Citation for Professor Jao Tsung-I


HKSYU The 38th Graduation Ceremony Citation

Professor Jao Tsung-I

Doctor of Letters honoris causa

A citation written by Professor Leung Tin Wai and Dr. Wong Chung Ming and translated by Dr. Kung Chi Keung

Professor Jao Tsung-I is a renowned Chinese scholar, calligrapher and painter.  His versatility in scholarship encompasses a wide range of disciplines in the humanities: history, archaeology, literature as well as education and the Confucian classics.  The embodiment of the highest level of cultivation in both scholarship and the arts, Professor Jao is an internationally celebrated authority on Sinology.

Born on August 9, 1917, Professor Jao, also known by his courtesy names Gu’an, Bozi and Bolian, and his nom de plume Xuantang, is a native of Chao’an, Guangdong Province. At 95, he is still robust in spirit and clear in thought.  He remains steadfast in his dedication to academic pursuits, seeking always to break new ground in the study of Chinese scholarship and culture. The《I Ching》states: “The movement of heaven is full of power.  Thus the superior man makes himself strong and untiring.”  This is the maxim to which Professor Jao has adhered all his life.

Professor Jao’s academic career did not begin with years of formal education: in fact he only received formal education up to the secondary level.  His father, Jao Ngok, himself an accomplished scholar and progressive thinker, was a distinguished personality within the business and financial circles of his hometown of Chaozhou.  As a boy, Professor Jao enjoyed immersing himself in the veritable sea of books in the library of his father’s studio, Tianxiaolou, which boasted over 100,000 scrolls.  At the age of 15, his precocious talents were already in evidence when he helped compile and edit his father’s posthumous work, A Record of Literature and Arts in Chaozhou (Chaozhou yiwenzhi), which was published in the academic journal Lingnan xuebao.  Before he was 18, Professor Jao was hired by the Bureau of Canton Gazetteers of the National Zhongshan University, where he was placed in charge of compiling and editing books on literature and the arts.  This demonstrates that even at a young age, his scholarship on the literature and history of south China was already held in high regard within intellectual circles, and his intellectual prowess made him stand out from his peers.

At the start of the War of Resistance against the Japanese in the late 1930s, Professor Jao was temporarily stranded in Hong Kong.  During that time he met the prominent scholars Ye Gongchuo and Wang Yunwu, and through their mentorship his intellectual horizons were significantly broadened.  After returning to China, Professor Jao taught at the Wuxi Institute of Chinese Studies in 1943 and, later, in 1946 at the Guangdong Institute of Arts and Science.  Professor Jao began to make his name as an outstanding scholar during the war years when he was in the prime of his life.  But wider recognition of the profundity of his scholarship and his status as a world-renowned scholar only emerged after he moved to Hong Kong after 1949.  Here Professor Jao was able to take full advantage of the British colony’s academic freedom and an environment where East met West; as well as the academic materials chronicling the fruits of research from the UK, France, India and Japan that were available locally.  Such access was instrumental in enabling Professor Jao to break new ground in his Sinological studies.  Besides teaching at the University of Hong Kong, he was engaged in research at the Bhandarkar Oriental Institute in Poona, India.  His long list of illustrious academic appointments includes posts at the University of Singapore, Yale University in the United States, the Department of Religious Studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in France and Japan’s Kyoto University.  He has always applied himself with great dedication, diligence and depth of concentration to his wide-ranging academic research and studies.  A true polyglot, he is proficient in English, French, Japanese, German and Hindi.  He also has considerable knowledge of ancient Sanskrit and the ancient Babylonian cuneiform script.  Being well versed in both ancient and modern scholarship, Professor Jao has been able to directly compare and contrast the history and culture of East and West, and incorporate the best of research across borders in his scholarly works.  Though profound, his writings are beautifully articulated and elegantly phrased. Despite his proficiency in various languages, Professor Jao has always considered the Chinese language itself to be the best tool for writing scholarly papers on traditional Chinese learning, as this helps avoid misinterpretation.

Professor Jao is truly a renaissance man, “an expert in many branches of knowledge and master of many skills”.  He has to date published over 80 books and more than 500 scholarly papers.  His scholarly achievements in the many fields of humanities, ranging from Dunhuang studies and the studies of oracle bone inscriptions to etymology and history, from bibliographical studies and Chuci studies to archaeology and phonology, are staggering.  A broad survey of Professor Jao’s learning and research methodology shows that there are two areas in particular in which younger scholars can learn from him:

First, is Professor Jao’s remarkable ability to produce groundbreaking results in his research even when there are only limited source materials available.  This can be clearly seen in the fruitful achievements he has attained in his Dunhuang studies, as well as his work on the manuscripts of the Mawangdui silk banners.  This is a feature that runs throughout both Professor Jao’s scholarship and his art.

Second, he advocates employing the “Triple Evidence Method” for the study of ancient Chinese culture by integrating the results of archaeological field study with the study of historical records and oracle bone inscriptions.

To be sure, not every scholar can achieve the same feats of academic scholarship as Professor Jao.  It is necessary to have both solid training in the fundamentals as well as profound and erudite learning to be on his level.  One must be able to achieve “mastery of the subject in the heart” and deeply investigate each discipline before one can be called a “great master”.  Chen Yinke, Qian Zhongshu, and Ji Xianlin were of this rare breed of great masters, having great command of foreign languages and outstanding scholarly accomplishments, yet sadly they all have passed from the scene.  In an online survey held to select the “new icon of Sinology”, Professor Jao ranked number one.

Professor Jao is an artist of great standing as well as a scholar of profound learning.  He began practicing calligraphy and painting from a young age.  Starting with copying the masters, he worked diligently at his art, challenging himself and urging himself ever onward until he achieved an artistic breakthrough and opened up a new path of his own.  His paintings do not rigidly adhere to the old style, but rather are his own unique integration of intellectual learning and artistic mood.  This can be seen in his Four Screen Lotus Set scroll paintings on display at the Jao Tsung-I Academy.  Utilizing the “outline technique” found in the paintings of the Dunhuang cave frescos, Professor Jao creates simple but colorful lines in gold and red to outline the shape of the lotus flowers, then adds lotus leaves using the splashed-ink technique.  Under his brush, the lotus flowers seem to come alive and emanate an inner vitality and grace.  Flanking the flower paintings on either side is a calligraphy couplet quoting a text from a Mawangdui silk banner and written in the Professor’s distinctive “Jao style calligraphy”: “To go wherever whims take me.  To live whenever fate leads me,” testifying to the lofty artistic conception of the painter.

Professor Jao’s calligraphy style, known as “Jao style,” is also truly original.  Like his paintings, the Professor’s calligraphy is built on a foundation of scholarship.  He once said: “An artist will rarely produce masterpieces if he lacks scholarly cultivation.”  How true this is. Professor Jao has practiced calligraphy for 90 years and over the years established a school of calligraphy of his own.

It is Professor Jao’s maxim that “learning and art go hand in hand” and in his career the two are integrally linked.  Indeed, one could say that “learning” plus “art” equals “Jao Studies”.  The realm of “Jao Studies” is broad in scope and deep in inquiry. When one wanders there, one will truly experience the beauty of Chinese culture.

The emergence of a great master is made possible not only by natural endowments and a favourable environment, but also by the ability to persevere, to be focused in ambition and will, to think with discernment, to be well-read and to seek verification of supporting evidence.  Professor Jao has embarked on arduous journeys for the sake of learning a specific discipline.  He has conducted on-the-spot observations and study in order to learn a language.  In order to get to the bottom of things, he has been willing to go without food and sleep until a solution to a problem is found.  He once cautioned that unless a person is able to endure hardships and loneliness, he will never achieve any significance in academic pursuit.

Professor Jao is known as the “Jewel of Chaozhou”.  Indeed, while his scholarship is rooted in mainland China, his achievements like a towering tree have been nurtured by the academic freedom he has enjoyed in Hong Kong.  His sterling success as a foremost scholar can be ascribed in some part to his affinity with the city: in this sense, he is also the “Jewel of Hong Kong”.  Given that his works have also had a strong impact on the international academic circle, he is also by extension the “Jewel of World Sinology”.  Professor’s Jao’s enormous contributions have played a big part in the increasing phenomenon of “Eastern learning moving westward”, and the prominent place Sinology enjoys worldwide today.  Much credit and thanks must be given to him.

Mr. President, I am proud to present you Professor Jao Tsung-I for the award of the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa in recognition of his erudite scholarship, but also to hold him up as a role model for our students: may they learn from him the “disciplined spirit of a true ascetic” in their pursuit of knowledge.

Source: December Issue 2012

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