"In his remarkable academic career spanning over seven decades, he has written and edited over 30 books with many of them making ground-breaking contributions that provide both enlightening insight and honest critique into Confucianism," Nobel laureate Lee Yuan-tseh, who chairs the Tang Prize Selection Committee, read from the citation at a press conference in Taipei. "Recognized for establishing the field of Neo-Confucianism in the West, Professor de Bary is indeed a leading authority in the field of Sinology," according to the Tang Prize citation.
De Bary's recognition by the Tang Prize is expected to rekindle interest in the importance of dialogue between rulers and the ruled and between peoples of different cultural and historical backgrounds, a theme likely to resonate in an era of increasing divisiveness.
The 96-year-old de Bary is recognized as a pioneering scholar in the field of Confucian intellectual history. In recent years, he has turned his focus to a comparative study of Western and Eastern civilizations and their areas of compatibility.
Huang Chin-shing, director of the Institute of History and Philology at Academia Sinica, lauded de Bary as a "towering figure" in Sinology, both as promoter and organizer -- promoting China studies and organizing international forums for experts to exchange views and ideas.
In his 2004 book "Nobility and Civility: Asian Ideals of Leadership and the Common Good," de Bary propounds that utilizing only a Western perspective as a compass for civilization is not consistent with multiculturalism. He argued that the East has a long history of independent traditions and will not follow the Western model of development.
Besides pointing out the vibrant history of Confucian and Indian traditions, de Bary also holds an open and multicultural outlook, encouraging dialogue between different cultures as a way to find common ground, showcase the value of human rights and civil society, and resolve key issues facing the world today. He says the Confucian teachings of "restraining oneself" and "the Way and its relationship to all things" still apply today.
Earlier, in 1988, in "East Asian Civilizations: A Dialogue in Five Stages," he analyzed the development and exchanges within East Asian civilization and suggested encouraging dialogue and exchanges between different cultures and civilizations.
De Bary believes that in a chaotic world, there is no other better remedy, and this has been the purpose of his scholarship. Besides his scholastic achievements, de Bary has headed many academic projects, including the translation and compilation of various texts.
Students and scholars in the field of East Asian studies have greatly benefited from his 1960's "Sources of Chinese Tradition," in which he translated and annotated a vast number of Chinese classics and texts. This publication offered a wide-ranging portrayal of different aspects of Chinese social, political, intellectual, and cultural traditions to the English-speaking world.The reprinting of expanded editions of the work in 1999, 2000, and 2004 is testimony to the significant contribution the book has made to Sinology.
He has also been a leading figure presiding over the translation of Eastern classics at Columbia University, a project that has seen the translation of over 150 classics and serves as a foundation for East Asian studies in the West. He has also invited leading scholars from around the world to discuss and exchange their findings on Neo-Confucianism and publish their insights for readers around the world.
Overall, de Bary has fostered a global conversation based on the common values and experiences shared by the East and the West, serving as a bridge between Confucian traditions and the modern world. The biennial Tang Prize was established by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin in 2012 to complement the Nobel Prize and to honor top researchers and leaders in four fields: sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, Sinology, and the rule of law. The first Tang Prize award ceremony was held in 2014.
The laureates in each of the four prize categories will either individually receive or share (if there is more than one winner in the category) a cash prize of NT$40 million (US$1.23 million) and a research grant of up to NT$10 million to be used within five years.
Similar to the Nobel Prize, nominations for the Tang Prize are by invitation only. Winners of the Tang Prize are selected by panels of judges convened by Academia Sinica, Taiwan's leading research institution, that are comprised of prominent researchers and scholars from Taiwan and abroad, including Nobel laureates. (By S.C. Chang)