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Cho-yun Hsu is a 2024 laureate of the prestigious Tang Prize

Cho-yun Hsu

Cho-yun Hsu, university professor emeritus of history and sociology in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, was awarded the prestigious Tang Prize in Sinology today. In his 30 years on Pitt’s faculty, Hsu produced a wide-ranging and influential body of work on Chinese history and culture.

“I want to congratulate Cho-yun Hsu for earning the Tang Prize in Sinology after his decades of tremendous research and scholarship,” said Chancellor Joan Gabel. “We thank the Tang Prize Foundation for this recognition and honor that Professor Hsu so richly deserves.”

The prize is awarded by the Tang Prize Foundation every other year across four categories: sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, sinology and rule of law. Winners are chosen by an independent selection committee and receive a $1.7 million cash award, with $350,000 in the form of a research grant. The Tang Prize in Sinology acknowledges research on China across a variety of academic disciplines, highlighting Chinese culture and its influence.

“Of course I’m very pleased. I don’t take much for granted,” said Hsu. “I wrote about 30 books and about 100 papers. I’m proud that all of these separate pieces, connected together, make a coherent picture.”

Born in 1930 in Xiamen, China, Hsu received his BA and MA from National Taiwan University and went on to earn a PhD from the University of Chicago. He began his Pitt career in 1970 and was appointed professor emeritus in 1999.

Hsu uses a variety of academic lenses in his research, approaching history through archaeology, sociology, anthropology, literature and philosophy and incorporating statistics and scientific approaches. In one part of his work, Hsu advocated for “network theory,” using transportation networks to tell the story of long-term social and economic trends, and he also performed comparative research comparing Chinese history to Europe, ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilizations and other regions.

“I taught from 1970 to the end of the 20th century, 30 years, at Pitt,” said Hsu. “I treasure that memory very much. Pitt is one of my homes.”

His legacy and reputation, however, reach far beyond the University. His books “Ancient China in Transition,” “History of Western Chou Civilization” and “The Han Agriculture” have each been influential in the study of Chinese history. Hsu also played a role in transforming the curriculum at National Taiwan University’s Department of History in the 1960s and was an advocate and advisor in Taiwan’s transition to democracy. A member of Academia Sinica, he also received the Association for Asian Studies’ Distinguished Contributions to Asian Studies Award in 2004.

The drive to learn that motivated Hsu has never gone away. At 94 — having lost the ability to use all but two of his fingers — he continues to do research with the aid of assistive technology and a helper.

“It takes a long life,” he said. “Life is not easy, but I manage to get through, mainly because I have a great wife.”


— Patrick Monahan, photography courtesy of the Tang Prize Foundation