TITLE: China Rediscovers its Own History
SPEAKER: Yu Ying-shih
EVENT DATE: 2007/04/24
RUNNING TIME: 109 minutes
Distinguished historian Yu Ying-shih, recipient of the 2006 John W. Kluge Prize for the Study of Humanity, presented a talk on the current debate within the Chinese Communist Party on the roles that democracy, tradition, Confucianism and Maoism play in reinterpreting China's history, in light of the development of modern society and a burgeoning economy. The lecture is sponsored by the Library's John W. Kluge Center.
Speaker Biography: Described by his peers as "the greatest Chinese intellectual historian of our generation" and "the most widely read contemporary historian writing in Chinese," Yu Ying-shih has, in fact, said he is a "very unlikely scholar," having taught himself classical Chinese, English, biology and algebra before receiving his first formal education as a Harvard visiting scholar at age 25. Yu is an Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies and History at Princeton University. During his academic career, which began in 1962, he has taught at three Ivy League universities (Princeton, Harvard and Yale) and the University of Michigan. He also served concurrently as president of New Asia College, Hong Kong, and vice chancellor of Chinese University of Hong Kong from 1973 to 1975. He spent the bulk of his academic career at Princeton, where he taught from 1987 to 2001. Encompassing nearly the entire span of Chinese history, from early times to the present, Yu's knowledge and rich scholarly production can be loosely clustered under three fields: early and medieval Chinese history, intellectual and cultural history of the later imperial period (the Song, 960-1279; Ming, 1368-1644; and Qing, 1644-1911 dynasties) and studies of intellectuals and intellectual problems in the modern period. In 1970 he published an interpretive article in Chinese, "A Consideration of the History of the Qing Thought from the Perspective of the Development of Song-Ming Confucianism." This required command of the full span of Confucian thought, from the classical period prior to 231 B.C. up through the 19th century. In 1972 he published groundbreaking research on the major thinker Fang Yizhi (1611-1671). Asked in the 1990s to write a short historical introduction to the collected works of Zhu Xi (1130-1200), the most influential Confucian after Confucius himself, Yu read so deeply in the source material that he ended by writing a 600-page book that fundamentally reinterpreted this towering figure. Yu is known not only for his scholarship but also for his support of the democracy movement in mainland China. Despite his outspoken criticism of the Chinese Communist Party and support for the democracy movement, his historical works are widely read and admired on the mainland as they are in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other nations in East Asia.