Intergenerational dialogue is a universal issue that concerns every society, and it is also the motivation behind the decision by Professor William Theodore de Bary, 2016 Tang Prize winner in Sinology, to entrust his Tang Prize grant to his disciple Dr. Rachel E. Chung, former executive director of University Committee on Asia & the Middle East at Columbia University, for it to be used in support of more conversations across generations. After three years’ planning, the 2019 Symposium Taiwan Project, a manifestation of Professor de Bary’s vision, was finally scheduled to take place in the National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) and Taipei Municipal Jingmei Girls High School. It aims to capitalize on the wisdom we can distil from Eastern and Western classics to facilitate intergenerational communications.
One of the events on the agenda is “Generations in Conversation: Some Greco-Roman and Renaissance Reflection on Intergenerational Dialogue,” a forum that centers on a speech from Professor Gareth Williams, the Anthon Professor of the Latin Language and Literature at Columbia University, held on May 29th at NTNU. In her opening remarks, Dr. Chung expressed her sincere gratitude to Dr. Chin-Shing Huang and Professor Sher-Shiueh Li at Academia Sinica, Professor Chiou-Lan Chern, dean of the College of Liberal Arts at NTNU, and Dr. Jenn-Chuan Chern, CEO of the Tang Prize Foundation, for their tireless effort to turn this project into reality.
Delving into some of the works by major Greco-Roman and Renaissance authors, including Cicero, Virgil, Ovid and Pietro Bembo, Professor Williams gifted the audience with his meticulous examination of these classics as a way to explore issues such as generational continuity and rupture, the clash between the new values and conventions, as well as change, uncertainty and the fluidity of cultural identities. Ensuing this talk was an interlocution between Professor Williams, Dr. Chung, and Professor Daniel Hu, associate professor in the Graduate Institute of Translation and Interpretation at NTNU, which sparked some probing questions from the audience eager to know “how to carry out effective conversations across different generations” and “who should initiate conversations like these.”
The 21st century is an era when a fast-paced life is the norm and efficiency usually takes priority over everything else. As a consequence, lack of patience increasingly takes hold, and the art of listening gradually loses its charm. Nonetheless, Professor Williams encouraged us to “hurry slowly, and to look to literature for guiding models in how different generations can and should interact with each other in the hyper-speed of our times.” His views were echoed by Dr. Chung, who pointed out that forums are the occasions where people can listen to and communicate with one another directly. In addition, we can also invite literary texts to participate in these dialogues, because reading and sharing our interpretation of world classics can lead us to exchange of ideas, so that not only our mutual understanding is deepened, but we are also more inclined to ponder over our social obligations and to find the middle ground between conformity and non-conformity where people can live and work together harmoniously. These are, after all, the ultimate goals of the humanities.
Also featured in this project are workshops held at NTNU and Jingmei Girls High School, in which students are taught that rote learning is insufficient and that they should try to apply the study of literature in their daily lives. Attending one of the workshops at Jingmei, Professor Chiou-Lan Chern witnessed how much those high school students enjoyed this eye-opening experience. The discussions inspired them to start investigating philosophical issues such as the definitions and connotations of benevolence and justice. Highly commending this pedagogy, Professor Chern thinks it helps students learn how to listen to different opinions, to think independently, and to develop their personal identities. “We should certainly incorporate it into our educational system,” Professor Chern opined.
The Taiwan Symposium Project is an extension of “learning through dialogue,” a method Professor de Bary adopted when teaching the “core curriculum” at Columbia University. As the executor of Professor de Bary’s grant, Dr. Chung decided to allocate the entire NT$10 million to the DB Global Humanities Foundation. She also took charge of promoting the idea of cultural integration through “Great Conversation” across cultures. The Symposium project, taking its first step in Beijing and Shanghai and having reached 8 countries and 14 cities around the globe so far, is a conscientious attempt to nurture future discussion leaders and to engage high school and university students in dialogues with literary canons in order to transcend cultural barriers and foster cross-cultural conversations.