William Theodore de Bary, whose calls for dialogue among different civilizations differ vastly from Samuel Huntington’s focus on clashes between civilizations, was yesterday awarded the Tang Prize in sinology “for his pioneering contributions in Confucian studies.”
“In his remarkable academic career spanning more than seven decades, he has written and edited more than 30 books, with many of them making groundbreaking contributions that provide both enlightening insight and honest critique into Confucianism,” Nobel laureate Lee Yuan-tseh (李遠哲), who chairs the Tang Prize Selection Committee, read from the citation at a news 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,” the Tang Prize citation read.
De Bary, 96, is recognized as a pioneering academic 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.
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.
He 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 said the Confucian teachings of “restraining oneself” and “the Way and its relationship to all things” still apply today.
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.
Besides his academic achievements, De Bary has headed many academic projects, including the translation and compilation of various texts.
De Bary told the Central News Agency in a recent interview that Taiwan has done well to preserve Confucianism, a key element of Chinese culture and the focus of his lifetime study.
On the question of the complex relations between Taiwan and China, De Bary said the differences between the two sides are not as great now as when the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) moved to Taiwan.
The KMT “set up an independent China offshore that was very important to preserving the Chinese tradition in the early years of the Communist regime in the mainland,” he said.
De Bary said he was particularly appreciative of the efforts by the KMT to preserve Confucianism in Taiwan.
“They have done so very well throughout the period when communism on the mainland was very, very damaging,” he said. “Fortunately, the Communists have learned to adjust and to accept Confucianism in many ways.”
However, De Bary said he was not sure the Chinese were using Confucianism in the same way as the “liberals” in Taiwan.
The Tang Prize was established by Taiwanese entrepreneur Samuel Yin (尹衍樑) in 2012 to honor top researchers and leaders in four fields: sustainable development; biopharmaceutical science; sinology; and the rule of law.
Each category carries a prize of NT$50 million (US$1.55 million).
The first Tang Prize award ceremony was held in 2014.
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