U.S. Sinologist encourages Taiwanese students to ask questions

  • Rachel E. Chung, director of Columbia University's Committee on Asia and the Middle East, issued the appeal during a
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Taipei, Sept. 26 (CNA) A leading United States Sinologist on Monday encouraged Taiwanese students to ask questions bravely and to learn to engage in meaningful conversations with people all around the world.

Rachel E. Chung, director of Columbia University's Committee on Asia and the Middle East, issued the appeal during a "Talk with Masters" series of seminars sponsored by the Tang Prize Foundation.

On Sunday, the foundation presented this year's Sinology prize to Columbia University professor William Theodore de Bary in recognition of his life-time contribution to studying and promoting neo-Confucianism.

His acceptance speech was delivered by his daughter Brett de Bary at the award ceremony in Taipei.

At the Tang Prize seminar Monday, which was held at National Central University in Taoyuan, Chung said de Bary's advocacy of cultural and civilizational dialogue has been picked up by two Chinese students at Columbia who launched a symposium on the study of classics by students in various countries.

The symposium, held annually in Beijing and Shanghai, has now spread to 14 cities in eight countries, demonstrating the power of grass-roots volunteers, she said.

Looking back on 1937 when the Sino-Japanese war broke out in northern China, ushering in a history of strife and destruction, Chung said she hoped young people today versed in cross-cultural dialogue will lead the world into a future where clashes of civilizations are a thing of the past.

Chung shared a Confucian story with high-school students attending the seminar to illustrate the point.

During a visit to shrine, Confucius asked many questions to its staff members, who later wondered why the knowledgeable master still needed to ask so many questions.

Chung told the students that sometimes, asking is more important than getting the answers because in the process of raising questions you might get more than what the answers can give, explaining that curiosity can be a good way of life.

On Sept. 24, a U.S. scientist also visiting Taiwan for Tang Prize activities encouraged young people in Taiwan to ask the right questions and gain knowledge in multiple disciplines to tackle modern-day challenges in the field of sustainable development.

"I think the most important quality to develop is the ability to ask the right questions," Ashok Gadgil, a professor from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of California, Berkeley, told reporters in Taipei.

He said mankind's problems today can no longer be addressed within a single discipline. Today's problems require an understanding of various disciplines, including economics, social behavior, science, law and policy, said Gadgil, who was in Taiwan to receive the Tang Prize in sustainable development on behalf of American energy expert Arthur H. Rosenfeld.

Gadgil lauded Rosenfeld for giving him an important lesson -- a "fearless ability to go into other fields and learn them quickly and understand interdisciplinary connections."