22 January 1930 |
Tianjin, Republic of China
|Institutions||University of Michigan
New Asia College
Chinese University of Hong Kong
|Alma mater||Yenching University
New Asia College
|Doctoral advisor||Yang Lian-sheng|
|Doctoral students||Ray Huang|
|Notable awards||2006 Kluge Prize|
Yu Ying-shih (simplified Chinese: 余英时; traditional Chinese: 余英時; pinyin: Yú Yīngshí; born January 22, 1930 in Tianjin) is a Chinese American historian known for his mastery of sources for Chinese history and philosophy, his ability to synthesize them on a wide range of topics, and for his advocacy for a new Confucianism. He is an Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies and History at Princeton University.
The Yu family spent the years 1937 through 1946 in rural Anhui province, where they would be safe from Japanese invasion. He later recalled that “although rujia 儒家 [Confucian] culture was in a degenerate state, it nevertheless controlled the activities of daily life: by and large, all interpersonal relationships—from marriage and funeral customs to seasonal festivals—adhered to the rujia norms, supplemented by Buddhist and Daoist beliefs and practices.”
In 1949, he enrolled in the department of History in Yenching University, but in 1950 came to Hong Kong for reunion with his family. He then studied in the newly founded New Asia College, later incorporated into Chinese University of Hong Kong. The founders of New Asia College, which Yu joined as a student, were staunchly anti-Communist, rejected the iconoclastic New Culture Movement but did not see Western liberal thought as the alternative. Yu studied with Ch'ien Mu, a scholar rooted in traditional Chinese philosophy, and became the first graduate of the college. He is remembered both as an international prodigy at weiqi (or Chinese chess) and for the number of cigarettes he smoked.
On Ch'ien's recommendation, he came to Harvard University in the United States in 1955, and received his PhD in 1962. He then taught at various universities including University of Michigan, Harvard, Yale University and Princeton University. He is one of the few people to have been tenured at three Ivy League universities. In 1973, he came back to his alma mater, New Asia College. He became the Head of the College and also the Pro Vice-Chancellor of University, before returning to Harvard, then moving to Yale in 1977, and then to Princeton in 1987. He retired from Princeton in 2001.
While still in Hong Kong, Yu started to write books and pamphlets in Chinese commenting on the problems of intellectuals and democracy in the People’s Republic. He was particularly tenacious over the years in presenting the achievements of Chen Yinke (1890–1969), the greatest modern scholar of Tang dynasty China, who was at first supported and then hounded to death by the revolution. His Harvard PhD thesis was published as Trade and Expansion in Han China; a Study in the Structure of Sino-Barbarian Economic Relations (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967). Scrupulous and thematically relevant monographs, mostly published in Chinese, explored the role of intellectuals, especially early modern moral and political critics such as Fang Yizhi (1611–71), Dai Zhen (1723–77), and Zhang Xuecheng (1738–1801), who had been neglected in earlier scholarship. Yu also mastered the scholarship around Honglou Meng, the novel known in English as Dream of the Red Chamber, a masterpiece exploring the decline of a rich family at the height of the Qing empire in the late 18th century.
The insistent, modest, meticulous voice of history which Yu developed in these studies was the one he used in the debates over democracy in the 1980s and 1990s. Some people, including both the defenders of the state in Beijing and western modernization liberals, still insisted that democracy and Confucianism were incompatible. But Yu developed the philosophical and historical arguments perhaps implicit in the thought of his mentors: liberal Confucian values, once freed from the imperial ideology of the dynasties, are essential to democracy: The independent spirit of the scholar both models and creates responsible criticism of politics. Confucian values had always insisted on the critique of political power, moral judgment grounded in historic comparison, the voice of the people in governance, the contingent nature of the political mandate, public discourse, the responsibility of the individual for social action, and could even be developed for a contemporary view of women’s rights.
He is the elder brother of Paul Yu.
- quoted in John Makeham, Lost Soul: "Confucianism in Contemporary Chinese Academic Discourse  (Harvard University Press, 2008): 1.
- Ziyou Yu Pingdeng Zhi Jian [Between freedom and equality](Jiulong: Ziyou chuban she, 1955); Minzhu Geming Lun : Shehui Chongjian Xin Guan[On democratic revolution: new views on social reconstruction] (Jiulong: Ziyou chu ban she, 1954).
- Yingshi Yu, Democracy, Human Rights and Confucian Culture (Oxford: Asian Studies Centre St. Antony's College, 2000).
- Despotism, market and Confucianism in the age of Wang Yang-ming. Video lecture given by Yu Ying-shih at the Library of Congress in 2005
- Kluge Prize Winner 2006 - Yu Ying-shih
- Address of Yu Ying-shih on the Occasion of Receiving the John W. Kluge Prize at the Library of Congress
- "Yu Ying-shih". New Jersey Star Ledger. December 31, 2006.
- China rediscovers its own history. Video lecture given by Yu Ying-shih at the Library of Congress in 2007
- China's return to tradition: how to interpret the new forces emerging in China. Video lecture given by Yu Ying-shih at the Library of Congress in 2007