Hard work and simple life for Tang Prize winner Yu Ying-shih(Focus Taiwan)

  • Yu Ying-shih, 2014 Tang Prize laureate in Sinology
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Princeton, New Jersey, June 20 (CNA) A kettle of tea, a book, a comfortable pose, and a light-hearted conversation with his wife on a pleasant June day -- thus is a day in the simple life of renowned historian Yu Ying-shih.

Yu's home is a 10-minute drive away from Princeton University, where the Chinese American historian began teaching in 1987. Since retiring in 2001, Yu has lived a quiet and private life, albeit one still largely occupied by reading and research.

Inside his home are shelves upon shelves of books and walls decorated with paintings and Chinese calligraphy. A grove of bamboo in the backyard provides a quiet space for the scholar to meditate.

Dressed in a blue plaid shirt and a floral green necktie, the 84-year-old told CNA that he was "very surprised" to be named the first winner of the Tang Prize in Sinology. He said that Taiwanese Nobel laureate Lee Yuan-tseh, who chaired the Tang Prize Selection Committee, had told him the news over the phone.

"All I have to say is I'm overwhelmed by this (Tang Prize). It's too much," the scholar said in typical Chinese way of understatement. "Many people are eligible to win the Tang Prize. I am just one of them. But I'm very fortunate to have won."

"The Tang Prize is a new cultural phenomenon worth keeping an eye on," said the renowned historian.

He praised the prize, which he said upholds the international standards of the Nobel Prize and shows that Taiwan has taken up a leading position in a globalizing world.

As an award for his lifetime of research, Yu will receive a cash prize of NT$40 million (US$1.33 million) and a research grant of up to NT$10 million to be used within five years, as well as a medal and a certificate.

But Yu remains uninterested in fame and fortune.

"People who engage in scholarship should not [crave] fame or power," said Yu, who has taught at Ivy League universities including Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

Born in Tianjin, China, Yu received his PhD degree from Harvard at the age of 32 and at 44 was named an academician of Academia Sinica, the Republic of China's top research institute.

In 2006, Yu won the U.S. Library of Congress' John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity.

Over the past 60 years, Yu has published around 60 books and hundreds of essays in English and Chinese.

He said he initially wrote in English, but later also began publishing in Chinese because he wanted to reach a larger reader base in Asia.

English cannot always fully express the true meaning behind Chinese history, Yu said, adding that it is in fact common for historians to eventually return to their native languages to publish their research findings.

Addressing aspiring scholars, Yu urged young academics not to limit themselves to the study of one type of history, but to be more open-minded.

Another suggestion he offered: "Work earnestly and live life simply."

(By Timothy Huang and Christie Chen)