Historian Yu Ying-shih Named Winner of the 2014 Tang Prize in Sinology

  • Yu Ying-shih, 2014 Tang Prize laureate in Sinology
  • President of the Tang Prize Selection Committee Lee Yuan-Tseh
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Yu Ying-shih, 84, has been named the recipient of the inaugural Tang Prize in Sinology “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.”

Awarded for the first time this year, the Tang Prize is an international award that is global in reach. Founded by Dr. Samuel Yin in December 2012, the Tang Prize recognizes scholars conducting revolutionary research in the four major fields of Sustainable Development, Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology, and the Rule of Law. With Academia Sinica selecting the Tang Prize laureates, the Prize is awarded with each category a cash reward of over US$1 million.

Laureates may be of any nationality and are selected on the basis of the originality of their research along with their contribution to society that extends beyond narrow academic disciplines. The Tang Prize Foundation hopes that recipients of the Prize will continue to innovate, taking their research to new heights, while cultivating and nurturing new talent in their respective fields by passing on their valuable experiences and findings.

The Tang Prize in Sinology specifically recognizes the study of Sinology in its broadest sense, awarding research on China and its related fields, such as Chinese thought, history, philology, linguistics, archeology, 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.

The selection process for the Tang Prize in Sinology began in March 2013 with solicitations for nominations sent to individuals and academic institutions worldwide including presidents and directors of universities, colleges, and institutions of advanced research as well as a wide variety of preeminent scholars and intellectuals. Distinguished scholars from both hemispheres were invited to review the numerous nominations received.

Awarded the 2014 Tang Prize in Sinology, Professor Yu is widely recognized as the greatest living historian of China. His scholarship is as remarkably deep as it is widespread. His research examines major topics involving Chinese history, thought, and culture spanning over two millennia of Chinese civilization. More importantly, his impact transcends various disciplines and time periods as well as crosses borders. He has played a leading role in transforming the study of Chinese history, especially intellectual history, by addressing the question of where thought, an often neglected subject, belongs in the study of history. The transformation Professor Yu has helped bring about in how we think about intellectual history and the study of history in general will stand as his indelible influence.


In his distinguished academic career beginning in 1962, Professor Yu has had the rare distinction of having been elected to full professorships at Harvard, Yale and Princeton. He has also taught at the University of Michigan, served as the first Visiting Hu Shih Professor of Chinese Studies at Cornell University as well as the president of New Asia College in Hong Kong and vice chancellor of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, 1973-1975. In his early 40s, Professor Yu was elected as a lifetime member of Academia Sinica, the most distinguished and prestigious academic institution in Taiwan.

In exploring the history of China, Professor Yu has delved into past and present sources for Chinese history and philosophy, synthesizing them on a broad range of topics while putting much thought into the impacts and influence of his research. Initially publishing in English in 1967, he came to be widely recognized as a rising scholar in the United States. While his research was read extensively in the West, Yu soon realized that his work sparked little interest in the East. Hoping that his research will spread beyond the field of Sinology in the West and reach a larger audience, Yu decided to write mainly in Chinese. This key decision made it possible for the East to join the dialogue on Chinese historiography, diversifying the academic discourse in the field of Sinology, one previously dominated by the West.

Seeing all history as the history of ideas, Professor Yu has left no stone unturned in his investigation to understand changes of the past and present in order to forge his own theories on the history of China, particularly the history of public intellectuals in traditional and modern China. He traces the tradition of public intellectuals and the evolution of their identity and status, and his breakthrough research includes even Buddhist monks of the Northern and Southern dynasties as well as the Sui and Tang dynasties as public intellectuals, a view that was hitherto not yet recognized. While Professor Yu is an authority on traditional Chinese historians, his profound understanding of modern public intellectuals is also equally enlightening. His works elucidating the political philosophy of such key intellectuals as Hu Shih, Ch’ien Mu, and Chen Yinque are so telling that they speak for themselves.

Professor Yu has also revived the importance of Chinese history by interpreting primary documents in a revolutionary manner and examining past events through innovative historical approaches. An overarching theme in his research is the relationship between intellectuals and the traditional Chinese heritage. He has published groundbreaking research that has fundamentally reinterpreted towering figures throughout the history of China. His masterpiece on Zhu Xi is more than just an enlightening study on the political culture of the Song Dynasty that reinterprets the intellectual history of the Song period and brings clarity to the role of public intellectuals as political actors. Instead, this two-volume work also speaks to the question of where thought, an often neglected subject, belongs in the study of history.

Even after retiring from Princeton University in 2001, Professor Yu does not rest on his laurels despite the many accolades he has garnered. His main focus is writing, which he continues to do almost daily, revising old works and publishing new ones. For his tireless effort in academia, Professor Yu was awarded the 2006 Kluge Prize in recognition of his lifetime achievements in the humanities. However, Professor Yu is not simply a scholar in the modern sense. Beyond his academic contributions are Yu’s humanitarian efforts and political commentary. Besides researching and redefining what encompasses a public intellectual, Professor Yu himself has become an exemplary model of the modern public intellectual. Yu publishes extensively, and many of his writings were essays on Chinese political situations with various pieces touching on cross-strait issues. Thus, Professor Anthony C. Yu of the University of Chicago once noted: “Professor Yu Ying-shih exemplifies all the qualities of the public intellectuals that he studies as reflected by his lifetime research and studies.” In the world of scholarship, one would be hard pressed to find another Yu Ying-shih—a scholar who sees himself as a public intellectual in the traditional Chinese sense, taking on the responsibility of making the world a better place.