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TANG PRIZE/Historian Hsu hopes to inspire next generation with Tang Prize honor

06/20/2024 03:36 PM
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2024 Tang Prize in Sinology recipient Hsu Cho-yun. Photo: CNA
2024 Tang Prize in Sinology recipient Hsu Cho-yun. Photo: CNA

Taipei, June 20 (CNA) Renowned Taiwanese-American historian Hsu Cho-yun (許倬雲) hopes that winning the Tang Prize Sinology in his 90s will inspire more younger scholars to study Chinese history and culture.

Considering himself "fortunate" to receive the honor, 94-year-old Hsu told CNA in an interview that he believed many other younger and new generation scholars in the humanities and social sciences are equally qualified for the Tang Prize Sinology award.

The Tang Prize is a biennial award established in 2012 by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin (尹衍樑), chairman of the Ruentex Group, to honor people who have made prominent contributions in four categories -- sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, sinology, and the rule of law.

Hsu said he is grateful to still receive such high recognition in his 90s and hopes to serve as an inspiration for others in the field, vowing to continue his studies.

"At 94, it is about time for me to hand in my exam paper to society and hopefully society will tell me I passed the exam [of my life]," the nonagenarian said. "But at the same time, I don't consider myself passing the test and I will continue to learn until I take my last breath."

The historian, who specializes in ancient Chinese history, has just been named the 2024 Tang Prize laureate in Sinology for his integration of social science methodologies into historical research and his devotion to comprehensive historical narratives.

According to the Tang Prize Foundation, Hsu was given this year's prize for his "holistic approach to the study of Chinese history; his engagement with the cultural and intellectual exchanges between China and the world; and his capacity to broach contemporary issues from the perspective of antiquity."

"With his erudition and public spirit, Professor Hsu best exemplifies a Sinologist's historical sensibility and worldly vision," the foundation said in a press statement.

Beyond his scholarly contributions, Hsu has also led new trends in historical research, influencing Taiwanese historiography for three decades, according to the foundation.

After the 1980s, many of his students emerged as renowned historians themselves who excelled in integrating historiography with the social sciences.

Hsu's historical perspectives have been widely disseminated through lectures and publications in mainland China since the 1990s and had a significant impact on academia and society all around the world, the foundation said.

Hsu told CNA that being awarded the Taiwan-based foundation-issued prize reminded himself of the days he spent in Taiwan as a young man.

Born in 1930 in Xiamen City, China, Hsu and his family moved to Taiwan in 1948, one year before the end of the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

Recalling the days when he first arrived in Taiwan with his family, Hsu said that back then even though most Taiwanese were poor, people were kind enough to support him and his family.

"For that I am forever grateful for Taiwan and see it as my second home."

After Hsu received both his master's and bachelor's degrees from Taipei-based National Taiwan University's (NTU) Department of History, he went to the United States where he earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1962.

After getting his degree, Hsu said that he immediately returned to Taiwan to contribute his expertise.

According to Hsu, back then, unlike himself, most Taiwanese who received American degrees chose to stay in the U.S. "The planes heading back to Taiwan were almost always empty."

In keeping his promise made to Academia Sinica, where he worked while studying in the U.S., his alma mater NTU, and his mother, Hsu said he was one of the first Ph.D. graduates from an American university to return to teach in Taiwan that year.

CNA photo June 20, 2024
CNA photo June 20, 2024

During his stay in Taiwan, Hsu said he and Herbert Ma (馬漢寶), late Taiwan Grand Justice of the Constitutional Court, very often traveled around the world to invite and recruit foreign scholars to visit Taiwan to teach young Taiwanese academics in the field of humanities and social sciences.

He considered it his responsibility to help cultivate young Taiwanese talent.

Hsu later moved to the U.S. in 1970, where he taught at the University of Pittsburgh for 30 years before retiring.

Following his retirement, Hsu still regularly publishes books covering different topics and writes columns for Taiwanese newspapers.

Over the past five years, he has also taken advantage of online social media platforms to share his views on life and Chinese history and has since had more than 1 million followers in China.

Due to his poor physical health and limited mobility, Hsu told CNA that he regretted he would be unable to personally receive the Tang Prize award in Taiwan, though adding that Taiwan is always on his mind.

As a seasoned scholar on Chinese history, Hsu hopes that ultimately both sides of the Taiwan Strait will achieve peace.

"I wish one day that brothers from both sides of the strait can shake hands and no longer see each other as enemies," Hsu said.

(By Chung Yu-chen and Joseph Yeh)

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