American and Japanese Scholars, Stephen Owen and Yoshinobu Shiba, Awarded Tang Prize in Sinology

  • Stephen Owen, 2018 Tang Prize Laureate in Sinology
  • Yoshinobu Shiba, 2018 Tang Prize Laureate in Sinology
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Professor Stephen Owen (US) and Professor Yoshinobu Shiba (Japan) are awarded 2018 Tang Prize in Sinology. Professor Owen has been the single most important scholar of Chinese Classical poetry and a leading scholar on Tang poetry studies and translation. Professor Shiba has been the leading authority on Chinese social-economic history.


Professor Stephen Owen (1946-) taught at Yale University before beginning his teaching career at Harvard University in 1982. At Harvard, Professor Owen held joint appointments in East Asian Languages and Cultures and Comparative Literature and served as the James Bryant Conant University Professor beginning in 1997 and recently retired in April 2018. At the time, he was one of only 25 professors to hold this distinguished rank. He has held major academic awards including serving as a Guggenheim Fellow, being elected to the American Academy of Arts and Science, and being awarded the Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award.


Professor Owen has done as much as any scholar of his generation to introduce the riches of the Chinese literary tradition to Western readers both scholarly and popular. Upon receiving his doctoral degree, Owen embarked upon writing a complete literary history of Tang-dynasty poetry, a project that would ultimately span four books and nearly thirty years, including The Poetry of the Early Tang, The Great Age of Chinese Poetry: The High Tang, The End of the Chinese "Middle Ages": Essays in Mid-Tang Literary Culture, and The Late Tang: Chinese Poetry of the Mid-Ninth Century.


In 2015, Professor Owen completed his translation of The Poetry of Du Fu in six volumes. By including every existing Du Fu’s poems, Owen made the poet’s full complexity accessible for the first time to Western readers. Far from merely repeating known narratives with incremental variations, Owen's interpretations are often strikingly original, dealing extensively with poets, formal considerations, and sociological nuances that had been left out of precedent works.


The Poetry of Du Fu is the inaugural publication of the Library of Chinese Humanities series. This series, initiated and edited by Owen, makes important Chinese texts available in facing-page translations, both in hardcover editions and also free on the web. Owen’s Library of Chinese Humanities series will bring philologically rigorous translations of Chinese literature to a broader readership.


Beyond Tang poetry, Owen's second major focus has been on Chinese literary thought, literary theory, and poetics, especially as they relate to questions of comparative literature. Owen’s world vision and openness to knowledge are key prerequisites that further the growth and development of Chinese poetics as well as contemporary Sinology.


Professor Yoshinobu Shiba (斯波義信, 1930-) has been the leading authority on Chinese social-economic history. His scholarship innovatively synthesizes the strengths of the Japanese Sinological tradition with that of the Western social sciences, while skillfully making use of a variety of Chinese primary sources, adeptly merging the distinctive fortes of these three academic traditions. His breakthrough insights in the study of Chinese history, particularly in Song studies, make him a foremost exemplar to emulate. In short, he is a scholar in the field of Sinology today who perfectly integrates the essence of Chinese, Japanese, and Western scholarship to attain the highest level of achievement.


Over the last half a century, Professor Shiba has greatly expanded and taken the field of Chinese social-economic history to unprecedented heights of sophistication. His studies in the history of Song China, integration of regional history and economic history, urban history of China, and overseas Chinese offer new and cogent expositions based on a greater scope. Shiba’s novel findings culminated in his 1988 book entitled, Sodai konan keizai shi no kenkyū (宋代江南経済史の研究), which roughly translates to a study of the economic history of Jiangnan in the Song Dynasty. This book borrows its approach from the École des Annales, underscoring long-term social history while also accounting for the impact and influence of short-term happenings.


In 1968, Shiba’s publication of his Commerce and Society in Sung China (宋代商業史研究) brought sweeping change across this field of research and set the standard to emulate. His contribution achieved through the unprecedented usage of primary sources, theoretical foundations, and his vision set the stage for his future research and set defining trademark characteristics. Setting aside the popular modernization theory—a model or framework of a progressive transition from a ‘pre-modern’ or ‘traditional’ to a ‘modern’ society—Shiba revisited historical facts of specific social changes to give a profound answer to the much debated topic of the Tang-Song transition period. As such, Commerce and Society in Sung China was not only highly regarded by the scholarly community of Sinology in Japan, it was also translated into English in 1970 by Mark Elvin and sparked sweeping change in the international academic community.


In 2003, Professor Shiba was elected a member of the Japan Academy and also awarded the Order of Culture by the Emperor of Japan in 2017.