Chen Ning Yang

Banquet speech

Chen Ning Yang’s speech at the Nobel Banquet in Stockholm, December 10, 1957

Your Majesties, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen:

First of all allow me to thank the Nobel Foundation and the Swedish Academy of Sciences for the kind hospitality that Mrs. Yang and I have so much enjoyed. I also wish to thank especially Professor Karlgren for his quotation and his passage in Chinese, to hear which is to warm my heart.

The institution of the awarding of Nobel prizes started in the year 1901. In that same year another momentous event took place of great historical importance. It was, incidentally, to have a decisive influence on the course of my personal life and was to be instrumental in relation to my present participation in the Nobel festival of 1957. With your kind indulgence I shall take a few minutes to go a little bit into this matter.

In the latter half of the last century the impact of the expanding influence of Western culture and economic system brought about in China a severe conflict. The question was heatedly debated of how much Western culture should be brought into China. However, before a resolution was reached reasons gave way to emotions, and there arose in the eighteen nineties groups of people called I Ho Tuan in Chinese, or Boxers in English who claimed to be able to withstand in bare flesh attack of modern weapons. Their stupid and ignorant action against the Westerners in China brought in 1900 the armies of many European countries and of the U.S. into Peking. The incident is called the Boxer War and was characterized on both sides by barbarous killings and shameful lootings. In the final analysis, the incident is seen as originating from an emotional expression of the frustration and anger of the proud people of China who had been subject to ever increasing oppression from without and decadent corruption from within. It is also seen in history as settling, once and for all, the debate as to how much Western culture should be introduced into China.

The war ended in 1901 when a treaty was signed. Among other things the treaty stipulated that China was to pay the powers the sum of approximately 500 million ounces of silver, a staggering amount in those days. About ten years later, in a typically American gesture, the U.S. decided to return to China her share of the sum. The money was used to set up a Fund which financed a University, the Tsinghua University, and a fellowship program for students to study in the U.S. I was a direct beneficiary of both of these two projects. I grew up in the secluded and academically inclined atmosphere of the campus of this University where my father was a professor and enjoyed a tranquil childhood that was unfortunately denied most of the Chinese of my generation. I was later to receive an excellent first two years’ graduate education in the same University and then again was able to pursue my studies in the U.S. on a fellowship from the aforementioned fund.

As I stand here today and tell you about these, I am heavy with an awareness of the fact that I am in more than one sense a product of both the Chinese and Western cultures, in harmony and in conflict. I should like to say that I am as proud of my Chinese heritage and background as I am devoted to modern science, a part of human civilization of Western origin, to which I have dedicated and I shall continue to dedicate my work.

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.”

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

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1957

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