2022 marks the tenth anniversary of the Tang Prize. Drawing on his experience of investing in education for more than twenty years, Dr. Samuel Yin established the Tang Prize Foundation in December 2012, and set up the following four award categories: Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology, and Rule of Law. Awarded biennially, the Tang Prize announced its first group of winners in 2014. Thanks to the concerted efforts of its founder, its board of directors, its international selection committees, and every staff member of the Foundation, during the past ten years, the Foundation has successfully held four award ceremonies and celebrated the achievements of twenty seven laureates (including three NPOs) from eleven countries located in 6 different continents.[i] The 5th generation of winners will be introduced to the public in the coming June, from 18 to 21. Step by step, with dedication and hard work, people associated with the Tang Prize has transformed it from an award hardly known to the international community to one recognized by professionals, experts, as well as academic and research institutions around the world.
Taking a trip down memory lane with Dr. Yin, we can see why he emphasized that “every task, from deciding the name (of the prize), to forming the board of directors, collaborating with Academia Sinicia, eliciting support from international scholars, promoting the prize on the global stage, and holding conferences on a global scale, was difficult but meaningful at the same time, because our laureates are beacons to the world and are capable of fostering greater developments in the fields where they were awarded the prize.” The first four generations of Tang Prize laureates consist of some of the world’s finest brains. Not only did four scientists win a Nobel Prize four years after they received the Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science in 2014 and 2016 respectively, but the percentage of the female Tang Prize laureates, with five women accounting for 21% of the total number of Tang Prize winners, also far exceeds the 6% achieved by the Nobel Prize. Among all the international awards, the Tang Prize was also the first one to designate part of its award money, NT$10 million (approx. US$ 0.35 million), as a research grant that can be used to fund laureates’ research or educational projects, with the aim of deepening our understanding of these important subjects and facilitating the dissemination of knowledge about them. There are twenty five projects being carried out at the moment, and each one of them has received fair amount of international attention and recognition.
Dr. Jenn-Chuan Chern, CEO of the Tang Prize Foundation, pointed out that the Tang Prize can be seen as a way Chinese people gave back to the world, and the prize has also raised Taiwan’s visibility in the world. For the past ten years, the Foundation has been arranging for its laureates to speak at important academic events, and for esteemed foreign members of the selection committees, acclaimed international scholars and Nobel laureates to visit Taiwan and interact with the Taiwanese public. These activities not only can advance research in fields related to the Tang Prize but are also the best methods for introducing Taiwan to the world. However, to run an international award and to keep its conversation with international academia going are no mean feat. “If the Foundation itself had not got the capabilities required to interact with the world linguistically, intellectually, and operationally, it would have been very difficult for it to establish and maintain a strong relationship with international academia,” Dr. Chern observed. Based on his ten-year experience of heading the Tang Prize Foundation, Dr. Chern listed specific conditions that make the establishment of an international award possible: first, a philanthropic entrepreneur with a forward-looking vision; second, a world-class, independent and impartial selection committee; third, a foundation with innovative initiative and executive skills; and finally, a society that provides an environment where the economy, science and technology, and democracy can mature and thrive.
Dr. Chern also mentioned that to establish the Tang Prize was one of Dr. Yin’s lifelong dreams when it comes to how he wishes to contribute to education. In 1989, He set up the Kwang-Hua Educational Foundation, which has since given the Kwang-Hua Scholarship to more than 160 thousand students in schools including Peking University and Tsinghua University. He then founded the Kwang-Hua Engineering Technology Award, and established various university-level institutes such as the Guanghua School of Management at Peking University, the Antai College of Economics & Management at Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and the Guanghua Law School at Zhejiang University. Moreover, he denoted funds and medical facilities to schools, institutes and hospitals such as National Taiwan University, National Chengchi University, National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University, National Changhua University of Education, Academia Sinica, National Health Research Institutes, and the Veterans General Hospital, etc. His efforts to support the educational sector have continued for thirty three years. He has been realizing many of his dreams one step at a time. To select worthy winners for an international award calls for not only a huge amount of capital but also professional advice. Therefore, the Foundation is truly grateful to Academia Sinica for the unwavering support it offered along the way, by tapping into the strength of its academic stature, its academic connections and its relationship with the international community. The Foundation would also like to thank many government agencies including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its unmitigated help with our various undertakings such as inviting foreign laureates to Taiwan and enhancing the Tang Prize’s international profile.
Unlike many other international awards that have a narrower range of award categories and focus more on fields related to technology and basic science, the Tang Prize believes that to take on the challenges unique to the 21st century, our attention should also be paid to social sciences. It is thus not surprising that currently it gives the world’s highest awards in the fields of sustainable development, Sinology, and the rule of law. Looking forward to the next ten years, Dr. Chern expressed his most earnest hopes, expecting that with diligence and prudence, the Tang Prize will continue to select as its laureates people who can lead the progress of the world’s civilization, and that the Tang Prize will create a platform where the great minds in the Chinese speaking community and those in the rest of the world can meet to exchange views. In addition, the Foundation is planning to build a digital museum and a Tang Prize museum to preserve and put on display our most valuable assets—documents, videos, and any materials related to our laureates. Furthermore, the Foundation will keep organizing educational events to encourage young people to find their real passions and be determined to make a difference to the world and to the entirety of humanity.
[i] These twenty seven Tang Prize laureates (the three NPOs included) hail from the following eleven countries: the U.S., the U.K., Japan, France, Norway, Canada, South Africa, Bangladesh, Colombia, and Lebanon. Prof. William Theodore de Bary, who won the 2016 Tang Prize in Sinology at the age of 97, is the oldest laureate. The youngest one is Dr. Feng Zhang, who was only 34 when being awarded the 2016 Tang Prize in Biopharmaceutical Science. The five women who have received the Tang Prize so far are: Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, 2014 winner for Sustainable Development; Madame Justice Louise Arbour, 2016 winner for Rule of Law; Dr. Jennifer Doudna and Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier, 2016 winners for Biopharmaceutical Science; and Dr. Jane Goodall, 2020 winner for Sustainable Development.
About the Tang Prize
Since the advent of globalization, mankind has been able to enjoy the convenience brought forth by the advancement of human civilization and science. Yet a multitude of challenges, such as climate change, the emergence of new infectious diseases, wealth gap, and moral degradation, have surfaced along the way. Against this backdrop, Dr. Samuel Yin established the Tang Prize in December 2012. It consists of four award categories, namely Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology, and Rule of Law. Every other year, four independent and professional selection committees, comprising many internationally renowned experts, scholars, and Nobel winners, choose as Tang Prize laureates people who have influenced and made substantive contributions to the world, regardless of ethnicity, nationality or gender. A cash prize of NT$50 million (approx. US$1.7 million) is allocated to each category, with NT$10 million (approx. US$ 0.35 million) of it being a research grant intended to encourage professionals in every field to examine mankind’s most urgent needs in the 21st century, and become leading forces in the development of human society through their outstanding research outcomes and active civic engagement.