US-China tensions, Huawei arrest played no part in death of renowned Stanford professor Zhang Shoucheng, family says

07-12-2018 06:12

The family of Professor Zhang Shoucheng denied Chinese social media rumours that his death was due to US-China tensions or the arrest of Huawei’s CFO

The renowned physicist died Saturday after a long battle with depression

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South China Morning Post

Friday, December 7, 2018

The family of Stanford professor Zhang Shoucheng, a world-renowned physicist and venture capitalist, denied speculation on Chinese social media that his death was connected to current tensions in US-China relations or the arrest of Huawei’s CFO in Canada on Saturday.

Zhang, a tenured professor of physics at Stanford University, was internationally recognised for his work in quantum science. He was also the founding partner of Danhua Capital, a Silicon Valley-based venture capital fund investing primarily in early-stage technologies.

Zhang died on Saturday, December 1 following a battle with depression, according to his family. He was 55.

Many rumours circulated on Chinese social media about his sudden demise, some trying to build links between his death to a possible US government investigation under Section 301 of US trade law into Zhang’s Danhua capital and even stretching to connect it to the arrest of Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou on the same day.

In a exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post, a representative of the family said “there is no truth to this uninformed speculation”.

”I would like to take the opportunity to refute speculation connecting Professor Zhang’s death and tensions in US-China relations or any other event. It is true Danhua was mentioned in a 301 report, but there was no investigation or any other activity as a result of this mention,” said the representative, who asked not to be identified.

In 2013, Zhang set up Danhua Capital, also known as Digital Horizon Capital, to focus on funding artificial intelligence, big data, robotics, and blockchain technology, among other things.

The California-based firm had raised capital of US$434.5 million in two funds, according to Crunchbase. Its major backers include the Zhongguancun Development Group, a Chinese state-owned company funded by the Beijing municipal government.

Danhua lists 113 US companies in its investment portfolio, most of which fall within emerging sectors such as biotech and artificial intelligence, which the US administration has identified as the Chinese government’s “strategic priorities”, according to a recent investigative report on China’s trade practises.

The representative from the family hoped “people will cease this unfounded and hurtful speculation. I mention this because the SCMP is a reputable newspaper and one people look to for authoritative accounts.”

The family appealed for the online rumours to stop. “The resulting misinformation only causes needless suffering for Professor Zhang’s family,” the representative said.

“While he was a public figure, beloved by his students and colleagues alike, the most appropriate way to honour his memory is to mourn his passing and to keep alive the special light of learning, research, and discovery that Professor Zhang brought while he was with us,” he added.

In an earlier email, Zhang’s family said that he had “passed away unexpectedly … after fighting a battle with depression”. They did not reveal the cause of death.

“As we face this devastating news, we are deeply grateful for the support and condolences that we have received,” they wrote. “We would ask, however, the public to respect our privacy as we grieve over this immense loss.”

Zhang was born in Shanghai in 1963 and attended the city’s Fudan University at the young age of 15. He went on to pursue a PhD in physics at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he trained under Nobel Physics Prize winner Yang Chen-ning.

Steven Kivelson, a fellow Stanford physics professor, described Zhang’s death as an “inconceivable loss”.

“Shoucheng has long been an intellectual leader in theoretical physics who is widely admired for his extraordinary creativity … as well as for his devotion to the many brilliant students and [post doctoral researchers] he has mentored,” he wrote in an email.

Zhang’s contribution to the quantum field earned the recognition of not only his peers but also of the Chinese government. In 2009, Zhang was hand-picked to be part of an expert panel for the state-run “Thousand Talents” programme that aims to attract overseas scientists.