An uplifting tale of one woman's lifelong dedication to radiology

By Edna Astbury-Ward, PhD, contributing writer

December 20, 2022 -- Tributes are flowing in for Prof. Guozhen Li, who has died at the age of 107. Known within China as the "grand dame of radiology," she was a pioneer in CT who introduced the country's first scanner in 1978 and ran training courses for many years.

Prof. Li was "a great lady who lived an unbelievable life," Prof. Philippe Grenier, president of ECR 2002 and chair of the ECR Executive Committee in 2003, told

China issued a set of stamps to coincide with the 100th birthday of Guozhen Li
China issued a set of stamps to coincide with Prof. Guozhen Li's 100th birthday.
The special commemorative stamps featured photos of Li as a young woman
The special commemorative stamps featured photos of Prof. Li as a young woman, at work in her department, writing on a laptop PC, and doing Tai Chi exercises.

"I am very sorry to hear that Prof. Li has died, even if it was at such an impressive age. I knew her well and met her many times," said Prof. Hans Ringertz, president of ECR 1997, affiliated professor at the Center for Medical Image Science and Visualization (CMIV) in Sweden's Linköping University Hospital, and professor emeritus at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

Ringertz recalls seeing her in action during one of the high-level, international strategy meetings organized by Prof. Alexander Margulis, former chair of radiology at the University of California, San Francisco, in the 1980s.

Li was invited as a guest and friend of Margulis, and she gave an informative lecture about radiology in China, according to Ringertz. The CEOs of all the large imaging companies listened intently, and she turned to them and said, "It is up to you, gentlemen of the industry, to see to it that every hospital in China has at least one CT and one MRI before 1990. And remember, there are 85,000 hospitals in China!"

Another famous story about her dates from the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing in 1989. Li's university office was located in the square. While the tanks were rolling by, she continued her morning Tai Chi exercises outside the building, and it is said that colleagues inside the building crept up to the door, opened it slightly, and then grabbed her foot and dragged her inside to safety.

Pioneering work in CT and MRI

Li was instrumental in introducing CT to China and leading further research and development of the modality, according to the obituary posted by the European Society of Radiology (ESR).

"On learning how CT was making a huge impact in hospitals in the mid-1970s, Prof. Li made it a priority to make the technique available in China," the ESR stated.

VIP guests at Radiology 2000 Congress Hong Kong
VIP guests at Radiology 2000 Congress Hong Kong: From the left are Prof. Hans Ringertz, Dr. Paul Dubbins, Dr. Lilian Leong, Shelley Lee, Prof. Guozhen Li, and Prof. Hitoshi Katayama. Photo courtesy of Hans Ringertz.

She masterminded the plan to convince the country's political leaders to purchase CT scanners, and she was the recipient of the first CT in China in 1978.

"At this time, CT was still a largely unknown technique in China. Prof. Li led the way in teaching radiologists in China how to utilize the advantages of CT, holding courses across the country from 1980 onwards," the ESR statement continued.

From 1984, she served as the editor in chief of Chinese Journal of Radiology, sharing her knowledge of CT and chest radiology. In 1985, she compiled the book "Clinical Body CT Diagnosis," which was one of the first two CT monographs in China and became the main reference book for learning about the modality. She updated the volume, adding sections about new developments in the field, and published a second edition in 1994.

By the end of 2017, China had 19,027 CT scanners (excluding machines run by the army), an increase of 18% compared to 2016. In the past five years, this rapid growth has been maintained, with a compound annual growth rate of 16.1%, noted a recent article in Min News.

"Over the years, Prof. Li has made unremitting efforts for the introduction and promotion of new medical imaging technologies in China. It is a blessing for the country to have such selfless scholars," stated Min News.

Li took the lead in developing functional MRI research in China
Prof. Li took the lead in developing functional MRI research in China.

In the early 1990s, she became very interested in MRI and began to learn about the complex field of MRI physics. She cooperated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and took the lead in developing functional MRI research in China.

"She will be sorely missed by the European radiology community," noted the ESR. "Prof. Li was a renowned radiologist who devoted her whole life to the development of Chinese radiology, focused always on benefiting patients and contributing to society."

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