Professor Yu Ying-shih, the inaugural laureate of the Tang Prize in Sinology, passed away in his sleep at his residence in America on August 1st, 2021. The world reverberated with sadness after losing a great historian whom many would miss dearly. To commemorate Professor Yu, the Tang Prize Foundation decided to create a section dedicated to him on its official website (https://www.tang-prize.org/en/first.php), where a collection of photos of him visiting Taiwan for the 2014 award ceremony and other Tang Prize Week events, his letters, his calligraphy, a digital photo album that also contains interviews with some recipients of the Yu Ying-shih Fellowship for the Humanities, a memorial video, and videos of the award ceremony and of several speeches he delivered in Taiwan will all be on display. It is intended to be a comprehensive file that chronicles Professor Yu’s last trip to Taiwan as well as a tribute to him. The Foundation welcomes people all over the world to visit the website and refresh their memoires of Professor Yu’s formidable knowledge and scholarly demeanor.
The first Tang Prize in Sinology was awarded to Professor Yu in 2014 “for his mastery of and insight into Chinese intellectual, political, and cultural history, with an emphasis on his profound research into the history of public intellectuals in China” He interpreted the traditions of Chinese thought through the lens of a modern intellectual, giving Chinese culture a modern face. Known for his expansive arguments and deep insight, Professor Yu had long been seen as a giant in Chinese intellectual and cultural history. Scholars in the past aimed to understand how man interacts with nature, how the past evolved into the present. Professor Yu’s research and life best portray how his accomplished this mission. Highlighting Professor Yu’s accomplishments at the Tang Prize Award Ceremony, Academician Ting Pang-hsin of Academia Sinica remarked that “in a career that spanned six decades, Professor Yu taught a great number of students. He also wrote many books, all of which are very important. Counting from his early works like History and Thought to later ones such as Between Heaven and Man: An Inquiry into the Origins of Ancient Chinese Thought, we can see that he has authored nearly 60 books and penned more than 400 essays. Each one of these articles is composed of beautiful diction and powerful words.”
Besides an illustrious academic career, Professor Yu was also known for his effort to nurture the younger generation and cultivate the talent of many Academia Sinica academicians and scholars of history and literature in the Greater China region. Reflecting on the influence Professor Yu has on him, Dr. Huang Ching-shing, academician and vice president of Academia Sinica, stressed in the memorial video that “had it not been for Professor Yu, I would not have studied Chinese history.” After winning the Tang Prize in 2014, Professor Yu allocated his NT10 million Tang Prize Grant to the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica and entrusted it with the task of setting up the Yu Ying-shih Fellowship for the Humanities in order to draw more young researchers into the field of the humanities and to provide traditional Chinese culture with a breath of fresh air. The fellowship was open to applicants worldwide. From 2015 to 2019, it was awarded to 30 outstanding PhD students and young scholars chosen thorough rigorous selection. They were able to complete their dissertations or monographs because of this financial aid, and thus felt deeply encouraged and inspired by it. Kung Ling-wei, one of the recipients of the fellowship and currently an assistant research fellow at Academia Sinica’s Institute of History and Philology, pointed out that he “was very lucky to get this fellowship,” adding that “on the one hand, it is a great honor. On the other, I also expect myself to be more concerned about the humanities, because I can’t be unappreciative of the care Professor Yu had showed for young scholars like me. (After receiving the fellowship) I think about my responsibilities, about whether there are things I can do for Taiwan’s academia or society.”
When travelling to Taiwan to receive the Tang Prize in 2014, Professor Yu mentioned that he had not been to this island for six years due to health reasons and had missed it greatly. Therefore, he was especially glad to visit again. To persuade Professor Yu to make this trip, CEO of the Tang Prize Foundation Dr. Jenn-Chuan Chern flied to America in 2014 to explain everything to him in person. Professor Yen Yun of the Taipei Medical University went to the US in the same year to assure Professor Yu that he was healthy enough to travel. Many of Professor Yu’s students in Taiwan also encouraged him to come. In addition, the Foundation asked the Taipei Medical University Hospital to be available to provide medical services whenever necessary. Because of all these endeavors, this historical trip finally took place. During the eight busy but happy days when various Tang Prize Week events were held, Professor Yu gifted Taiwan two priceless speeches. One was his Laureate Lecture titled “My Reflections on the Study of Chinese History.” The other was a talk he gave at the Master’s Forum for Sinology on the theme “Education in the Humanities.” In the first one, Professor Yu shared with the audience how he studied Chinese history. Tinged with an autographical tone, this speech featured an explanation of the transformations Chinese history and thought have gone through in the past 60 to 70 years. In the second one, Professor Yu elaborated on the value of studying the humanities, which he emphasized is the foundation for democracy. All these insightful and edifying views are included in the content of the Yu Ying-shih memorial webpage.
On the one-year anniversary of Professor Yu’s passing, we think of him ever more often. But more importantly, we should not forget the high expectations he had for the future of Sinology, illustrated in his acceptance speech at the 2014 Award Ceremony: “We live in an era when globalization is accelerating at a rapid pace. Therefore, there is also an urgent need for Sinology to further develop. What it entails is the continuous expansion of the Sinology community. I sincerely hope that the Tang Prize can attract more young talents who can introduce new viewpoints to this field. This is my greatest wish.”
The Tang Prize in Sinology recognizes the study of Sinology in its broadest sense, awarding research on China and its related fields, such as Chinese thought, history, philology, linguistics, archaeology, philosophy, religion, traditional canons, literature, and art (excluding literary and art works). Honoring innovations in the field of Sinology, the Prize showcases Chinese culture and its contributions to the development of human civilization. After awarding Professor Yu the inaugural Tang Prize in Sinology in 2014, the selection committee named the late Professor Theodore de Bary, also known to many by his epithet the “Confucius of the West,” its 2016 recipient. In 2018, the Prize went to Professor Stephen Owen and Professor Yoshinobu Shiba, the former a world renowned translator of Tang poems and classical Chinese poetry, the latter a prominent Japanese historian lauded for his methodological analysis of the socio-economic history of the Song dynasty. In 2020, the Tang Prize honored Professor Wang Gungwu for his groundbreaking studies of China’s complicated relationships with its southern neighbors. His unique approach to the understanding of China has contributed significantly to the interpretation of the place ethnic Chinese hold in the world. In 2022, Professor Jessica Rawson, an art historian and archaeologist whose mastery of the art of Chinese artifacts has allowed her to give voice to mute objects, became the Prize’s latest winner.
About the Tang Prize
With 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, made up of 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 support relevant educational projects, so as to prompt people to pay more attention to mankind’s most urgent needs in the 21st century, and to become leading forces in the development of human society through their outstanding research and active civic engagement.