Why are there no Han Chinese Fields Medalists?

IQ by country

I am specifically referring to Han Chinese from the People’s Republic of China (hereafter simply called “China,”) but wanted to keep the title to a reasonable length.

There are about a billion Han Chinese. They make up about 90% of the PRC, and they have some of the highest average IQs on the planet, with particularly good math scores.

Of the 56 Fields Medals (essentially, the Nobel for Math) awarded since 1936, 12 (21%) have been French. 14 or 15 have been Jewish, or 25%-27%.

By contrast, 0 have been Han Chinese from China itself.

France is a country of 67.15 million people, of whom about 51 million are native French. The world has about 14-17.5 million Jews. China has about 1.37 billion people, of whom 91.51% are Han, or about 1.25 billion.

Two relatively Chinese people have won Fields medals:

Shing-Tung Yau was born in China, but is of Hakka ancestry (the Hakka are an Asian “market-dominant minority,”) not Han. His parents moved to Hong Kong when he was a baby; after graduating from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, he moved to the US, where he received his PhD from Berkley. Yau was a citizen of British-owned Hong Kong (not the People’s Republic of China), when he won the Fields Medal, in 1982; today he holds American citizenship.

Terence Tao, the 2006 recipient, is probably Han (Wikipedia does not list his ethnicity.) His father hailed from Shanghai, China, but moved to Hong Kong, where he graduated from medical school and met Tao’s mother, another Hong Kong-ian. Tao himself was born in Australia and later moved to the US. (Tao appears to be a dual Australian-American citizen.)

(With only 7.4 million people, Hong Kong is doing pretty well for itself in terms of Fields Medalists with some form of HK ancestry or citizenship.)

Since not many Fields Medals have been awarded, it is understandable why the citizens of small countries, even very bright ones, like Singapore, might not have any. It’s also understandable why top talent often migrates to places like Hong Kong, Australia, or the US. But China is a huge country with a massive pool of incredibly smart people–just look at Shanghai’s PISA scores. Surely Beijing has at least a dozen universities filled with math geniuses.

So where are they?

Is it a matter of funding? Has China chosen to funnel its best mathematicians into applied work? A matter of translation? Does the Fields Medal Committee have trouble reading papers written in Chinese? A matter of time? Did China’s citizens simply spent too much of the of the past century struggling at the edge of starvation to send a bunch of kids off to university to study math, and only recently achieved the level of mass prosperity necessary to start on the Fields path?

Whatever the causes of current under-representation, I have no doubt the next century will show an explosion in Han Chinese mathematical accomplishments.

19 thoughts on “Why are there no Han Chinese Fields Medalists?

  1. Wonder how much higher math requires high [V]erbal in addition to high [M]ath and [S]patial intelligence?

    Hopefully the Han can help us explore more spatial areas in math that may be underdeveloped.


  2. It is a good question. Even accounting for communism’s awful effect, it seems like there are so many Chinese that they’d do better.

    I agree with your prediction though. Even though apparently in times past the Chinese government did something to suppress its top mathematicians, that time is over, and PRC has every incentive now to go the other way. Just as the Russians attempted to compete with the less socialist West in domains they could do well in — “amateur” sports, chess, ballet, etc. — so I expect the PRC will too, and math is a domain they should crush in.

    BTW, reading the wiki on Hakka suggests that they are basically Han. So I think Shing-Tung Yau should count.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I did once read that East Asian IQ declines faster then European IQ. And that by the age of 30 their IQ is around 100.

    Do you know anything about this?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So, Hakka are Han Chinese, just not Mandarin speakers. Cantonese and Shanghaiese are also Han. Non-Han would be, for example, Uighers, Tibetans, Mongolians, and various tribal people in southern China who don’t speak Chinese “dialects” but rather mostly speak languages related to Thai and Laotian.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There are pretty good Han mathematicians. SS Chern and Hua Luo Gen and a small number of others. Not Fields Medalist but not far behind. And then they all got educated before 1949. From 1949 up to 1979 it was a big disaster. There were still some good ones but they got their college edu from before 1957. After that year, and up to 1979 the college edu in China was a complete disaster. That is the major reason. You know, it’s not that just gene matters, the other stuff, politics, war etc also matter.

    After 1980, the college edu gradually becomes normal. So, if within next twenty years, there’re still no Han/China Fields Medalist, then your question becomes more valid.


    • You need good teachers, books in Chinese (for kids) etc, so it’s not just 40 years, you have to give it something like 60 years. I remeber when I went to college I have to learn Linear Algebra from a small number of books and nowadays comparing the quality of the books to the springer UTM books, some of the UTM books (on lin alg) are way better…


  6. Please remove this disproven post as Shing-tung Yau has won the fields medal, it makes you look like a stupid and uneducated redneck peasant


      • I think there’s an interesting contrast to be drawn between the Hakka, the Parsis, and the Ashkenazi Jews. They’re all basically intrusive mercantile minority groups in different regions (China / India / Europe).

        Hakka public relations emphasizes that the Hakka are themselves Han, just like you (a figurative “you”). This is accepted by the Chinese mainstream. But see also the Hakka-Punti war, which as I understand things was occasioned by the Hakka’s massive reproductive success pushing (some of) them out of their traditional mercantile role, which was accepted but couldn’t support an infinite number of Hakka, and into agriculture, which could support a near-infinite number of Hakka, but which was an economic role already occupied by locals who were willing to defend their turf.

        Parsi public relations traditionally emphasizes that although the Parsis are an intrusive group, they are helpful and inoffensive. The myth exemplifying this idea is “the sugar in the milk”, about the Parsis’ reception by a hostile king when they first arrived. (Summary: a clever Parsi got the king to agree that a glass of milk was already “full”, then stirred sugar into the milk. The Parsis promised to be like the sugar in the milk, existing without taking space from anyone else, but making life sweeter.)

        Jewish public relations is traditionally awful, and might range between “leave us alone” and “look, you hate us and we hate you, but you need us”. This caused problems when, like the Hakka, they reproduced beyond the carrying capacity of their traditional economic niche.

        All three models “worked”, but some appear to work better.

        Liked by 1 person

      • But you left change the title unchanged you idiot. I would like to mention that Terence Tao won the fields medal too for your info.


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