Amid the buzz of anticipation and excitement of Tang Prize Week, the prize’s five inaugural laureates were finally given their due honors on September 18 at the Tang Prize Award Ceremony, held at the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall. Former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland, cancer immunotherapy researchers James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo, scholar of Chinese intellectual history and professor emeritus at Princeton University Yu Ying-Shih, and former South African Justice Albie Sachs were bestowed with the 99.99% gold Tang Prize medal and hand-stitched diploma by President Ma Ying-Jeou Thursday, as an audience more than one-thousand strong looked on.
The first to receive the inaugural prize was Dr. Brundtland, who was awarded for her work in the Sustainable Development field. Being the only one on stage not in a coat and tails, she was happy that there was female representation in the inaugural year; but she also expressed hope for more female winners of the prize in the future. In the field of Biopharmaceutical Science, two giants of the immunotherapy research world were joint winners of the prize. Doctors James P. Allison and Tasuku Honjo were awarded for their discoveries of CTLA-4 and PD-1 as immune inhibitory molecules, which have led to medicines that boost the immune system’s response to tumors.
Yu Ying-Shih, winner of the award in Sinology, said during his acceptance that sinology is now becoming global in perspective, a trend quite different from that of the first half of the 20th Century. At that time, people would speak of Chinese sinologists, Japanese sinologists, French sinologists…, but now those borders have become much less important. Now, said Professor Yu, “sinology is one, anywhere on the globe.”
Last to receive the medal, Albie Sachs pointed out playfully that he was about to delete the congratulations email from his inbox, thinking that it must have been a scam. Still, he stated, it was hard to believe that he won such a prestigious prize. “We desired no reward whatsoever, other, perhaps, than the knowledge that we were contributing to human emancipation.” As he came to the end of a page of his acceptance speech, Albie, who lost an arm in an attempt on his life in Mozambique, used his mouth to hold the speech as he turned to the next sheet; anyone in the audience that afternoon could see in such a simple action Albie’s surprisingly relaxed determination in the face of huge personal change.
The inaugural Tang Prize Award Ceremony was one of the most dignitary-dense events of the season, with guests from both the public and private sectors, including President Ma Ying-Jeou, Legislative Yuan President Wang Jin-Pyng, Judicial Yuan President Rai Hau-min, Control Yuan President Chang Po-ya, and Taipei City Mayor Hau Lung-pin. Tang Prize Selection Committee Chairman and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Dr. Lee Yuan Tseh and others brought the recipients to the podium with a short introduction and a video showing the lives of the five guests of honor. In addition to the medal and diploma, laureates received a total of NT$50 million, NT$40 million of which in prize money, and NT$10 million as an academic grant to be applied to other institutions or individuals according to a prospective drafted by each laureate.