William Su Ting: China’s forgotten palynologist

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Palynology is a relatively young science in China. It is accepted conventionally that the earliest papers are those by Jen Hsü, regarded as ‘the pioneer of palynology in China’, from 1950 onwards. This is clearly not so–geographer Su Ting (1913–2000) published an earlier paper on Chinese pollen grains in 1949, having included pollen-analytical research in a largely geomorphological doctoral thesis in 1937–the first PhD by a Chinese citizen at the University of Glasgow. Caught-up in the civil war between Communist and Nationalist forces, Ting had left China for the then British colony of Hong Kong in 1949 and arrived in Los Angeles in 1957 where he termed himself William Su Ting. In Los Angeles he conducted palynological and other research, initially with Daniel Axelrod, eventually retiring as Professor of Geography from California State University in 1979. Ting maintained a long correspondence with Gunnar Erdtman which informs this account along with additional archival and family material. Although Ting was the first Chinese palynologist to work in mainland China, an added element is represented by the Japanese workers Misaburo Shimakura and Genkei Masamune, who performed pollen-analytical investigations in Mainland China and Taiwan respectively in the early 1940s, when this territory was under Japanese control. Ting’s unpublished research on sites in Orkney and the Isle of Bute mark him as one of the UK’s pioneer workers in palynology. His North American publications reflect a willingness to grapple with issues as diverse as Quaternary and pre-Quaternary palaeoecology, pollen morphology, microscopy and statistics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)391-419
Number of pages29
Issue number3
Early online date24 Nov 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2021

Bibliographical note

For access to archives and permission to reproduce material we would like to thank Maria Asp and the Center for History of Science, Kungliga Vetenskapsakademien, Stockholm; Pia Ostensson and the Palynology € Laboratory, Naturhistoriska riksmuseet, Stockholm; Glasgow University
Library and Archives; Azalea Camacho and the John F. Kennedy Memorial Library of California State University, Los Angeles. Jamie Bowie (Aberdeen) is thanked for assistance with artwork. Individuals who have made enquiries on our behalf or who have provided valuable information include Elisabeth Grafstrom (Stockholm), Li Tang and Marie Janson PALYNOLOGY 25
(Cambridge), Lorna Philip (Aberdeen), Catriona Perry (Glasgow), Keyi Hu
and Chunmei Ma (Nanjing), Liang-Chi Wang (Chiayi), Yan Zhu, Zihua Tang, Yifeng Yao and Deke Xu (Beijing), Xiaozhong Huang (Lanzhou) JihPai Lin (Taipei), Toshiyuki Fujiki (Okayama), Fusa Hoshino (Sapporo),
Masako Shimakura (Nara) and Yusheng (Christopher) Liu (Kansas City).
We appreciate the comments of two anonymous referees and the
encouraging support of Jim Riding. Our special thanks are extended to William Su Ting’s sons, Gordon and Albert, and to Gordon’s wife Genie Dovar, who have patiently answered questions and have supplied photographic material reproduced in this paper. We hope that they feel
this paper to be a fitting memento to a very special man.

Data Availability Statement

Supplemental data for this article is available online at https://doi.org/10.1080/01916122.2020.1844816.


  • China
  • Gunnar Erdtman
  • history of science
  • pollen
  • Scotland
  • USA
  • William Su Ting


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