Ying-Shih Yu: Professor rises from poverty to win 'Nobel for historians'

Historians in the News

Raised in a rural community in southeastern China and uneducated until his mid-teens, Ying-Shih Yu seems an unlikely recipient of the John W. Kluge Prize in the Human Sciences, informally referred to as the Nobel Prize for history.

Now a pioneer revered in both Englishand Chinese-speaking circles and professor of history and East Asian studies emeritus, Yu has come a long way. As he is fond of telling friends and colleagues, he is a self-taught scholar. He is the author of more than 30 books, covering perhaps as many themes of Chinese history, culture and philosophy.

"He is maybe the most important historian of China alive today," East Asian studies chair David Howell said. Before his retirement in 2001, "many students every year applied to Princeton in hopes of conducting their research and writing their theses under Professor Yu's tutelage."

Howell said Yu's success in Chinese studies was because of his exceptional style of scholarship. "One of his strengths is that his range is incredibly wide," he said. "He always knows something about even the most obscure issues in the field."

Yu's scholarship spans two millennia of Chinese history, touching upon, among other things, markets in despotic rule and gender in literary masterworks.
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