Chinese scholar earns praise for academic achievement, donation

Photo: China Youth Daily

An elderly scholar has earned high praise from the public after spreading Chinese classical culture and poems for decades and promoting the development of China's education cause.

Chia-ying Yeh, 94, was born to a literary family in Beijing in 1924. Her father worked at the China National Aviation Corporation, which was established in 1908, and her mother was a teacher at a women's vocational school.

Early life and education

Yeh learned to read when she was a little girl and began composing poetry at the age of 10.

In 1941, Yeh was admitted to the Chinese department of Fu Jen Catholic University in Beijing in 1941, where she studied under the well-known scholar of poetry Gu Sui.

After graduating in 1945, she taught in Nanjing, and married Chao Chung-sun, a navy employee, in March 1948.

By the end of the year, the Kuomintang government was losing the Chinese Civil War and retreating to Taiwan. Yeh also moved with her husband to the island, and settled in Changhua, where Yeh found a teaching job at a secondary school.

She gave birth to her first daughter Chao Yen-yen in August 1949.

Career and later life

In the 1950s, Yeh taught classical Chinese poetry at the National Taiwan University, Tamkang University, and Fu Jen University in Taiwan. She is often honored as "the teacher of masters".

She moved to the United States in 1966, and taught at Michigan State University and Harvard University.

She then settled in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where she taught at the University of British Columbia from 1969 until retiring in 1989.

After Canada established diplomatic relations with the People's Republic of China, Yeh returned to China for the first time in 1974, and visited her brother who still lived in their old home. She composed a long poem to commemorate the visit.

Starting in 1979, Yeh returned to China every summer and taught at numerous universities, including Peking University, Beijing Normal University, Nankai University, Tianjin Normal University, Fudan University, Nanjing University, Nanjing Normal University, Xinjiang University, and Lanzhou University. She often paid for her own travel expenses and taught for free. She said that in mainland China there was a great desire to rediscover classical Chinese literature after the turmoil of the Cultural Revolution.

After Yeh retired from UBC in 1989, many Chinese universities invited her to teach in China full-time. She chose to teach at Nankai University in Tianjin, because her nephew was an alumnus and it was near her hometown Beijing. Nankai established the China Comparative Literature Institute (later renamed as Institute of Chinese Classical Culture) in 1993, headed by Yeh. She returned to UBC every summer to teach and do research.

In May 2014, Nankai University held the Chinese Poetry International Seminar to commemorate Yeh's 90th birthday. For the occasion, former Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao wrote a work of calligraphy of one of Yeh's poems.

Yeh has published many scholarly works, almost all in Chinese. Her only major publication in English was Studies in Chinese Poetry (1998), co-written with Harvard University scholar James Robert Hightower. Her Jialing Poetry Manuscript, published in 2000 in Taipei, includes 540 poems she composed between 1939 (when she was 15) and 1995. She has been called a modern Li Qingzhao, the famous Song dynasty Chinese poet.

Appearing on stage of Reader

In 2017, Yeh stepped onto the stage of a popular TV program Reader on China's state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV).

In her performance, she spread Chinese classical culture and poems and shared her life story with the audiences, winning widespread recognition.

Donating property to establish scholarships at NKU

Yeh recently announced her decision to donate all her property to the education foundation of Nankai University to back the study of traditional Chinese culture.

Up to now, she has donated a total 18.57 million yuan.

Praise from netizens and media

Yeh's move has touched many Chinese netizens, with some of them leaving comments below posts about her on China's Twitter-like Sina Weibo, saying Yeh really deserves our likes and her personal charisma attracts them.

Even People's Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), recently published an editorial to highlight Yeh's achievement.

"After studying Chinese culture and poetry for decades, Yeh herself has become the best annotation of Chinese culture and poetry," said the editorial.

"Time passed by and changed many things, but Yeh's original aspiration remains unchanged," it added.

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