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Pro-Taiwan historian, winner of inaugural Asian Nobel in Sinology passes away

Taiwan Tang Prize Laureate and maestro of Chinese history Yu Ying-shih was aged 91

Yu Ying-shih receives the Tang Prize in Sinology in 2014. (Tang Prize Foundation photo)

Yu Ying-shih receives the Tang Prize in Sinology in 2014. (Tang Prize Foundation photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Yu Ying-shih (余英時), world-renowned historian and the first recipient of Taiwan’s Tang Prize in Sinology, passed away in his sleep at the age of 91 on Sunday (Aug. 1).

Samuel Yin, founder of the Tang Prize, expressed his deep gratitude for Yu’s contribution to Sinology and his efforts to cultivate young scholars. The Tang Prize Foundation said in a statement that Yu had set up the “Yu Ying-shih Fellowship for the Humanities” with his Tang Prize grant of NT$10 million (US$360,000) to recognize up-and-coming researchers’ work.

Yu was also a recipient of the John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity, among other accolades.

Yu was very outspoken about his support for democracy in Taiwan and Hong Kong, and unafraid to denounce the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). In an interview with CommonWealth Magazine in 2014, he lamented the erosion of freedom in Hong Kong, and warned that Taiwan may be next.

In the same interview, he said an increasing number of people in Taiwan relying on doing business in China to make money was concerning. However, he was still optimistic about Taiwan’s fate, adding that when one is determined to take a certain path, one will eventually forge a whole new reality.

Yu said knowledge of politics, history, and other humanistic studies could aid people in countering CCP propaganda.

Born in 1930, Yu spent his youth in China. Yu’s father was a scholar and professor who insisted that he keep up his studies and apply for university.

The Sino-Japanese War and the ensuing Chinese Civil War interrupted Yu’s schooling, yet at the same time exposed him to politics, forcing him to think deeply and critically about battling leftist- and rightist-ideologies. He received his PhD in history at Harvard University, and taught at a number of prestigious U.S. universities throughout his career.