China’s first prodigy who left home: Where did the geniuses of the youth class go?

China's first prodigy who left home: Where did the geniuses of the youth class go?

In 1977, Fang Yi, vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, received a letter of recommendation that read.

“The reason why I am writing this letter is to select a virtuous person for the country, because I have never seen such an incredible child.”

The child mentioned in the letter was Ning Pu, who was 13 years old that year. Ning was able to recite more than 100 poems at the age of three, learn Chinese medicine at the age of six and identify herbs, learn astronomy at the age of nine and know how to observe the stars, and have extraordinary comprehension and never forget. He was called “China’s No. 1 prodigy” and was chartered to receive an extraordinary education, joining the junior class of the China University of Science and Technology, which was dedicated to “young geniuses” at the time.

There were two other “prodigies” in the same class as Ning, one named Ganzheng and the other Xie Yanbo. Gan Zheng was good at mathematics, and Xie Yanbo had a specialty in physics.

People had high hopes for the three prodigies. However, after more than 40 years, the three did not fulfill people’s expectations.


In 1974, Li Zhengdao, a theoretical physicist, had a night meeting with Zhou Enlai in Zhongnanhai, and he made a suggestion: “Science talents, too, can be cultivated from childhood, just like literature and sports.”

Starting in 1978, famous teachers from the north and the south searched for “gifted youngsters”, enrolling them nationwide, conducting examinations, and then conducting individual interviews to try to find children who were intellectually exceptional.

Ning Bo was the first student in the Junior Class at CSU.

China's first prodigy who left home: Where did the geniuses of the youth class go?

< Junior Ning-Po >

The teacher examined Ning Bo’s knowledge of mathematics, Chinese medicine, astronomy and other aspects, and finally played three games of Go with Ning Bo, losing two games. The teacher thought that Ning was a genius and asked him to write a poem on the spot, which he finished within 20 minutes, with great literary talent and pride.

The first two lines of the poem read, “I am sighing with despair that I have nowhere to go, but I am not waiting for this day to hear about Mingzhao.”

The last two lines read, “The nine heavens are waiting for the day, why see the clown Nai Ho Bridge.”

In 1978, Vice Academician Fang Yi met with Ning Bo and played two games of Go with him on the spot, and Ning Bo won all of them. The picture of the game was once on the front page of the newspaper.

China's first prodigy who left home: Where did the geniuses of the youth class go?

< Ning and Fang Yi

Soon, Ning was awarded the title of “China’s first prodigy”, and his reports were flying around. Everyone knew that a young genius had emerged from Jiangxi, and that CSU was looking for a “genius”. At one time, people all over the country enthusiastically participated in this powerful screening, parents enrolled their children, teachers and friends also competed for recommendations.

Ning’s fame multiplied the pressure on young children all over the country, and their parents often pointed to Ning’s picture in the newspaper and said, “Look at Ning, and look at you.”

In the year Ning Pt was approved for admission, Anhui 13-year-old Ganzheng saw his story and thought he could do it, so he signed up for the written exam. After passing the written test, the examiner personally went south for another interview and posed this question to Ganzheng: “A watermelon, cut horizontally and vertically, how many watermelon rinds are there after eating?”

Ganzheng did not think twice to answer: “4 pieces.”

This is a mathematical problem, the more times the watermelon is cut, the more difficult the oral calculation, the number keeps increasing, and finally Ganzheng wrote a formula directly to the teacher.


The examiner knew he had found another genius.

The first admissions, CSU examiners nationwide network of 27 talented young people, the youngest of which is named Xie Yanbo, only 11 years old, just in the fifth grade.

Xie Yanbo finished junior high school mathematics in the third grade, and knew how to do analytic geometry and calculus in the fifth grade. 1977 he participated in the Changsha City Mathematics Competition and won the winning prize, and in the same year he did the Hunan Provincial Higher Education Examination questions and came up with all the correct answers in less than an hour.

Soon, Ning, Ganzheng and Xie Yanbo entered the same class, which was the first “Junior Class” of CSU. The oldest child in the class was 15 years old, and the youngest was 11 years old, with an average age of about 14. Such an age to enter the university to study intensively has never been seen in any country.


But before the results came out, the problems came out first.

The children in the junior class were so young that the class teacher, Wang Huidi, had to supervise their studies and cook eggs and milk for them in the morning. In the evening, she checks on them and turns off the lights for them.

Ning’s performance also began to cause concern. Before going north to the junior class, Ni Lin, the teacher who recommended him, expressed two points to Ning.

You are being held too high, like you are in the sky, so I hope you can wake up and realize that.

Unlike other kids, you are precocious and have a serious tendency to fall in love early.

But Ning put all these warnings behind him. Zhang Shuxin, a classmate, said, “It was obvious then that he was interested in girls.” But in reality, Ning was too young and not tall enough to be attractive to girls. He was also not good at communicating with people, and often tensed up when talking to girls, and would only say.

“I’m Ning Bo ah.”

During his studies at CSU, mathematician Zhang Guanghou came to the school to give a presentation, and all the children went to get his autograph, but Ning Bo did not go because Zhang Guanghou did not know Ning Bo, who was very angry. The teacher advised him not to do so, but Ningpo didn’t listen at all.

Ning was really smart, he was good at playing Go, he also played cards well, and he even joined the poetry club, and some of his classmates idolized him.

However, Ning’s academic performance in school was not outstanding, and he failed more subjects than the average students.

Ning-Po was not interested in the subjects offered by the Junior Class at CSU, and a year after enrolling, Ning-Po told his class teacher, Wang Huidi, “There is nothing I like in the departments at CSU.” At that time, members of the junior class were expected to study “theoretical physics” by default, and Ning was no exception. Ning wanted to transfer to Nanjing University to study astronomy, but his application was rejected by the University with the following six words.

“If you’re here, you’re here.”

A leader of the university called him home and said, “KU takes you very seriously. You were recruited into the Junior Class specifically to train you; you are a good boy who knows how to behave, and a role model for children and teenagers nationwide, behave!”

China's first prodigy who left home: Where did the geniuses of the youth class go?

< Ning Bo in Junior Class >

Unlike Ning, Ganzheng and Xie Yanbo excelled in their academic performance.

Ganzheng was only 13 years old when he enrolled in the class, but compared to Ning’s “rebellion”, Ganzheng was determined to study hard. When the teacher was going to teach the lesson of “special functions”, he did the pre-reading in advance during the winter holidays. He read the book every day, organized his notes, then did the exercises, and went back to read the important reference books related to the class content again. Qianzheng did particularly well in theoretical physics, getting 145 out of 150 on Quantum Mechanics.

Eleven-year-old Xie Yanbo is even smarter. He learns things very fast, other students have to take notes after class, he does not write a word, others have to hand in homework, he does not even look at it. There was a thermodynamics statistics exam, other students in the junior class studied for five days, Xie Yanbo did not read a page of the book, and finally scored 98 points. Others asked how he did it, Xie Yanbo said, “I listened carefully in class.”

China's first prodigy who left home: Where did the geniuses of the youth class go?

< Xie Yanbo >

On the opening day of school, Xie Yanbo was playing with an iron ring, and he rolled it around as he stepped into school.


After his application for transfer was rejected, Ning began to lose focus, spending little time on theoretical physics and almost all of his time on his “hobby”. After his desire to study astronomy was defeated, Ning became interested in “astrology” and even became obsessed with religion and qigong.

Ning’s performance in school was mediocre, but the media did not lessen his reputation, and he remained a living sign for admission to the junior class.

Reporters called him a prodigy, and some even asked Ning to make a poem within seven steps.

One day, Ning, who was sulking at CSU, met Ni Lin, the teacher who had recommended him for the Junior Class, and Ning said to him.

“I am like a lamb on the altar, and in order to pray for blessings, I have to be killed.”

After graduating from his undergraduate program, Ning was retained by CSU as an assistant professor, and the media headlines once again went to Ning: “Chinese prodigy, youngest assistant professor in the country.” Ning was 19 years old that year.

In the following years, he tried to enter graduate school three times, but each time he enrolled and was afraid to go. Because if he did not pass the exam, the media would surely report it, Ning did not dare to take the exam.

From 1989 to 1991, Ning took the TOEFL exam for three consecutive years to go abroad, but his English was not excellent and he failed all three times.

China's first prodigy who left home: Where did the geniuses of the youth class go?

Ning Pt. married his admirer Cheng Luhua and lived in a small house allocated to him by his unit. He became increasingly obsessed with religion, became a vegetarian, or studied philosophical issues, and became increasingly distant from normal life.

In 1993, Ning tried to “escape” several times, and after a fight with his wife, he simply went south to do business, as far as Hainan. In 2002, Ning ran away to Wutai Mountain to become a monk again, only to be picked up again by the University of Science and Technology.

Ning wrote to his teacher Ni Lin, who recommended him, “I am a live fish, and I was sold by the fall.”

Compared with Ning, Xie Yanbo and Ganzheng stayed in school and integrated into the atmosphere of the “Junior Class”, but they had other problems.

China's first prodigy who left home: Where did the geniuses of the youth class go?

< Group photo of some students of the first junior class >

Until graduation, Xie Yanbo’s grades were excellent. But class teacher Wang Huidi saw his weakness: “The lesson of interpersonal relationship, the lesson of mental health, the whole class of children fell behind, and his problem was especially serious.”

In 1982, at the age of 15, Xie Yanbo graduated from college a year early. He studied for his master’s degree at the Institute of Theoretical Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and at the age of 18, he studied for his doctorate under the vice president of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, but he did not get his doctorate because of poor relations with his supervisor.

In order to study, Yanbo Xie moved to Princeton University in the United States to study with Nobel Prize winner Philip Anderson, but Yanbo Xie was too proud of his character and did not get along with Anderson.

Xie Yanbo explained, “My thesis did not please him, and it was wrong to write about his theory.”

Before the relationship between Yanbo Xie and his mentor could be eased, the sensational incident of a Peking University student killing an American professor occurred, and a vice president of CSU decided to send Yanbo Xie back to China urgently. It was previously rumored that Xie Yanbo had threatened Anderson with a pistol, and a reporter asked Xie Yanbo for confirmation, which Xie denied: “I didn’t.”

The same dry politics at Princeton University to study theoretical physics, but also because of disagreement with the mentor and returned to China. After he returned to China, he was invited by CSU to continue his doctoral studies at the university, but Ganzheng refused. He thought it was a waste of time to pursue a PhD and that he could not possibly find a job with his skills.

But the fact is, Ganzheng couldn’t find something to do for several years. He applied to CSU to return to the university to stay in teaching, but was rejected by CSU because the minimum education requirement for teachers in the university at that time was a Ph.


In 1998, the “No. 1 prodigy,” Ning Bo, appeared on a talk show on CCTV, in which he fiercely attacked “prodigy education.

China's first prodigy who left home: Where did the geniuses of the youth class go?

Ning was the only student in the “Junior Class” who openly spoke out against “prodigy education”, but the program did not cause much of a stir, and 20 years later, people no longer care about prodigies and no longer know Ning.

The year after Ning was found by CSU, he went to the temple again, and this time he succeeded.

Ning Pu’s father, Ning Enzhien, was very puzzled by his son’s approach, insisting, “Ning Pu is still studying, he is not finished yet, and I believe he will come back one day.”

Ning Pu himself said.

“Even my parents are more willing to accept the genius Ning-Po that the media portrayed.”

To escape reality, his father, Ning Enzhi, left Jiangxi Ganzhou with his family because he felt that Ning’s “fall” had brought shame on the whole family.

“Now it’s not that I can’t hold my head up, it’s that our whole family can’t hold theirs up.”

His wife, Cheng Luhua, also divorced Ning, and when interviewed by reporters, she was reluctant to answer positively, saying only: “Don’t mention what has passed.”

At the same time, back home several times employment frustrated Ganzheng, neither to continue further studies, nor find a suitable job. He and his mother live in an old neighborhood near the east side of CSU, and he wanted to go back to work at CSU, but this wish could not be realized.

Junior class reunion had invited Ganzheng, he refused. Reporters wanted to interview him in person, he also refused. His message on the phone about himself was only one sentence.

“My life is like this every day, no work, very monotonous, there is nothing to say.”

There was no more news from Ganzheng after that.

Xie Yanbo was also on a downward spiral. Once Ning Bo met his mentor, who said, “This kid is a bit dumb and rigid in the head.”

Ning retorted, “How can he be stupid?”

When Ning met Xie Yanbo again, he found that Xie Yanbo had indeed “developed bad habits.”

“Maybe he was too intoxicated by the kind of thing he learned when he was a kid.”

After completing his doctoral studies, Xie Yanbo returned to school as an associate professor and studied theoretical physics for more than 20 years, but in middle age, he suddenly had doubts about his lifelong scientific career.

China's first prodigy who left home: Where did the geniuses of the youth class go?

< Xie Yanbo >

Xie Yanbo began to doubt the whole scientific system, suspecting that all is a hoax, and he even wanted to make natural science disintegrate through his own efforts.

When the reporter interviewed him, Xie Yanbo said, “I want to fight (fight) them.” And who exactly “they” refers to, no one knows.


In 1978, the year of reform and opening up, Guo Moruo delivered a speech at the closing ceremony of the National Science Conference: “This is the spring of revolution, this is the spring of the people, this is the spring of science! Let’s open our arms and warmly embrace this spring!”

The whole country was shouting a slogan: “Produce talents early, produce talents quickly.”

The “Junior Class” was born in such a background, and Ning Bo, Ganzheng and Xie Yanbo were the three children selected as typical propaganda.

After 1978, the junior class of CSU has been enrolled, but from the fifth session onwards, there is no longer a separate examiner interview for merit admission. All candidate children still had to take the college entrance examination and then be selected from among the high scorers.

In fact, the junior class has also produced very many talents, such as Guo Yuanlin, who was the president of Tsinghua Ziguang, and Zhang Yaqin, the president of Microsoft Global and the president of Baidu, who also graduated from the first CUSTOM Junior Class and were in the same class with Ning Pt. 3.

But fortunately, no one called them “prodigies”. They hid behind the halo of the three, and their only task seemed to be to study well and grow freely.

In the midst of the overwhelming publicity of those years, Ganzheng and Xie Yanbo tried to look like “prodigies,” but in the end they both failed.

The only one who has drawn a clear line with the past is probably Ning Bo. He has been preparing for his escape for more than 20 years.

When he was still a student at CSU, Ning liked to roller-skate on the basketball court, wander around in Prosperity Park, and take photographs in Hefei City, where he liked to go with his friends to take pictures and have fun all day.

China's first prodigy who left home: Where did the geniuses of the youth class go?

< Ning Pt. of Photography >

After CSU rejected Ning Bo’s application to transfer to another school, Ning Bo and his friend said, “Why can’t I be a normal person?”

The teacher listened, but said: “Why don’t you, Ning Pu, go to graduate school and do research? How are you willing to be an ordinary person?”

Ning asked in return, “Why can’t I be an ordinary person? I just want to have fun.”

When Phoenix TV tried to contact Ning in 2005, he said he had become a monk and did not want to talk much about his teenage years. Three years later, he returned to the monastic world and became a teacher at a Buddhist college, and ten years later he obtained a counseling license and wanted to help confused teenage children.

When a reporter went to interview him, Pt. Ning refused an interview, but returned a text message.

“Thank you for your concern, it’s not bad, you can do what you willingly do.”

Two years ago, Ning went to visit an old friend, several people had dinner and sang karaoke. the friend said Ning was still so warm and righteous, and everyone had a very happy and enjoyable time that day.

Some references.

[1] “University of Science and Technology of China: Junior Class Newsletter”, Si Youhe

[2] The Cradle of Science and Technology “Prodigy”, Zhu Yuan, Qin Yufang

[3] “Eastern Prodigy Wave: A Perspective on Gifted Education in Contemporary China

[4] “Ning Bo: The Long Gone Teenage Genius”, Southerners Weekly

[5] “Born Young: A Closer Look at China’s Prodigies”, Phoenix TV

[6] “Where the most dazzling prodigy of the youth class returned 26 years ago”, Southern Weekend

[7] “In Search of the Prodigy of the Past”, Southern Weekend

[8] “My parents also prefer to believe in the media’s genius Ning Bo”, Sanlian Life Weekly

This article is from WeChat public number: Past Forked (ID: wschashao), author: Forked Less

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