Chinese American historian wins Tang Prize in Sinology (update 2) (Focus Taiwan)

  • Yu Ying-shih, 2014 Tang Prize laureate in Sinology
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Taipei, June 20 (CNA) Chinese American historian Yu Ying-shih on Friday won the Tang Prize in Sinology for his original research and insight into the intellectual history of China.

"The 2014 Tang Prize in Sinology is awarded to Yu Ying-shih 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," Nobel laureate Lee Yuan-tseh, who chairs the Tang Prize Selection Committee, read from the citation.

"With an illustrious academic career spanning over half a century, Professor Yu has reinterpreted the tradition of thought in China and revived the importance of intellectual history by shedding new light on the value, richness, and current significance of Chinese culture," said Lee, who announced the award winner at a ceremony in Taipei.

Tang Prize Foundation CEO Chern Jenn-chuan, who also attended the ceremony, said over 150 candidates were nominated in the category of sinology. Yu was voted the winner by a panel of 22 judges.

Yu, a Princeton University emeritus professor, is regarded by many of his peers as "the greatest Chinese intellectual historian of our generation."

The 84-year-old brought previously neglected aspects of Chinese history into mainstream scholarship and has been credited with rescuing the Confucian heritage from "caricature and neglect" and stimulating younger scholars to "rediscover the richness and variety of Chinese culture after the ravages of Mao [Zedong]'s Cultural Revolution," according to the Tang Prize Selection Committee.

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.

Over the past 60 years, the China-born scholar has published around 60 books and hundreds of essays in English and Chinese. In 1976, he published the essay collection "Li Shi Yu Si Xiang" ("History and Thought") in Taiwan, which went on to become one of his most influential works.

The collection highlights the interconnectedness of Chinese literature, history and philosophy, as well as the similarities and differences between Western and Eastern thought.

Yu is particularly known for his research on the tradition of public intellectuals and the evolution of their identities and statuses.

In a breakthrough research project, he counted Buddhist monks of the Northern and Southern dynasties and Sui and Tang dynasties among the public intellectuals, a pioneering concept at the time of its publication.

Yu's research on major Chinese intellectuals, including Fang Yizhi and Zhu Xi, have also reshaped the way scholars understand these figures in Chinese history.

In addition to his scholarly pursuits, Yu is an outspoken supporter of the democracy movement in China and is known to have sheltered young refugees who fled China after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.

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

Wang Fan-sen, vice president of Academia Sinica, Taiwan's top research institute, touted Yu as an "outstanding" historian whose research is driven by an underlying concern for Chinese culture.

During the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), Yu often talked about setting up a cultural center overseas out of concern that the roots of Chinese culture would be lost, Wang noted.

Lin Yu-sheng, an academician at Academia Sinica and longtime friend of Yu, praised the scholar's dedication to academic research.

"I personally have never seen someone more persistent than he is," Lin said, adding that Yu often gives up sleep to work on research, even to this day.

"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," said Ting Pang-hsin, another academician, who introduced Yu's contributions at the ceremony.

The Tang Prize was established in 2012 by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin to honor leaders in four fields: sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, sinology and rule of law. Laureates are selected based on the originality and impact of their achievements, irrespective of nationality or ethnicity.

Winners of the award are selected by panels of judges convened by Academia Sinica. The panels comprise prominent researchers and scholars from Taiwan and abroad, including Nobel laureates.

Up to three winners in each category can share a cash prize of NT$40 million and a research grant of up to NT$10 million. An award ceremony for the winners in all four categories will take place Sept. 18 in Taipei.

The Tang Prize in Sinology recognizes innovative research on China and its related fields, such as Chinese thought, history, linguistics, archeology, philosophy, religion, traditional canons, literature and art, according to the Tang Prize Foundation.

Earlier this week, former Prime Minister of Norway Gro Harlem Brundtland was named the winner of the prize in sustainable development while James P. Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan shared the prize in biopharmaceutical science.

The winner in the rule of law category will be announced Saturday.

The biennial prize takes its name from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), a period considered to be the height of classical Chinese civilization, characterized by liberal policies and robust cultural activity.

(By Christie Chen)