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Tang Prize in Sinology goes to Japanese Shiba, American Owen (update)

2018/06/20 11:50:30

Taipei, June 20 (CNA) Yoshinobu Shiba of Japan and Stephen Owen of the United States were named Wednesday as joint winners of the 2018 Tang Prize in Sinology for their outstanding achievements in their respective fields of China studies.

Owen was cited for his penetrating scholarship and theoretical ingenuity in Classical Chinese prose and poetry, especially Tang poetry and its translation.

Shiba, meanwhile, was honored for his mastery and depth of insight into Chinese socio-economic history, achieved through his original theoretical lens that fuses the distinctive fortes of Chinese, Japanese, and Western scholarship, according to the citation of the Tang Prize Selection Committee.

Shiba is a leading authority on Chinese socio-economic history, the committee said, and his scholarship innovatively synthesizes the strengths of Japanese Sinological tradition with that of Western social sciences while skillfully making use of a variety of Chinese primary sources, adeptly merging the distinctive fortes of these three academic traditions.

Shiba's breakthrough insights into the study of Chinese history, particularly in Song studies, make him eminently worthy of emulation, according to the citation.

In short, he is one of the very few scholars in the field of Sinology today who perfectly integrate the essence of Chinese, Japanese, and Western scholarship to attain the highest level of achievement, the committee said.

Formerly a professor at Tokyo University and Osaka University, Shiba is now the executive librarian at Toyo Bunko, or Oriental Library, a library and research institute in Tokyo dedicated to the study of Asian history and culture and one of the world's five largest centers for Asian studies.

He is being recognized for his research on the social and economic development of Song China (960-1279) and Chinese expatriates, according to the Tang Prize Foundation.

Drawing on his prodigious knowledge of the Song Dynasty, Shiba uses everyday language to inform readers, as is evident in his books "The Diversity of the Socio-economy in Song China, 960-1279" and "Commerce and Society in Sung China," Academia Sinica research fellow Chen Kuo-tung (陳國棟) said.

Huang Chin-shing (黃進興), vice president of Academia Sinica, explained why Shiba has focused his research on that period of Chinese history and how his astounding recounts of his unique research findings have influenced China studies in Europe and the United States.

In his search for understanding of Song China cities and market economy, Shiba traced their development to Tang Dynasty (618-907) politics and economy and found that infrastructure of Tang China's commerce-oriented cities became fully developed during the Song Dynasty, Huang said.

He said Shiba is a "towering figure" in the field of Sinology who has used his training in western social science and history to assimilate information about traditional Japanese literature and Chinese language data.

Shiba, 88, has never engaged in partisan politics, said Huang, who knows him personally.

In Japan, Shiba is known for his objective and independent research, willingness to groom younger scholars and his generosity in giving credit to fellow researchers, Huang said.

"He's a paradigm," Huang said.

The other Tang Prize winner in Sinology, Harvard scholar Stephen Owen, has been the single most important scholar of Chinese Classical poetry in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, according to the citation.

A leading scholar on Tang poetry, he has also written widely in other literary fields and has translated important writings in both prose and poetry, the Tang Prize committee said.

It said that through his work, Owen brings not only penetrating insights to Sinology, but also a breadth of comparative applications and theoretical sophistication that have made his scholarship unique worldwide.

Owen, 71, specializes in premodern literature, lyric poetry and comparative poetics. Much of his work has been focused on the middle period of Chinese literature (200-1200). He has also written on literature of the early period and the Qing Dynasty.

He has written or edited dozens of books, articles, and anthologies in the field of Chinese literature, especially Chinese poetry, including "An Anthology of Chinese Literature: Beginnings to 1911" (Norton, 1996); "The Making of Early Chinese Classical Poetry" (Harvard Asia Center, 2006); and "The Late Tang: Chinese Poetry of the Mid-Ninth Century (827-860)" (Harvard Asia Center, 2006).

Owen has also translated the complete works of Chinese poet Du Fu, which was one of the first volumes in the Library of Chinese Humanities series that features translations of Chinese literature.

Following his B.A. (1968) and Ph.D. (1972) in Chinese Language studies at Yale University, Owen taught there from 1972 to 1982 and then moved to Harvard.

In acknowledgment of his groundbreaking work across various disciplines, Owen was awarded the James Bryant Conant University Professorship in 1997. He was a Fulbright Scholar, held a Guggenheim Fellowship, and received a Mellon Foundation Distinguished Achievement Award (2006) among many other awards and honors. The Tang Prize in Sinology is seen as his crowning award.

(By S.C. Chang)
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