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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 May 2006

Mathematical Institute, 24–29 St Giles, Oxford, OX1 3LB, United Kingdom


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Shiing-Shen Chern was born on October 26th, 1911 in Jia Xin, Chekiang Province, in China. His father practised law and worked for the government. At Fu Luen Middle School in Tsientsin he first showed his mathematical ability by doing all the exercises in classical English textbooks on algebra and trigonometry, and then went at the age of fifteen to Nankai University — a one-man Department run by Li-Fu Chiang, a student of Coolidge. As a result he studied a great deal of geometry, reading Coolidge, Salmon, Castelnuovo and Staude. He then became a postgraduate in 1930 at Tsinghua University in Beijing (or Peiping as it was then called) and came under the influence of Dan Sun, one of the few mathematicians in China writing research papers. During this period he became seriously interested in Sun's subject, projective differential geometry, and studied in detail the works of Wilhelm Blaschke. It was also at Tsinghua that he met his wife Shih-Ning, the daughter of a professor. After Blaschke paid a visit to Tsinghua in 1932 and lectured on differential-geometric invariants, Chern won a fellowship to study with him in Hamburg for two years. In 1936 he received his DSc there for work on the theory of webs. While in Hamburg, he also attended the lectures of Kähler on what is now called Cartan–Kähler theory, and the following year he spent in Paris studying with Cartan himself.

© The London Mathematical Society 2006