Professor Yun-Han Chu
Image credit: IPSAS, Academia Sinica.

Written by Yu-Shan Wu.

Gone is Yun-han, a true friend. We were colleagues at National Taiwan University and Academia Sinica for over half a century. He is a world-class political scientist, a gentle junzi in the finest Confucian sense of the term, a deep thinker who cares about the fate of the country and the world, and a master of delicate tastes in life. These are the four integral aspects of Yun-han’s personality that I am sure Yun-han would like us to keep in mind when thinking of him.

Yun-han is a world-class political scientist. He was the principal disciple of Academician Hu Fu, a prominent legal and political science scholar who advocated liberal democracy when Taiwan was under martial law. As Hu laoshi organised his political survey team at National Taiwan University, the first such survey in Taiwan, Yun-han was part of it. After receiving his PhD from the University of Minnesota and returning to Taiwan to join NTU’s political science faculty in 1987, Yun-han collaborated with Hu laoshi in launching a trilateral political survey conducted in Taiwan, mainland China, and Hong Kong, again an unprecedented endeavour. The linkage between political culture and political behaviour was their primary concern from the beginning. The trilateral project swiftly evolved into the East Asian Barometer Survey (later the Asian Barometer Survey, or ABS). It became an integral part of the Global Barometer Survey, a prominent international collaborative framework headed by the most prestigious scholars in the field. Yun-han was the head of the Taiwan team and the ABS, leading in coordinating waves of surveys in the region, managing the databank, providing support (both financial and technical) for many national teams, and securing funding for the grand project. His achievement was unprecedented among ethnic Chinese (huaren) political scientists worldwide. However, the taxing job took its toll and impacted Yun-han’s health as he expanded and sustained the project.

Yun-han’s international connections greatly facilitated his role as president of the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for International Scholarly Exchange. In memory of the late president of the Republic of China, Chiang Ching-kuo, the Foundation has become one of the world’s most influential supporters of international research on Sinology and studies of China and Taiwan in the humanities and social sciences. Prominent academic organisations in the field, such as The European Association of Taiwan Studies and the American Association for Chinese Studies, all benefited tremendously from the CCK Foundation’s generous support, as well as from Yun-han’s vision and advice.

Yun-han is a Confucian junzi. He is courteous to his senpai, generous to his peers, and kind and caring to his students. He is extra brilliant but never dominant, conscientious, and yet gentle. He is particularly supportive of young scholars. Encouraging words from a master scholar can have a lifetime impact on those who have just begun their academic careers. Yun-han definitely helped to bring up a whole generation of scholars in the study of democratisation and political value change, many of whom have worked with him on the ABS projects. Of particular interest is the semi-father-son relationship between Yun-han and Academician Hu. In Chinese culture, a mentor is called shifu (teacher father), although disciples do not always hold genuine filial reverence towards their mentor. Here, Hu laoshi was truly revered and loved as a father by Yun-han. The impact of Hu Fu on Yun-han is enormous in academic pursuit, career succession, political outlook, and a common concern for the future of democracy and cross-Strait relations between Taiwan and mainland China. Yun-han is immensely grateful for Hu laoshi’s support throughout the latter’s life. In 2018, Academician Hu passed away at the age of 90. Yun-han organised a memorial at which the Hu Fu Center for East Asia Democratic Studies at the NTU was named to honour the Center’s founder. It shows not just respect Yun-han towards Hu laoshi as a mentor but also deep affection in a semi-father-son relationship.

Yun-han is a deep thinker concerned about the fate of democracy and the world. Here again, we see the impact of Hu laoshi on him. Both are in the time-honoured tradition of the May Fourth intelligentsia, who cherished “democracy and science” as saviours of China. At the beginning of his academic career, Yun-han ardently introduced Western theories of democracy, advocated democratisation for Taiwan, studied the mechanisms and routes of political transition, and meticulously teased out the cultural traits and value changes that are conducive to democratic consolidation. This is shown in his book, Crafting Democracy in Taiwan and many journal articles. However, the same intelligentsia tradition led him to realise and critique the deep flaws in contemporary Western democracies, point out the shifting balance between the West and East, and appreciate some of the features of the Chinese model. Doubtless, to say, such messages were highly controversial in Taiwan, in the West, and even in China. We can see the shift of Yun-han’s focus in his vastly influential Gaosi zaiyun (Thinking from the High Cloud), followed by The Future of Globalization: Fission vs Fusion, and The Decline of the Western-Centric World and the Emerging New Global Order that he edited with Zheng Yungnian. The opinions contained in those volumes were from a public intellectual who was deeply worried about the crisis in the West, the conflicts in the world, and the fate of Taiwan. The issues raised here must be debated honestly and intellectually in a free atmosphere, not brushed aside simply because they are disturbing.

Finally, Yun-han is a master of life. Travelling broadly worldwide, Yun-han is a gourmet who knows many of the best restaurants and their haute cuisines. He has an expert-level taste for tea and wine. Even his lunch treatment of scholars at the CCK Foundation is memorable. What I admire the most is that Yun-han, with more than a decade’s hard work, has built the Seven Seas Cultural Park and created the Chiang Ching-kuo Presidential Library. The excellent choice of materials, pleasant colour mix, elegant design, and eye-widening display attest to Yun-han’s taste. On the wall next to the banquet hall hangs a calligraphy of Su Shi’s “Nian Nujiao” (念奴嬌)  written by Academician Hu. What Yun-han liked most was introducing this artful piece to the visitors. This was to impress them with Hu laoshi’s masterful calligraphy. It also reveals the highest admiration for mentor Hu in the depth of Yun-han’s heart.

A brilliant scholar, humble gentleman, world-concerned intellectual, and master of taste has passed away, and yet he has left so much for us. How to keep and build more from his lifelong work so that Yun-han’s influence remains is something we need to put in mind, and what Yun-han would want the most.

Yu-Shan Wu is Distinguished Research Fellow and founding director of the Institute of Political Science, Academia Sinica, Taiwan. He is an Academician of Academia Sinica, elected in 2016. He is also professor of Political Science at National Taiwan University.

This article was published as part of a special issue titled “In Memoriam: Yun-Han Chu, 1956-2023.”