Every two years, the Tang Prize invites its distinguished recipients to Taiwan to accept the medal and diploma that recognize their spirit and accomplishments. While the award ceremony is perhaps presented with more pomp and circumstance, the lectures and forums are where deep intellectual discussion happens.
This year, the 2018 laureates delivered their lectures on a wide variety of topics, including climate change, targeted therapies, Tang poetry, Chinese socio-economic history, and legal philosophy. Lectures were delivered over the course of one day, September 22, at the Howard Civil Service International House.
Beginning the day was the lecture in Rule of Law, delivered by Joseph Raz, legal and moral philosopher, introduced by Paul Craig, Professor of English Law of the University of Oxford.
In his lecture, “The Law’s Own Virtue,” Raz provide clear insight into the basic essence of the law. Identifying five principles to its proper instantiation in the world: it should be reasonably clear, stable, publicly available, and have general rules and standard that are applied prospectively and not retroactively.
Raz explained that the rule of law, when properly operating, is open to the understanding of the government and the governed, thus both government and the governed may be guided by the law. He further relates how the law, while not sufficientfor the various moral goals of the law (for respect for human rights, for principles of justice and more), it is necessary.
Many interesting features of Raz’s legal philosophy were revealed during question and answer period. On the topic of transitional justice, Raz noted how even the victor in a war is often in a disastrous state. It is often believed that transitional justice is just and fair, rather than unjust and unfair, though this is not necessarily the case, Raz added, as an overzealous approach to exacting justice can result in massive harm to a nation. It must never be forgotten that the people of a nation must still be able to live their lives, no matter the transition. Thus there is always a need for mutual respect.
Following the philosophical bend of the Rule of Law lecture, the next lectures of the day were given by the laureates in Biopharmaceutical Science: Tony Hunter and Brian J. Druker (John Mendelsohn’s lecture was delivered by Mien-Chie Hung). The lectures were introduced by professor Shu Chien, Professor of Bioengineering at UC San Diego.
Mien-Chie Hung, a graduate of Brandeis and MIT, and now at MD Anderson Cancer Center, was successful in isolating HER2/neu. In 1990, he found oncogenic factors on E1A. Hung’s work has been influential in both medical treatment and research.
Hunter, first to present, was the discoverer of tyrosine phosphorylation and that the oncogene src is a tyrosine kinase. His foundational finding was used by other researchers, primarily Druker and Mendelsohn, to develop target treatment therapies for cancer.
During the press conference following the lecture, the laureates and representative, along with Chien, discussed the future for precision and individual medical therapies. Precision medicine, which once tailored the drugs and the treatment according to the person and the symptoms, will transition to a focus on the illness itself. With the actual reason for the sickness found, medical professionals in the future will be able to address the genetic aspects of a disease as well as habits and surroundings.
From the human to the environmental, the third lecture session of the day was in Sustainable Development. Lectures were delivered by VeerabhadranRamanathanand James E. Hansen and introduced by Academician of the Academia Sinica Liu Chao-Han.
Hansen, born on a farm in Iowa, was fortunate to find his way down path of research. Through his studies, he saw how society was fueling developing through the burning of fossil fuels, though the consequences would be inherited by the following generations—not exactly the definition of fairness. To help clean up the world, he has called for the government to place more effort on the issue of climate change from the belief that it is this generation’s responsibility.
Ramanathan discussed his research of the past several years and his cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme to create the Climate and Clean Air Coalition to Reduce Short-lived Climate Pollutants. He hopes to help to reduce the amount of short-lived pollutants, encourage more environmental cooking energies, implement Project Surya (a project that aims to improve public health), and reduce the threat of global warming.
Hansen and Ramanathan fielded many questions from journalists on sustainable policy and their possible application to Taiwan. On the question of nuclear energy, the laureates noted how both nuclearization and denuclearization have advantages and disadvantages. But the decision of which is appropriate is ultimately up to the local people who will benefit from the energy while also living alongside the inherent risks. On the issue of climate change, however, the two were certain—it is a pressing problem that must be addressed immediately by reducing the use of greenhouse gas producing fuels.
Hansen further stressed the need for objective data on the advantages and disadvantages of each type of energy. After all, it is the responsibility of the government and scientists to be open and transparent about the impact of nuclear, fossil fuel, and alternative energies. Only then can the discussion bring us closer to an effective model for energy.
The last round of lectures was delivered by the recipients in Sinology—Stephen Own and Yoshinobu Shiba, with an introduction by Harvard professor David Der-wei Wang.
Owen looked at the aesthetic theory of Su Shi in a story of interactions with his teacher. The story is also the origin of a famous idiom of Chinese—“to have a bamboo in one’s chest” (a rough English equivalent would be “to have something in mind”).
Shiba is well known for his research into the socioeconomic history of China, especially that of the Song dynasty. In this particular talk, he used Fujian as an example of how the separation of work in transportation and society, and social mobility, defined the role of the merchant in “The Social Position of the Merchant in Chinese History.”
Asked about his future plans for translation, Owen told the press that his translations are available for download on an online database, to which translations from other scholars will be added. He added that his translations into English did not recreate the tonal structure or rhyming scheme of the original Chinese, and that his translations are primarily for people who do not understand Chinese. Shiba, asked about the purpose of overseas Chinese workers in the Song dynasty, responded, according to the logs kept on foreign work, that they would send large amounts of money back home.
Lectures were not the only chance to hear the ideas of the 2018 laureates. There are also forums held at seven universities throughout Taiwan and a talk at Affiliated Senior High School of National Taiwan Normal University.