Tang Prize in Sinology winner’s work not yet complete at age 97

The daughter of this year's winner of the Tang Prize in Sinology, neo-Confucianist William Theodore de Bary, said Sunday that "even at the age of 97, I do not think my father regards his work as completed."

The Columbia University scholar was honored for a "remarkable academic career spanning over seven decades" in which "he has written and edited over 30 books, with many of them making groundbreaking contributions that provide both enlightening insight and honest critique into Confucianism," according to the Tang Prize citation.

Accepting the award on behalf of her father, Brett de Bary said her father never regarded Confucianism as a property of a particular national tradition, as a cause for national chauvinism or as a system of thought whose superiority has to be demonstrated.

De Bary's approach was always comparative, she said, noting he preferred to see how different books talked to each other across differences of time, space and culture.

"Even what we think of as one single tradition, in that tradition different writings are continuously engaged in a debate over the most challenging questions of how to live in this world," she said.

After many years of observing her father's teaching style, she said she began to understand his habit of teaching two texts together, demonstrating that the meaning of one book or one text alone is never complete.

"A text has to be open to question in order to live on," she quoted her father as saying.

Brett de Bary said her father always looked at Confucian texts as a conversation.

"More than ever today, it is the questions posed by human knowledge, not only its application, the meaning of human expression, that we must confront. How do we live in a world today that is almost as uncertain and turbulent as the one my father faced as a young man?

"My father has been concerned that the conduct of such conversations, the idea that is central to the humanities, has been overshadowed in American universities now by a technical and careerist atmosphere," she said.

She lamented that even in many East Asian universities, texts once deemed as classics are no longer being taught and that the conversation with the past seems to be fading, leading to the neglect of immense and rich resources for human thought.

"For this reason, more than any other, he is grateful for the Tang Prize and for the idealism it represents about the importance of conversations in the humanities for the 21st century world," she said.

In addition to expressing appreciation to the Tang Prize Foundation on behalf of her father, Brett de Bary also thanked the foundation for its "enormous and detailed consideration to us over the months since" announcing the winners in June.

"My father is moved by the ideal that the prize is meant to honor and by a kind of idealism he glimpsed in it," she said.

Source: Focus Taiwan News Channel