 16 (1937): 281–302.

“A New Staurea from Kueichou.” Bulletin of the Geological Society of China 24 (1944): 15–20.

With A. T. Mu. “Lower Silurian Graptolites from Tongzi.” Bulletin of Geological Society of China 25 (1945): 211–219.

“Tentative Classification and Correlation of Silurian Rocks of South China.” Bulletin of the Geological Society of China 29 (1949): 1–61.

Zhongguo quyu dicengbiao cao’an (Regional stratigraphic tables of China). Beijing: Science Press, 1956.

“Diceng guifan cao’an shuomingshu” (Explanatory notes on stratigraphic code of China). In Zhonguo diceng guifan (cao’an)ji zhongguo diceng guifan (cao’an) shuomingshu(Stratigraphic code and its explanation). Beijing: Science Press, 1960.

With Chow Min-Chen and Hsu Jen. “Progress of Paleontology in China.” Nature 205 (1965): 646–649.

“China in the Silurian Period.” Journal of Geological Society of Australia 13 (1966): 277–297.

With Chen Jingshi, Zhang Shouxin, Luo Jinding, et al. “The Stratigraphic lexicon of China. VII. Carboniferous system.” (zhongguo dicengdian: VII shitanxi.) Beijing: Science Press, 1966.


Shangfeng, Yi. “Yin Zanxun.” In Zhongguo dabaikequanshu: Dizhixue juan (Chinese encyclopedia: Geology volume). Beijing: Chinese Encyclopedia Press, 1993.

Tungsheng, Liu. “Yin Zanxun jiaoshou yu zhongguo de disiji yanjiu” (Professor Yin Zanxun and the Quaternary research in China). Quaternary Sciences no. 2 (1994): 106–112.

You Zhendong