The Tang Prize Foundation on Sunday extended its condolences to the family of William Theodore de Bary, winner of last year’s prize in sinology, who passed away on Friday at his home in New York at the age of 97.
His daughter, Brett, who last year accepted the award on his behalf, said De Bary was with his three children at the time of his death and his final hours were peaceful.
The Chinese studies academic watched recordings of last year’s award ceremony with his children, his daughter said.
De Bary was honored by the foundation for his “remarkable academic career spanning more than seven decades.”
“He has written and edited more than 30 books, many of them making groundbreaking contributions that provide both enlightening insight into and honest critique of Confucianism,” the prize citation said.
De Bary, who set out to become a bridge-builder between the East and West through an academic career as a sinologist, had become a cornerstone of the bridge itself — “a bridge every person interested in interculturation must cross,” Rachel Chung, associate director of Columbia University’s Committee on Asia and the Middle East, said last year in Taipei.
De Bary was pleased to see his Chinese name “corrected” through the prize, foundation chief executive officer Chern Jenn-chuan (陳振川) said.
De Bary cherished his “real” Chinese name of Di Peili (狄培理), given to him by Qian Mu (錢穆), a renowned Confucian who was De Bary’s classmate when the latter studied at Yanjing University (now Beijing University), Chern said.
However, De Bary was known in Chinese-speaking nations as Di Bairui (狄百瑞) because of a mistake by a Hong Kong publishing house in the 1980s.
“De Bary was happy that a three-decade misnomer was finally corrected,” Chern said.
David Wang, a professor of Chinese literature at Harvard University, said he worked with De Bary at Columbia University for 15 years and learned “enormously from his work, teaching and guidance.”
“He is a great scholar and a visionary leader,” Wang said, adding that the sad news “marks the end of his 70-year-long pursuit of Chinese and East Asian thought.”
“He will be remembered fondly by many colleagues, students and friends all over the world,” Wang said.
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