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Lyman Van Slyke receives 2016 Award for Distinguished Contributions to Asian Studies

Photo of Lyman Van Slyke
George Qiao
Apr 13 2016

The Distinguished Contribution to Asian Studies Award is how the AAS acknowledges, and expresses its thanks to, a senior member of the Association who over the course of a long career has made a difference to the field of Asian Studies. This year I am pleased to present this award to Professor Lyman Van Slyke. A distinguished historian of modern China and the teacher of several generations of students, Professor Van Slyke has had an enormous impact on the field we as we know it today.

After serving in the navy, Prof. Van Slyke earned his PhD in Chinese history at the University of California, Berkeley, then joined the Stanford History faculty in 1963, where he directed Stanford's Center for East Asian Studies. From the beginning of his professional life, Professor Van Slyke made it his commitment to build bridges between the Asian and American academic worlds. He helped establish and run the Inter-University Program for Chinese Language Studies in Taipei, Taiwan. If you wanted to become a serious scholar of China, you went through that program, popularly known as the “Stanford Center,” which later expanded to Tokyo—where I studied Japanese—and eventually moved to Beijing. At the IUP, Prof. Van Slyke encouraged students to learn beyond their classroom by immersing themselves in Taiwan’s social life.

His generosity to his students, colleagues and anyone who wants to learn about Asia became legendary, and was recognized in 1984 by a Stanford Dean’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. His many students have not only gone on to distinguished careers, but have taken their mentor as their the model, and are know for continuing the tradition of serving the field. In 2011, Prof. Van Slyke was awarded the Richard W. Lyman Award by the Stanford Alumni Association in recognition of the 35 tours he had led to China and Southeast Asia in order to enhance public awareness of Asia. Van Slyke is furthermore known for his generosity in mentoring scholars in Asia, serving as a vital bridge between the Asian and US academic worlds.

In his academic work, Prof. Van Slyke was a pioneer in the history of the early Chinese Communist party, and of Republican history more generally. His 1967 book on the first period of cooperation between the Communists and Nationalists, Enemies and Friends: The United Front in Chinese Communist History, shaped the field for decades to come though its new sources and insistence on subtle political analysis. Professor Van Slyke further developed research in the field by editing The China White Paper (1967), The Chinese Communist Movement: A Report of the United States War Department, July 1945 (1968) and the report on Marshall's mission to China (1976), and by contributing to the Cambridge History of China. Professor Van Slyke was also at ease in moving beyond his original field of research. In 1988 he published Yangtze: Nature, History and the River. Intended for a broad readership, it was also widely acclaimed by specialists as one of the finest longue durêe cultural-environmental studies for Chinese history. I was visiting the great historian of Chinese science, Joseph Needham, in Cambridge shortly after the book came out, and I still recall Needham telling me how much he was enjoying the book, for which at the time he was writing what would be one of his last reviews.

For his impact on generations of China and Asian Studies scholars, both in the US and in Asia, and for his contributions to the understanding of Asia among the general public, the Association for Asian Studies is pleased to honor Prof. Lyman Van Slyke with the Distinguished Contribution to Asian Studies Award.

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Timothy Brook
President, Association for Asian Studies