My memory of Prof. J. A. Kong
by Professor Min Chen, Physics
J. A. excels not only in Sciences but also in literatures. Over one dinner
together he tested me "Who vividly described the evidence, that the Earth
is round, first?" After a while he told me "It was Li Bei, the famous
poet 1600 years ago, in his poem describing the scenery at the Yang-zi river:
“There was a single boat with only its sail visible at where the river meets
the sky". J. A. made many such deep and unique observations while reading
For 3 decades J. A. and I have shared neighboring classrooms at MIT. Many
of my students, undergrads and graduates, end up in his research group. We
collaborated on the LH Optical material for Cherenkov Radiation. J. A. started
an experiment at Zhi-Jiang Univ at Hang-zhou, China and at last Thanksgiving
dinner traditionally at his home, he introduced to me several scholars from
that Univ and arranged for me to visit them in Jan 2008. As I learned only
recently, J. A. usually arranged with the Univ. to finish a full semester’s
course in 3 weeks. The material he teaches fascinates students and the manner
he delivers it is like gentle spring breeze and penetrating rains.
A few years back, one day J. A. told me "We must not pass away quietly
as we age. We must continue to contribute greatly to the society." His
words reminded me of the story of a general Ma 2000 years ago, who once said
”A soldier must not pass away quietly as he ages. A soldier should die in
the battle field with his returning corpse wrapped in leather carried on a
I last met J. A. at MIT on Feb 4, the first day of class this semester, just
before we entered into our neighboring classrooms. We exchanged experiences
and observations during our last trip to China. A few days later, his students
told me that J. A. was resting at home for a cold. I could not believe my
ears when Mrs. Kong telephoned to inform me that J. A. passed away on March
12, which is the Tree-Planting festival in China, to honor the Founding Father
of the Republic, Dr. Sun Yi Xian who also worked from the roots to make a
For many days, I kept on asking myself "Why would the younger, the more
useful, the more active and the more creative pass away earlier?" Oh,
I could only console myself by reciting what was said for the 3 famous English
poets Byron, Keats and Shirley, "Those whom God loves pass away first".
Poet Byron wrote for his own tombstone in the Westminster at London something
like the following:
My life shall soon vanish following my dying body.
My heart protests unfairness:
Why should I have made such a trip to this world in vain?
Only my poetry will be immortal ............."
J. A. will be immortal not only for his contribution in Sciences, but also
for his unique observation on literatures and philosophy as well as his devoted
attitude toward education. J. A. did not leave us. He lives forever in the
minds of all of his family members, friends and students.
I like to summarize the outstanding status of J. A. using this large painting
hanging on my right side. On the left side of the painting my wife wrote a
poem consisting of 18 Chinese characters, which says:
The spirit of J. A. is like the magnificent mountains, penetrating the clouds
to reach for the sky;
The talent and knowledge of J. A. is like the waterfalls flying through the
mists to flow long distance to nourish the people of the world.
Reading horizontally, the first two words of the two sentences in the poem
together mean “The greatest genius”.
J. A., as one of the most outstanding scholar in the country will be immortal.
The painting also shows that there is a group of people admiring the scenery
of the mountains and the waterfalls. They symbolize us and the rest of the
Min Chen, 3/22/2008
Back to Kong's Memory Page.