Wang Gungwu, Doyen of Chinese Overseas Studies, Named Winner of 2020 Tang Prize in Sinology


TAIPEI,
TAIWAN – Media OutReach – 20 June
2020 – The 2020 Tang Prize in Sinology was awarded to renowned historian Wang
Gungwu “for his trailblazing and dissecting insights on the history of the
Chinese world order, Chinese overseas, and Chinese migratory experience. As the
leading scholar on Sino-Southeast Asian historical relations, he developed a
unique approach to understanding China by scrutinizing its long and complex
relation with its southern neighbors. His erudition and critical discernment
have significantly enriched the explanation of the Chinese people’s changing
place in the world, traditionally developed from an internalist perspective or
in relation to the West.”

 

Born in
Surabaya in the Dutch East Indies (today’s Indonesia) in 1930 to Chinese
parents, Prof. Wang grew up and received education in British Malaya, and later
pursued advanced studies in London, where he got a PhD degree from SOAS, the
University of London in 1957. His subsequent academic appointments brought him
to Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Australia and the United States. He was
president of the University of Hong Kong from 1986 to 1995, a visiting fellow
at Oxford’s All Souls College, a Rockefeller visiting fellow at the University
of London and recipient of Commander of the Order of the British Empire in
1991. Currently, he is university professor at the National University of
Singapore. 


Spending much
of his life immersed in different cultures gives Prof. Wang diverse personae as
a scholar. He is an “insider” in the academic tradition of Chinese Confucianism
and British elite education, and an “outsider” in the interpretation of China’s
perception of the world. “What drew me to that subject (Chinese overseas) was
what China meant to the world outside, especially to those Chinese who had left
the country and settled abroad,” so remarked Prof. Wang in his memoir, Home Is Not Here. His original approach
to understanding China from the southern perspective is in part a natural
choice given his personal experience. This same experience provided him with
abundant inspiration in his formative years as he matured into an authoritative
voice in the analysis of China’s worldview.

 

The terms
“Chinese overseas” or “Chinese immigrants” refer to words such as hua qiao (Chinese expatriates) commonly
seen in Chinese-language newspapers. The word qiao is defined as people who lodge in places or countries other
than their ethnic origin. Qiao first
appeared in Wei Shu (The Book of Wei)
and Jin Shu (The Book of Jin),
written during the period of China’s Six Dynasties, and referred to sojourning
in a foreign land. However, when reality forced Chinese migrants to extend
their stay, their sojourn turned into long or even permanent residence, and
what changed was their sense of identity. Enlightened by his family and
educational background, Prof. Wang knows too well that the development of an
identification is more an emotional process than a rational decision. In
addition, because one’s identity implicates one’s psychological state, it can
undergo a transformation whenever one’s circumstances change. Therefore, there
is never a clear-cut answer when it comes to identity. Prof. Wang, taking
advantage of his western academic training, is able to look beyond dichotomous
concepts. Instead, he explores the concepts by tracing the history of qiao and eventually came up with the
idea known as “Chinese overseas.” 

 

His many books, written with first-hand life experience and
erudition on Southeast Asian history as well as sophisticated analysis of the
role of the Chinese in the region past and present, are now classics in the
field. Among dozens of pioneering works he has published, there are A Short History of the Nanyang Chinese
(1959), The Structure of Power in North
China During the Five Dynasties
(1963), The
Chinese Overseas: From Earthbound China to the Quest for Autonomy
(2000),
and Renewal: The Chinese State and the
New Global History
(2013).

Prof. Wang’s research is an integration of a variety of histories,
including the history of Chinese overseas, of China’s relation with the outside
world, of Southeast Asia, and of commerce and maritime history. Examining
shifting world orders with a sophisticated mind is what puts him in the
vanguard of Chinese overseas studies. Prof. Kuo-Tung Chen, research fellow of
the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, pointed out that Prof.
Wang’s academic achievements are characterized by his ability to “look at the
big picture, reference the present with the past, and put forward his original
views,” which has allowed him to develop a panoramic view of the history of
China and of the Chinese overseas. Together with Prof. Yu Ying-Shih, inaugural
Tang Prize laureate in Sinology and academician at Academia Sinica, Prof. Wang
is also widely recognized among the top living authorities on Chinese history.

 

Established by Taiwanese entrepreneur Dr. Samuel Yin, the biannual Tang
Prize consists of four categories, namely Sustainable Development,
Biopharmaceutical Science, Sinology and Rule of Law, with NT$40 million
(approx. US$1.33 million) in cash and a research grant of NT$10 million
(approx. US$0.33 million) allocated to each category. It aims to promote the
interaction and cooperation between cultural and technological research so as
to find a 21st century path to the sustainable development of the
world. For more information, please visit the prize’s official website at https://www.tang-prize.org/en/first.php

About Tang Prize

Dr. Samuel Yin, chairman of Ruentex Group, founded
the Tang Prize in December of 2012 as an extension of the supreme value his
family placed on education. Harkening back to the golden age of the Tang
Dynasty in Chinese history, the Tang Prize seeks to be an inspiring force for
people working in all corners of the world. For more information on the Tang
Prize and its laureates, please visit www.tang-prize.org

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