Tang Prize Foundation mourns passing of sinologist de Bary (Focus Taiwan)

  • William Theodore de Bary, 2016 Tang Prize Laureate in Sinology
A- | A+

Taipei, July 16 (CNA) The Tang Prize Foundation expressed its deep condolences Sunday to the family of William Theodore de Bary, winner of the 2016 Tang Prize in sinology, who passed away July 14 in his home in New York at the age of 97.

According to his daughter Brett de Bary, who came to Taiwan last year to receive the award on his behalf, his three children were with him at the time of his death, and his final hours were peaceful.

The Chinese studies scholar was able to watch some of the videos and DVDs of the 2016 Tang Prize with his children during his last weeks, his daughter said.

A towering figure in Chinese and Asian studies, De Bary was honored by the Tang Prize Foundation for a "remarkable academic career spanning over seven decades."

"He has written and edited over 30 books, with many of them making groundbreaking contributions that provide both enlightening insight and honest critique into Confucianism," the Tang Prize citation said.

Rachel E. Chung, associate director of the University's Committee and Asia and the Middle East, said in Taipei last year that Theodore de Bary -- a blond-haired, blue-eyed American who set out to become a bridge-builder between East and West through an academic career as a sinologist -- had become a cornerstone of the bridge itself, "a bridge every person interested in interculturation must cross."

According to Chern Jenn-chuan (陳振川), the CEO of the Taipei-based Tang Prize Foundation, De Bary was pleased to see his Chinese name "corrected" through the Tang Prize activities.

De Bary cherished his "real" Chinese name of "Di Peili" (狄培理), given to him by Qian Mu (錢穆, 1895-1990), a famed Confucian who de Bary studied with when the latter studied at Yenching University, Chern said.

But de Bary had long been known in the Chinese world as "Di Bairui" (狄百瑞) because of a mistake made by a Hong Kong publishing house in the 1980s.

"De Bary was happy that a three-decade misnomer was finally corrected," Chern said.

David Der-Wei Wang (王德威), Chinese literature professor at Harvard University, remembered working with de Bary at Columbia University for 15 years, learning "enormously from his work, teaching, and guidance."

"He is a great scholar and a visionary leader," Wang said, noting the sad news "marks the end of his 70-year-long pursuit of Chinese and East Asian thought.

"He will be remembered fondly by many colleagues, students, and friends all over the world," Wang said. 

(By S.C. Chang)