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Professor Bell YUNG

72nd Congregation (2012)

Professor Bell YUNG
Doctor of Literature


In the “Doctrine of the Mean” of the Book of Rites, it says, “Only by closely observing the minute differences between the arts and the sciences can vast knowledge be acquired.” This passage emphasizes that a successful scholar must be able to move between the arts and the sciences and to achieve breadth and depth in his academic pursuits. The mission of university education today is founded on advancing the spirit of science and the well being of society. This enables a mutual integration of science and the humanities. However, there is currently a high degree of specialization in academic research. Successfully integrating the arts and sciences in the academic field requires both specialized erudition in scientific research and a humanistic spirit. Those that have achieved this integration have been exceedingly rare.

Born in Shanghai with origins in Wuxi in the Jiangsu Province, Professor Bell Yung was educated in Hong Kong and graduated from Wah Yan College, Kowloon. Professor Yung subsequently travelled to the United States to begin his long journey of academic study. In 1964, he completed his bachelor's degree in engineering physics from the University of California, Berkeley. In 1970, he received his PhD in Physics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), achieving stellar results in scientific research. Professor Yung quickly moved into the humanities and was awarded a PhD in Music from Harvard University in 1976, writing on Cantonese Opera, thus being trained in both arts and sciences. Professor Yung has taught at The Chinese University of Hong Kong; The University of Hong Kong; the University of California, Davis; and Cornell University; and he is currently Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Pittsburgh. With significant success in academic research, he has received research grants from organizations including the Chiang Ching Kuo Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, and the Hong Kong Research Grants Council, among others. Furthermore, Professor Yung has published over sixty scholarly papers and ten books, including The Music of Cantonese Opera, The Last of China's Literati: The Music, Poetry and Life of Tsar Teh-yun, Music and Cultural Rights, an English translation of The Flower Princess, A Cantonese Opera, Voices of Hong Kong, and Peking Opera and Regional Operas. He has written a number of academic papers in Chinese that were published in major journals in China. The scope of Professor Yung's research includes Cantonese Opera, Peking Opera, the seven-string zither (guqin), Chinese ritual music, traditional Cantonese folksongs such as Naamyam, and biographies and translations. With a specialization that is both encompassing and profound, Professor Yung is renowned and respected by scholars across the globe.

With a PhD in Physics from MIT, combined with passion and an exceptional natural gift for music, Professor Yung is a scholar and teacher, as well as a performer of Chinese and western musical instruments, who has synergized performance experience with music theory. Professor Yung is a consummate pianist, and among Chinese instruments, he is particularly fond of the guqin. Under the tutelage of Tsar Teh-yun of Hong Kong and Yao Bingyan of Shanghai, he has performed and published extensively on the instrument and its music by employing theoretical research methods derived from both Chinese and Western musicology, juxtaposing the best of both worlds. Considering guqin and its music as unique, Professor Yung has said, “Learning about the culture of guqin is not only an important pathway to understanding the lifestyle and thinking of the Chinese literati, it also provides valuable data to our understanding of the relationship between people and music.”

The relationship between guqin and human beings is indeed long-lasting. When the mythological musician Bo Ya played the sounds of soaring mountains and flowing streams, only Zhong Ziqi was able to recognize and appreciate the imagery. Cultured individuals have often employed music to make friends, demonstrating music’s sentiment as noble and virtuous. Unfortunately folk musicians of exceptional artistry in these modern times are often ignored and their art unappreciated. To them, Professor Yung is a Zhong Ziqi, a rare ear with the capacity to treasure them. Such was the case when in 1975 Professor Yung met the blind folk singer Dou Wun and recognized the value of Dou’s artistry. At the same time, Professor Yung witnessed the gradual decline of orthodox Cantonese Naamyam and other folk songs in Hong Kong, and those that did appreciate this music were far and few between. To preserve the music and the local culture reflective of Naamyam and other kinds of songs, he recorded over 40 hours of singing by Dou, and insisted on a live recording in a Sheung Wan teahouse to retain the music’s traditional performance characteristics. Parts of the recording have been published as four sets of music disks by The Chinese University of Hong Kong's Chinese Music Archive. With the emergence of music disks Naamyam Songs of Love and Longing, Blind Dou Wun Remembers His Past: 50 Years of Singing Naamyam in Hong Kong, Rare Recordings of Melodies from a Bygone Age, and Jade Palm-Leaf Fan in Dragon Boat Style, the music of Naamyam and other forms of traditional Cantonese folk songs once again surfaced in Hong Kong. Although the well-known Naamyam song “The Wayfarer’s Autumnal Lament” may still sound sad, it is now at least no longer lost, but, along with some of the other traditional song repertoires, revived through Dou Wun’s artistry. The music once again has captured the attention of society, and local traditional musicians are no longer forgotten by the Hong Kong people, thanks to the efforts of Professor Yung and his passionate evangelizing on behalf of traditional Chinese music. Scholars who care so much about the humanity of Chinese society, who unyieldingly protect the essence of local culture by employing the spirit of western society’s scientific research, are indeed individuals with selfless dedication.

Professor Yung has worked relentlessly to advocate and promote Chinese music. He was the President of the Association for Chinese Music Research, which he founded in 1986, and subsequently also as President of the Conference on Chinese Oral and Performing Literature. Other appointments have included President of the Deyin Qin Society (Hong Kong); Liaison Officer in Hong Kong for the International Folk Music Council; Program Chair of World Conference of the International Council for Traditional Music; Council Member of the Society for Ethnomusicology and of the American Musicological Society; and member of the Board of Directors of the Society for Asian Music. He has tirelessly championed traditional music, and his contribution has been immeasurable. For many years Professor Yung has had a tightknit association with The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He was previously Lecturer and External Examiner in the Music Department, as well as Member of the Advisory Board for the Institute of Chinese Studies, providing insights into the academic directions of the development of Chinese culture. In 2009, through several presentations as the Ch’ien Mu Lecturer of New Asia College, he offered invaluable insights to both Chinese University students and the general public.

Mr Chairman, let us collectively applaud this physicist and musician, gifted in both the arts and sciences, an internationally renowned scholar who has dedicated his passion and distinguished scientific gifts to Chinese traditional music. May I present Professor Bell Yung for the award of the degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa.