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62nd Congregation (2005)

Professor LI Yihyuan
Doctor of Social Science


Citation:
Where did we come from? Why are we here? How did our forebears come to know nature? How were human relationships established? How did clans and communities come into being? Given that every culture differs from the other, why do similarities within those differences persist across time and place? For thousands of years, the benevolent and the wise have pondered these questions. Religion was born of this pondering; philosophy sprang from it. But it is anthropology that has shaped a unique discipline of study, examining patterns of human existence and development from ancient times to the present. It cuts across the academic boundaries with history, archaeology, sociology, language and psychology, and claims its own ground. Yet, despite its intimate concern with all humans, anthropology did not emerge as an independent field of studies in the West until the latter part of the eighteenth century. In China, it was in the early twentieth century that anthropology first became a new subject to study and to teach, a new field to cultivate. Professor Li Yihyuan was one of the pioneers in opening up this new field and for more than fifty years he has trained a great many outstanding scholars. That anthropology flourishes as it does in China today is due in large part to the good work of Professor Li. Professor Li Yihyuan was born in 1931 in Quanzhou, Fujian. On graduating from middle school in 1948, he went to Taiwan where he studied history at Taiwan University. He later transferred to the newly established Department of Archaeology and Anthropology, where he studied with such famous professors as Li Ji and Ling Chunsheng. In 1958, he went abroad to pursue further studies at Harvard University. In 1960, he returned to Taiwan and began his life-long teaching and research career in anthropology. He retired in 1998. Over the years, Professor Li has published eighteen books and close to two hundred articles. His research interests cover a wide range of areas, including the theory of culture, clan structure, comparative religion, mythology, etc. Professor Li himself was instrumental in opening up many of these fields, which had remained relatively uncultivated until then. Because of his erudition and rigor as a scholar, whatever he lent his hand to during field work flourished. The impact of his efforts on the academic field then and now has been immense. Professor Li's research can be viewed in several stages. During his early years at the Academia Sinica, he directed projects that concentrated on the aboriginal tribes in Taiwan. He undertook investigation of the highland cultures, some of which were on the point of extinction, and published a series of reports on Thao, Paiwan, Pinpu, Yami, Atayal, and Ami. For each of these tribes, he provided a detailed examination of its clan structure, religious beliefs and economic life. In 1982, at the request of the government, Professor Li launched an anthropological field study and assessed the Kaoshan tribal policies then in force. This study exerted a great influence on the subsequent direction in which the government took to formulate its policy on the aborigines. At the same time, Professor Li's work induced an indigenous awareness among the tribal population, who began to reckon the significance of their own identity and re-affirm their consciousness as an ethnic community. When Professor Li returned to Taiwan in 1960 after advanced studies in the United States, his research interests gradually turned from contemplation of other cultures to that of Han Chinese culture. He crossed the sea to Sarawak and Malaysia a number of times to investigate cultural phenomena in the Chinese communities there. In addition, he conducted field work in rural villages in Taiwan. He saw overseas Chinese society in Southeast Asia and Han Chinese society in Taiwan as two models of transplanted traditional Chinese society. He wrote many papers on the similarities and differences he observed in these two laboratories. For Professor Li, both study of the indigenous tribal people and investigation of overseas Chinese communities were all parts of a process of reflection on culture. When he found himself amidst an unfamiliar social group in an unfamiliar cultural environment, the interplay between the alien culture and his own culture would spark off a string of ideas that would come to bear significantly on his inquiries into the essence of culture. Professor Li left the mainland at the age of seventeen to study in Taiwan, but decades of separation did not ease his longings for the ancestral home. In 1988 when cross-straits family visits were permitted, Professor Li returned home, overwhelmed with feelings of joy and nostalgia. Subsequently he made dozens of trips to the mainland, travelling widely south and north. On the one hand, he saw himself as a weary traveller coming home, seeking the land in his memory, while on the other hand he was also a professional anthropologist now on a data gathering field trip. Gazing on the homeland, its mountains and rivers, evoked so many emotions, and so intense, that he was no longer able to distinguish whether he was an observer or a participant. Introspection and emotion surged between lines of print in the research works that Professor Li published during this period. Since then, Professor Li devoted his efforts to promoting scholarly exchange between Taiwan and the mainland, bringing Chinese anthropological research to a larger field with greater opportunities, leaping political divisions to achieve a higher level of accord and understanding. For more than half a century, Professor Li has toiled in the fields, amassing a phenomenal amount of valuable material, a rich source that future scholars can readily tapped into. More importantly, through his diligent efforts in research and analysis, Professor Li has established a set of theories on traditional Chinese folk culture. Exploration of folk culture had always been separate, by a great margin, from studies of high culture classics, often referred to as the 浤reat Tradition.? Professor Li has taken a different track, beginning with the Little Tradition, and focuses on the life and culture of ordinary people. He believes that the actions and words, the thoughts and desires of a common person are illustrative of different aspects of the entire cultural gamut. Without understanding the life of the common folk, it would be difficult to gain a full view of the tapestry of Chinese culture, let alone its true spiritual essence. Professor Li's teachings remain an inspiration for scholars to date. In 1955, Professor Li began work in the Institute of Ethnology of the Academia Sinica in Taiwan, becoming its Director in 1970. When he retired in 1998, his achievements of the past forty-three years won unanimous praise from colleagues both inside and outside the Institute. He received the highest academic honor in 1984 when he was elected an academician. That same year, he accepted an invitation to join the faculty of Tsing Hua University to found the College of Humanities and Social Sciences. Naming a college with Humanities and Social Sciences was an unprecedented move in the history of university education. In six years, Professor Li established three departments and six research institutes, bringing a refreshing breath of humanities to a campus known for its science and engineering orientation. In 1989, Professor Li became President of the Chiang Ching Kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange and, in 2001, he was appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors. The Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation was another example of Professor Li's administrative talents and vision. He was responsible for setting up the organization from day one and, under his leadership and planning, the Foundation has actively brought Sinological studies to the international arena. It is now the most important organization in the world that promotes and awards in-depth research on Chinese culture across the globe. Professor Li has received honorary doctorates from the University of Paris, Sorbonne-Paris IV, Griffith University in Australia and Tsing Hua University in Taiwan; university medals from the University of Heidelberg in Germany and from Charles University in the Czech Republic; and the National Culture Award from the Executive Yuan of Taiwan. All these awards confirm the high status he enjoys in the academic world. For many years, Professor Li has given support and encouragement on many fronts to The Chinese University of Hong Kong. From 1996-2000, he served on the Advisory Board of the Institute of Chinese Studies at the Chinese University and visited the university many times, offering valuable advice. Twice he came as an external examiner for the Anthropology Department, where some of the professors were his own students. His contributions to the academic development of the Chinese University are indeed many. It has been claimed that the study of anthropology is a lonely enterprise. Going deep into the countryside for investigations is more than physically challenging. For Professor Li, field work is taxing at times, but it produces such a joy that never fails to bring him back to it. Field work is a source of refreshment, with all the materials and inspiration coming directly from the real people. However brief each encounter is, he always comes out from it with observations never noticed before. He enjoys being with the villagers and sharing their lives. Only by staying close to what they do on the outside would he gain a deeper understanding of what they think on the inside. And, that understanding, once acquired, is truly precious. Over the decades, Professor Li has established indigenized anthropological studies with the hope of breaking the clash between eastern and western cultural studies, thereby escaping the traps of stultified research of the past. He proposes new methods and theories with which to better understand the true nature of our own culture, and to build a theoretical model that can be applied to cultures and behaviours of diverse ethnic groups. Professor Li is a man of wisdom, blessed with the insights of a sage. More importantly he is a man of benevolence, with unequaled compassion and sincerity. Mr Chancellor, I now respectfully present Professor Li Yihyuan for the award of the degree of Doctor of Social Science, honoris causa.