© 2019 Zhang Family

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Chaofen Sun

Family friend

I feel greatly honored to speak as a family friend in the celebration of Shoucheng’s life. Our two families have been friends for three generations. Ping and I met Shoucheng for the first time in his office in 1994 when our long-time family friends, Barbara’s Aunt and Uncle from Shanghai, visited Stanford.

Over all these years, our two families got to know each other very well after we had moved to live on campus and frequently wined and dined in each other’s homes. We quickly recognized the Shoucheng had a discriminating palate and an uncompromising taste for good food. Once we found him mixing egg yolk with salad oil to make potato salad sauce. It takes a long time to do so right from the scratch by hand. Believe me it is a lot of hard work. I suggested mayonnaise. But Shoucheng said that “no, no, no. It tastes different!”

Our children became friends too when they were in different grades at Nixon Elementary. We had a lot of fun with our children together, visiting the Getty Museum, Disneyland, Sea World, etc. Once several families went horseback riding in Half Moon Bay. At the end of the fun-filled day, we were all relaxing in a beautiful bar right by the ocean. We were told then that was Shoucheng’s favorite spot, where he often went to read, to write, or to think deeply. Although I am not a physicist, I know that many theoretical physicists made important discoveries under the inspiration like falling apples, the dropping of cannon balls, …. I wonder if some of Shoucheng’s aha moments would have anything to do with the ocean waves in Half Moon Bay.

Not long ago, one evening Shoucheng put on surgical gloves to show us his newly acquired treasure, flipping through pages after pages of algorithms and equations in a rare copy of Isaac Newton’s 1st edition of Mathematical Principles in Natural Philosophy. His enthusiasm was highly infectious. I go to China a lot. When I suffer from jetlag, I watch TV. More than once, I was surprised to see Shoucheng on China’s national TV talking about his work. Even I did not understand a lot of it, I did understand him when he talked about concept of simplicity. His calling in life was straightforward: to create new knowledge like Newton.

He had a wide range of interest and was very serious about everything he was interested. Once I was talking about Chinese language to Stanford’s Chinese faculty club. I still remember when I said that the current Chinese script was more of an evolution from cursive script than of a political product, he would not let me off the hook until I presented enough evidence, including the beautiful calligraphy by Larry Law’s uncle, some of you may know he was Chief Justice in Chiang Kai-Shek’s government for many years.

Recently, Barbara shared with me some of Shoucheng’s notes. He had a most powerful and creative mind, studying, in the notes, the structures of human language from the perspective of an alien. As a professor in East Asian language and cultures, I have rarely seen anyone who could travel between cultures so well and so easily like him. He was truly a gift to our community, where the air of freedom blows. As we all gathered here today to celebrate Shoucheng’s extra-ordinary life, I wish him rest in peace on the hill of Half Moon Bay, forever with the ocean waves that he loved so much in his life!