40 years on: ‘My story as one of the first Chevening Scholars’

From teaching himself English as a child to revolutionizing freeze-drying food technology in China, Qinfang Lu takes us on a trip down memory lane, revealing what it was like to be awarded one of the very first Chevening Scholarships in 1985.

""I went to high school and college in the 1960s. At that time, all the foreign languages taught in schools were Russian, but I was determined to learn English.

In that era, there was no TV or Internet, so from 1974 to 1980, I relied entirely on an old-fashioned tube radio at home. From beginner to intermediate to advanced level, I followed the English broadcast teaching program provided by the Beijing People’s Broadcasting Station and never stopped learning.

Due to my unremitting self-study of English, I laid the foundations for passing the English Proficiency Test (EPT) for studying abroad, and in August 1983, I was admitted as a Chinese state-sponsored international student. I was selected to study in the UK on what was then known as an FCO Scholarship.

At the time, my wife, son, and I lived in an 18-square-meter bungalow in a large courtyard in Beijing downtown. The news that I was going to study in England suddenly became a big news story among the people in the neighborhood. Everyone who saw me couldn’t help but congratulate me. Of course, my family was even more excited, even though parting was so close.

On 20 April 1985, I took Air China flight CA937 and embarked on a journey to the UK. I still have the handwritten paper ticket for my flight.


In the 1980s, the Beijing Capital Airport had only a small and lonely Terminal 1. After receiving an exit stamp at the border inspection window and entering the border gate,

the family members seeing me off could no longer be seen. I was a little excited about the unknown journey, but I later learned that the moment my figure disappeared from sight, my wife burst into tears.

My time in the UK

From April to June 1985, I was enrolled in an eight-week English course at the Bedford English Training Center. My homestay family lived about 50 minutes’ walk from the school, and I would walk back and forth every day.


The British family who I stayed with were a family of four. The hostess was home most of the time, while the husband and son worked in London and the daughter studied at university.

Whenever I returned to this homestay, I would take every opportunity to practice my English communication skills, drink tea, and chat with the hostess, and I often helped her mow the lawn. Although my three meals a day were provided by my host family, I sometimes cooked a Chinese meal. Every time I cooked Chinese food, my British host always enjoyed it.

The hostess’s son was in the Royal Guards. I remember that it was probably early June 1986. The hostess gave me a ticket to watch the birthday celebration of Queen Elizabeth II. I was honored to come to London and watch the celebration from the viewing platform.

""""Once, the hostess went to London to visit her husband. Three days later, when she returned home, what awaited her was a Chinese dinner prepared by me. She was immediately moved to tears.

By late June 1985, I had completed my language training in Bedford and started the five-month professional training course in food processing machinery. The professional training course covered canning, can making, beverages, biscuits, bread, candy, fruit and vegetable preservation, food packaging, frozen food, food dehydration, and many other food fields.


At that time, I traveled all over England, staying in B&Bs. Buses and trains were the most common forms of transportation for me. Occasionally, I would get lost, but every time I asked for directions, I would get enthusiastic guidance from local British people, and some would even take me part of the way.

The British colleagues I met in each training unit were also very friendly. Among them were two managers of food machinery companies. On weekends, they warmly invited me to their homes or to the beach to relax together.

The friendship between these two managers and I has been maintained until now. They have come to China twice, and I have received them in Beijing, enthusiastically serving as a tour guide for them, and treating them to the special Beijing roast duck.

In December 1985, after completing my professional training course, I came to the Department of Food Technology at the University of Reading and began my one-and-a-half-year study as a research student at the University of Reading. The predecessor of the department was the British Institute of Food Technology, which was the top food technology institution in the UK at the time. I felt very privileged to be studying here.

As a visiting scholar, my main task was not to attend classes, but to cooperate with my supervisor to complete research projects and write related papers. I spent a lot of time either doing experiments in the department’s pilot plant and labs or looking up information in the library.

The food processing pilot plant of the Department of Food Technology was a comprehensive food processing factory with exceptional equipment. This gave me the opportunity to try research in different fields. My expertise in food freeze-drying, which established a reputation in the industry after returning to China, also benefited from the solid foundation laid in this pilot plant.

In one and a half years, I completed five research projects and wrote six related papers. The essence of each topic was finally condensed into hundreds of printed pages of manuscripts, which I still treasure now.

My family and I did not hear each other’s voices once during the two years I was in the UK, but before I left China, my wife and I made an agreement that we would send each other a letter every Monday. I would tell my wife and son about my study and life in the UK, and my wife would write to me about the current situation at home.

At that time, I was especially grateful that there was a weekly round-trip flight between China and the UK, which allowed my wife and I to receive air express letters from each other. Reading letters became a good medicine for me to relieve my homesickness.


Returning to China after my Chevening study

When I went to study in the UK in April 1985, I was 40 years old and already an engineer. But two years of studying in the UK greatly expanded my horizons, enriched my professional knowledge, and strengthened my professional skills, laying a solid professional foundation for me to return to work in China.

Until my retirement in 2015, I spent the next 28 years dedicated to the research of freeze-drying technology, helping domestic enterprises develop and establish freeze-drying business, developing freeze-dried products, and promoting freeze-dried products to world markets.

I have watched China’s freeze-drying industry develop from nothing to a strong pillar of the nation’s agricultural industry.

The above achievements are all due to the knowledge, skills, and experience I gained while studying in the UK. It will always be engraved in my memory.


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