Ying-shih Yu, Renowned Scholar of Chinese Thought, Dies at 91Historians in the News
tags: obituaries, Chinese history
Ying-shih Yu, a renowned scholar of Chinese traditional thought who used his mastery of classical texts to trace China’s evolution across thousands of years, died on Aug. 1 at his home in Princeton, N.J. He was 91.
His family confirmed the death in a statement.
Professor Yu’s encyclopedic knowledge of Chinese thought, literature and history was grounded in a traditional education in rural China.
His early life was shaped by war, revolution and repeated dislocation. In 1937, as Japanese forces invaded China, he was sent to live with relatives in the lush, isolated countryside of streams and mountains in Anhui Province, in eastern China.
There his teachers introduced him to the rigors of reading and writing classical Chinese, far removed from the Western-inspired modern curriculum that had gained hold in cities. That instruction and his immersion in village life, he said, set him apart from many of his contemporaries.
“Through living all those years in the countryside, I unconsciously gained an intimate understanding of traditional Chinese society,” Professor Yu wrote in his memoirs, published in 2018.
In a career that took him to Hong Kong and Taiwan, as well as a succession of Ivy League universities, Professor Yu often returned to the theme that China’s long traditions could be a wellspring, not an enemy, of enlightenment, individual dignity and democracy.
When he began his studies in the 1940s, “whatever appeared to be uniquely Chinese was interpreted as a deviation from the universal norm of progress of civilization,” Professor Yu said in a speech in 2006 when he received the John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity at the Library of Congress. “If history is any guide, then there seems to be a great deal of overlapping consensus in basic values between Chinese culture and Western culture.”