Yu Ying-shih (余英時), a historian and a member of Taiwan's Academia Sinica, has been named one of the winners of the 2006 John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanities, the US Library of Congress announced on Wednesday.
Yu, 76, and the other winner of the prize, historian John Hope Franklin, 91, will share a cash prize of US$1 million.
Noting that Yu has been described by his peers as "the greatest Chinese intellectual historian of our generation" and "the most widely read contemporary historian writing in Chinese" who has written more than 30 books, which span more than 2,000 years of history, a Library of Congress spokesman said Yu deserves the John W. Kluge Prize -- commonly called "the Nobel Prize of the humanities" -- for his achievement.
The spokesman said Yu was not only known for his scholarship but also for his sympathy for the democracy movement in China and his support for the young democracy advocates exiled after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
Despite Yu's outspoken criticism of the Chinese Communists' policies, most of his scholarly works have been published in China, including a recent 10-volume collection of his Chinese-language works.
Endowed by Library of Congress benefactor John W. Kluge, the Kluge Prize rewards lifetime achievement in a wide range of disciplines not covered by the Nobel prizes, including history, philosophy, politics, anthropology, sociology, religion, the arts and humanities and linguistics.
Franklin and Yu have each played a pioneering role in bringing previously neglected major aspects of American and Chinese history into the mainstream of scholarship and public consciousness of their respective native lands, the spokesman said.
Both have done demanding work using a wide variety of primary documents and historical approaches. Each has had an enduring impact on both scholarship and his society, and has opened a path for others to find new materials and methodologies for understanding both their and our cultures, the spokesman said.
Yu's work examines major topics over two millennia of Chinese civilization; Franklin's work covers three centuries of the history of the United States.
Yu is an Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies and History at Princeton University.
During his academic career, which began in 1962, Yu taught at Princeton, Harvard, Yale and the University of Michigan.
He also served concurrently as president of New Asia College, Hong Kong, and vice chancellor of the 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.
In his early 40s, Yu was elected to be a lifetime member of Academia Sinica, the most distinguished academic institution in Taiwan. He was recently elected a member of the American Philosophical Society, according to the spokesman.
A scholar reviewing Yu's nomination stated: "The rare distinction of having been elected to full professorships at Harvard, Yale and Princeton undoubtedly confirms the high esteem in which he is held. However, his actual scholarship is a much more important indication of his lifetime achievement, compared to his career successes."
First awarded in 2003, the Kluge Prize is international; the recipient may be of any nationality, writing in any language. The main criterion for a recipient is deep and sustained intellectual accomplishment in the study of humanity that extends beyond narrow academic disciplines.