New York, June 19 (CNA) Professor William Theodore de Bary of Columbia University, winner of the 2016 Tang Prize in Sinology, said that Taiwan has done well to preserve Confucianism, a key element of Chinese culture and the focus of his lifetime study.
De Bary, 96, was recognized by the Tang Prize jury for his contributions to facilitating the understanding of Confucianism and neo-Confucianism in the West.
De Bary, who lives in the United States, has not only fostered a global conversation based on the common values and experiences shared by the East and the West, he has also served as a bridge between Confucian traditions and the modern world.
"I wouldn't say that it was a great contribution, except for the fact that even in China there was considerable influence from the West -- of a negative kind -- with regard to Confucianism being simply conservative or reactionary, whereas I think that attitude needed to be corrected to some extent, and it was something I could contribute to from this country," de Bary told CNA in an interview.
An American pioneering scholar in the field of Confucian intellectual history, de Bary in recent years has turned his focus to a comparative study of Western and Eastern civilizations and their areas of compatibility.
From his study, he has concluded that there is a need for "civilized conversation" between different cultures and civilizations.
On the question of the complex relations between Taiwan and China, de Bary said the differences between the two sides are not as great now as when the Kuomintang (KMT) first moved to Taiwan.
The KMT "set up an independent China offshore that was very important to preserving the Chinese tradition in the early years of the Communist regime in the mainland," he said.
De Bary said he was particularly appreciative of the efforts by the Kuomintang (KMT) to preserve Confucianism in Taiwan.
"They have done so very well throughout the period when communism on the mainland was very, very damaging," he said. "Fortunately, the Communists have learned to adjust and to accept Confucianism in many ways."
However, de Bary said, he was not sure the Chinese Communists were using Confucianism in the same way as the "liberals" in Taiwan.
With the award of the Tang Prize in Sinology, de Bary now has gained honors in Taiwan, as well as in the U.S., for his lifetime contribution to bridging the cultural gap between the East and the West.
In 2014, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by U.S. President Barack Obama.
"It was the highest (award) I could get in this country," de Bary said.
Now, the Tang Prize, awarded by a jury convened by Taiwan's top research institution Academia Sinica, is "the highest I could expect to receive from the Chinese side," he said. "I'm very honored and pleased to accept it."
The Tang Prize was established by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin in 2012 to complement the Nobel Prize, and the first award ceremony was held in 2014.
The biennial award recognizes top researchers and leaders in the fields of sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, Sinology, and the rule of law. Each category carries a prize of NT$50 million (US$1.54 million).