Tsung-Dao Lee

Banquet speech

Tsung-Dao Lee’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1957

Juai Tien Kuo Kuo Wang, Wang Hu, Ke Wai Wang Tze, Ke Wai Rung Chu, Ke Wai Kao Pin:

[Your Majesties, Your Highnesses, Ladies and Gentemen:]

To be awarded the Nobel Prize is perhaps the greatest honor that can be bestowed on any scientist. The roster of distinguished physicists who have been previously awarded the Nobel Prize includes many masters that have made epoch-making contributions to physics during a period of more than half a century. To have the result of one’s own investigations cited among such great past achievements makes one fully conscious of his limitation.

A scientific accomplishment is always the cumulative result of many people working in the same field or related fields. Our present concept and knowledge cannot exist without past experiences, may not originate without present stimulations, and will not evolve without future experimentations. While all these form an integral part of any progress, it is often the reaping that is remembered but the tilling forgotten. On this solemn occasion, I am singularly aware of the many great physicists who have contributed much to our understanding of nature but who have not yet been so honored as I am today.

It is therefore together with a sense of humility that I wish to thank the Royal Swedish Academy of Science for awarding me, together with Dr Chen Ning Yang, the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physics.

Prior to the speech, B. Karlgren, Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, addressed the laureate: Mr Lee and Mr Yang, allow me to address a few congratulatory words to you. For 50 years I have studied the literature, history and art of your country and I cannot but whole-heartedly admire and love it. Your culture of 3 000 years is really as it is said in the sacred ancient hymn: “like the Kiang river, like the Han river, massive like the mountains, voluminously flowing like the rivers.” Now you two great scholars have demonstrated that your country still today possesses men with just as keen a power of intellect as the great thinkers of Ancient China. I think that all Chinese, irrespective of regimes, will be sure to admire you and say about you, in the words of a famous T’ang poet: “how can we for a single day do without these men.”

Tsung-Dao Lee’s Address to the University Students on the Evening of December 10, 1957

Ladies and Gentlemen:

Representing all the laureates of this year I wish to thank you for arranging this delightful occasion. While all of us are happy about our own works, we realize that trying to understand the infinite wonders of nature with our limited human intellect is a story that has no ending. In connection with this I would like to tell you a little tale, taken from a Chinese novel, called “Hsi Yin Chi”.

It’s about a monkey.

This monkey, unlike other monkeys, was born out of a rock, and consequently he was very very intelligent. He happened to realize this himself – and that’s how the whole thing started.

He began to grow ambitious.

First he wanted to become the king of the monkeys. This he achieved with no difficulty at all.

But soon he grew tired of being a monkey – of being even the king of the monkeys. Now he wanted to learn the ways of men. After years and years of studying human habits and behavior, he was able to dress like a man and talk like a man – indeed, he even managed to look like a man.

But again he was dissatisfied. Now he wanted to learn the ways of the gods. He went to the holy mountain, and after centuries and centuries of hard study and difficult research he did learn the ways of the gods. Indeed, he was able to acquire great magic power. He knew, for instance, how to travel 108,000 miles by one single jump.

So he decided to jump for heaven, – and he reached it in half a jump. There he demanded the position of a god. The emperor of the gods at first tried to ignore him, but the monkey was so persistent, that the emperor yielded and granted him the position of a god together with the title “The great saint”.

But again the monkey grew dissatisfied. Now he wanted to be not only a god – but the king of heaven. The emperor of the gods had no choice. He was forced to fight the monkey, – and he did. But the monkey defeated the whole army of heaven. As a last resort the emperor of the gods asked the help of the great Buddha.

The Buddha came. He told the monkey that in order to become the king of heaven one ought to have some special qualifications. The Buddha opened his hand and said to the monkey: “If you want to be the king of heaven, you must be able to jump into my palm – and then out again.”

The monkey looked at the Buddha, who was, say 100 feet tall. “I can travel 108,000 miles in one jump”, he said to himself, “and this will be an easy way indeed of becoming the king of heaven.”

So he jumped into Buddha’s palm – and then made a big jump trying to get out. To be on the safe side, he kept on jumping. After millions and millions of years of jumping, the monkey began to feel a little tired. Finally he reached a place, which had five huge, pinkish columns. He thought that this must certainly be the boundary of the universe – the columns marking its very limit. He was very excited about this, and at the foot of the middle column he wrote: “The king of heaven was here.” and very gay and very happy he started to jump back. At long last he reached the place from which he had started, and he proudly demanded to be the king of heaven.

The Buddha then, with his other hand, lifted the monkey up, pointed down into the open palm and showed him, just where his middle finger began, some tiny, tiny little words in the monkey’s writing: “The king of heaven was here.”

Since then there is in Chinese a saying: “Jump as you may, it is not possible to jump out of the Buddha’s palm.”

In our search for knowledge we may be making rapid progress. But we must remember that even at the bottom of the Buddha’s finger we are still very far from absolute truth.

From Les Prix Nobel en 1957, Editor Göran Liljestrand, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1958

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1957

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