Book Excerpt: Yü Ying-Shih’s Time at Harvard

Professor Yü Ying-shih
Professor Yü Ying-shih
From Rural China to the Ivy League: Reminiscences of Transformations in Modern Chinese History by Yü Ying-shih

A leading authority in the field of Chinese Studies, Professor Yü Ying-shih (Princeton University) received the John W. Kluge Prize for Achievement in the Study of Humanity in 2006 and the inaugural Tang Prize in Sinology in 2014. In addition to his monumental scholarly contributions over six decades to the fields of Chinese history, thought, politics, and culture during which time he published over thirty books, forty-one monographs, and hundreds of articles, Professor Yü also put his intellectual convictions into practice; for example, his criticism of the violent suppression of the Tiananmen democracy movement of 1989 and his decades-long commentaries on Radio Free Asia. Over the years, his works have had great influence throughout the Chinese-language world where he has been hailed as a paradigm of Chinese humanism. Sadly, Professor Yü passed away last year just as his final publication was being released. We are fortunate to have his memoir documenting his perspectives. As Professor Chin-shing Huang (Academia Sinica) notes, “This book is an essential record of the history of our times, bearing witness to the cultural, political, and social transformations of what Professor Yü Ying-shih notes as the period of the most violent turmoil and social upheaval in modern Chinese history.”

Below is an excerpt from Professor Yü’s From Rural China to the Ivy League :

Two months later, I received a wholly unexpected official letter from the director of the Harvard-Yenching Institute, Serge Elisséeff (1889–1975), inviting me to come to Harvard in the fall. The letter also stated that I could come to Harvard two months early and arrive in early July so that I could familiarize myself with Harvard and improve my English-language writing and speaking skills. Of course, this letter pleased me beyond all expectations, but it also left me confused as to why I was selected. It was not until after I was at Harvard for a few months that I finally learned that the core focus of the Harvard-Yenching Institute Scholars Program was on young scholars, and its goal was to cultivate their potential for scholarship and intellectual thought so they could develop these fully. Therefore, my age being below the requirement and my scholarship not being advanced actually were the principal reasons why I was chosen for the program. I also believe that the Harvard-Yenching Institute made an exception and selected me because they had already rejected the nominations of New Asia College the year before and because they were supportive of New Asia College and sympathetic about its situation.

The description by Professor Qian Mu just cited mentions the nomination of “an older person” but does not give his name, so I will elaborate on this. This “older person” was Mr. Chen Bozhuang (P. C. Chun, 1892–1960). Using a government stipend, Professor Chen studied in the United States in 1910, the same year as Hu Shi and Zhao Yuanren (Y. R. Chao, 1892–1982). Professor Chen’s specialty was chemical engineering, but after he returned to China he became involved in various areas of economics and transportation. After the victory in the Anti-Japanese War of Resistance, he took up the post of Chief of the Beijing and Shanghai Railroad Bureau, and at the beginning of 1949 he escaped southward to settle in Hong Kong. From then on, his interests shifted to the philosophy of John Dewey and the social sciences. He offered a course in Sociology at New Asia College and founded a very important journal, Modern Academic Quarterly (Xiandai xueshu jikan 現代學術季刊), that specialized in research on and translations of the latest intellectual trends in Western humanities and social studies. He also immersed himself in the study of Talcott Parsons’s new book The Social System. I had frequent discussions with him, and the Modern Academic Quarterly greatly expanded my intellectual horizons. Because Professor Chen Bozhuang edited the Modern Academic Quarterly, he very much wanted to visit the United States so that he could discuss the translation and introduction of the latest intellectual trends with the appropriate academics. This was the main reason that he agreed to New Asia College’s nomination; however, his proposal was not in accord with the Harvard-Yenching Institute’s goal and he was over the age limit, so he was unable to realize his wish to visit the United States again at the time.

In his letter to Yang Liansheng dated June 1, 1954, Hu Shi confirms this […]

From Rural China to the Ivy League by Yü Ying-shih is available in hardcover and paperback. It is also available in different ebook formats, which start at $19.99 to purchase and $9.99 to rent.

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