Honours list: Damehood for Huddersfield professor who taught herself in Mao’s China

Prof Xiangqian (Jane) Jiang with Sir Patrick Stewart, former Chancellor of Huddersfield University, who presented her with the award of Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2012.
Prof Xiangqian (Jane) Jiang with Sir Patrick Stewart, former Chancellor of Huddersfield University, who presented her with the award of Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2012.
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IT IS a remarkable journey that has taken her from home schooling in Mao’s China to the halls of academe in West Yorkshire. But nothing could have prepared her for being named a Dame of the British Empire.

Professor Xiangqian Jiang, known to her colleagues at Huddersfield University as Jane, could only giggle when asked if she had been surprised by the honour.

“It’s going to take some time to get used to,” she said.

Prof Jiang, 62, was recognised for her global reputation in metrology, the science of measurement, and her contribution to British engineering and advanced manufacturing.

It is a career she did not dare imagine when, at 15, she was taken out of school and sent to work as on an assembly line, during China’s cultural revolution. Her parents had been doctors in Shanghai, but lost their home and careers.

Prof Jiang resigned herself to manual work for two decades but despite repeated refusals by the authorities, never gave up on her ambition to become a scientist.

She taught herself at night school, studying for up to five hours every evening to become proficient in engineering, maths and science, until she was finally able to go to university.

She came to Britain at 38, working as a research engineer at Birmingham University, before relocating in 1998 to Huddersfield, which became home to the Centre for Precision Technologies. In 2003 she was appointed a professor and 10 years ago, she was ranked among the most influential women of Chinese origin in the world.

Huddersfield’s vice-chancellor, Prof Bob Cryan, said she was “a wonderful role model” as one of only a small number of female engineering professors in the UK.

“From very humble and challenging beginnings, Jane has carved out an outstanding academic career that places her amongst the top engineers within the UK and indeed the world,” he said.