Address from Ovid Tzeng, board member of the Tang Prize Foundation

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Tang Prize Founder Samuel Yin, Honored Tang Prize Laureates and Their Beloved Families, Distinguished Guests from Taiwan and Abroad, good evening.


The first decade of the Tang Prize saw it aspire to be an inspiration for the world. Today, on behalf of the Tang Prize board of directors, I would like to thank Dr. Yin, every Tang Prize Selection Committee member, and all the support staff who made sure the Tang Prize always accomplished its tasks during the past ten years. This evening, once again, we feel deep joy and gratitude to be in the company of people whose achievements proved that mankind has the wit and wisdom to develop high technologies and advance human civilization. Needless to say, we are especially glad that the waning of the pandemic has allowed six 2022 laureates and their families to travel to Taiwan to attend the award ceremony in person. In the following days, the laureates will give several speeches and attend a variety of events to share their research findings and insights, guide and nurture a new generation of scientists and scholars, help create a high-tech civilization that cares for the needs and well-being of every individual and build a better society for our children and children’s children, and those to come.   


The Tang Prize was established in 2012 with the purpose of advancing academic research in order to benefit humanity. “To benefit humanity” is the main priority and it is what differentiates the Tang Prize from other international awards. That is to say, the Tang Prize not only underscores the importance of academic knowledge, but also highlights the actual impact that knowledge has on society. From this perspective, the four categories of the Tang Prize, namely Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology, and Rule of Law, serve as complements to the six fields in which Nobel Prize is awarded, namely Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature, Peace, and Economic Sciences. While these six categories mostly emphasize “pure knowledge,” the Tang Prize draws attention to another important aspect, “applied knowledge.”


We can say mankind started to seek knowledge in order to resolve mysteries, and as our knowledge of the world continues deepen, we also keep reaching higher levels of expertise. When we try to apply knowledge in our interaction with the environment, be it a natural or social one, more complexities, diversities and new possibilities are being generated as a result. Knowledge is dynamic. It is evolving all the time, and it is what created the modern, technological society we live in. The evolution takes place within 11 knowledge spheres. All of them end with the letter “o”. They are “Astro and Geo.” That is, astrology and geology; “Bio and Eco,” biology and ecology; “Geno,” genomics; “Neuro,” neurology; “Cogno,” cognitive science; “Digito and Info,” digital and information technology; “Techno,” technology; “Material and Nano,” material and nano-technology; “Econo,” economic sciences; “Medico,” medical sciences; and “Cultural and Socio,” cultural and social studies. The mutual influence among these spheres continue to bring more complexities to our lives.  


It’s easy to understand the impact the advancement in science and technology has if we take a close look at what modern life has become. We entered the 21st century with the scientific and technological knowledge acquired throughout the 20th century. Within the short span of 23 years, many wondrous technologies have emerged at a lightening pace. Our lives have been transformed by the ubiquitous cell phones that keep us connected to the internet all the time. It’s unbelievable that the first iphone was launched just 15 years ago. During these 15 years, how we accumulated knowledge and how we perceived our surroundings have undergone dramatic changes. Nowadays, reality and virtual reality exist side by side. Technologies such as VR, or virtual reality, AR, or augmented reality and MR, or mixed reality all have growing influence on how we educate and entertain ourselves. Moreover, artificial intelligence has gained a foothold in various fields of research and development. The invention of CRISPR gene editing technology, for which I must thank the tremendous efforts of the 2016 Tang Prize laureates Drs. Emmanuelle Charpentier, Jennifer Doudna, and Feng Zhang, has given scientists god-like powers to modify the biological functions of all living creatures, whether they move around in the sea, roam about on the land, fly in the sky, or are immobile. In their exploration of the cosmos, astrophysicists have circumnavigated the moon and reached its previously unseen far side. By integrating the image data captured by radio telescopes in eight different locations on the planet, and through the collaborative analysis of over 200 IT engineers, people on Earth can now “see” a black hole in a galaxy 55 million light years away. These achievements will have far-reaching implications for the ongoing climate change and the challenges posed to sustainable development.


But the most remarkable thing the progress in human knowledge and technologies has brought us has been the increase in global average life expectancy, from 45 years during the Victorian Age to over 80 years today, including in Taiwan. Within a century, we have fulfilled one of mankind’s oldest dreams of living a longer life. If someone had claimed a hundred years ago that scientists could achieve this goal so quickly, it would have been considered as just pie in the sky. Clearly, achievements like these are hard to come by. Nor did they come out of thin air. They were the results of tireless efforts and collaboration of many brilliant, scientific minds. Among them are recipients of the Tang Prize in Sustainable Development and Biopharmaceutical Science. They have all played pivotal roles in advancing our knowledge of the world and enabling its practical application in real-life scenarios.   


Another feature of the Tang Prize and also its core value is its emphasis on the ideals and actions that can bring about social stability and racial harmony. That’s why Sinology and Rule of Law were included as part of the prize categories. Sinology encompasses a grand tapestry of human existence that spans thousands of years and across Europe and Asia, languages, societies, ethnic groups, and arts and humanities. It refers to Chinese studies in their broadest sense. It transcends the confines of time and space and delves into the depths of the human soul, the soul that finds its expressions in our religious, ethical and philosophical ideas. To be more precise, Sinology isn’t just about the study of China. In a wider context, it concerns the interactions between ethnic Chinese and other racial groups. The best way to understand Sinology is to examine how the Chinese civilization has been represented over the past four thousand years. Without understanding the essence of Chinese culture, one’s attempt to understand the world would amount to nothing. However, without the rule of law, freedom and democracy alone cannot guarantee stable development of society, and all the progress made in sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science and Sinology, which collectively shaped the course of human civilization, would be rendered insignificant.   


Before my speech ends, I want to share with you the most touching and admirable achievement of the Tang Prize. So far, there have been 30 individual laureates, and 8 of them are female scientists or scholars. Such a high proportion of women laureates is a demonstration of the commitment of the Tang Prize to recognizing people who propel human civilization forward through their outstanding research and active civic engagement, regardless of gender, religion, ethnicity or nationality.   

Once again, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to all the six Tang Prize laureates here, for the shining examples you set as leaders of science, technology and human civilization, and as paragons of academic excellence. Thank you.