Tingsen Xu, 82: Scientist also a grand master of tai chi

When Tingsen Xu (pronounced “Shoo”) came to America from China in 1980 to do research at Cornell Medical College in New York, there was more to his résumé than a doctorate in biochemistry. He also was a grand master of tai chi.

So as he regularly engaged in its routines, he piqued the curiosity of Westerners who observed him and became attracted to the slow-motion martial art.

Soon he was instructing small groups in tai chi, a sideline he turned into a full-time practice after he took a post at Emory University.

Xu did biochemical research at Emory from 1989 to 1994. Four years later Emory gave him a totally different position as adjunct associate professor of physical education teaching tai chi. His students even got academic credit for it.

He also taught tai chi at the Atlanta Unity Church in Norcross, at senior centers around Atlanta and at community events in DeKalb County. One of the instructors Xu trained, Bob Wells of Atlanta, estimated Xu introduced thousands of metro Atlantans to tai chi.

One of these was former first lady Rosalynn Carter. On Friday she issued a statement that said, “Jimmy and I were deeply saddened to learn of the death of Tingsen Xu, who was my tai chi instructor for many years. Many people are healthier in body and spirit because of his mastery of both the physical and spiritual elements of tai chi.”

Another student, David Hirschorn of Vinings, said there were more dimensions to Xu’s instruction than merely teaching movements. “He’d talk about philosophy, about the ways to harmonize body and mind, about ancient Chinese medicine,” Hirschorn said.

Hirschorn was struck by how much Xu was at peace with himself. “I came to feel we, the young, have much to learn from people of his age,” he said.

During the 1990s, Xu played a key part in a National Institutes of Health study that determined that regular tai chi exercises significantly reduced injuries from falls among people who are 60 and older. It was the first Western study of its kind of a Far East health-related discipline.

Tingsen Xu, 82, of Atlanta died Oct. 11 at Budd Terrace of complications following a cerebral hemorrhage. His memorial service will be 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28 at the Carter Center. SouthCare Cremation Society, Marietta, is in charge of arrangements.

Born and raised in Shanghai, Xu had to pass rigorous exams to win entrance for doctoral studies at the University of Moscow, which he completed in 1961. But later, his academic credentials didn’t impress Maoist hardliners running China’s Cultural Revolution, and he was assigned to a rural area for a year feeding pigs.

In the late 1970s, as China’s economy began opening to the West, Xu took part in joint ventures with American firms, and he seized an opportunity to come to the U.S. to work in research.

Xu became an American citizen in 1988. “He liked the freedom to do what he wanted. He felt comfortable here,” said his wife, Dr. Sunan Fang.

Also surviving are a daughter, Ke Xu of Tallahassee, Fla.; a son, Bing Xu of Los Angeles; and three grandchildren.