- [News] Prof. John Delury awarded the 2023-4 Tsao Family Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome
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▶ Professor John Delury On Receiving the 2023-4 Tsao Family Rome Prize
(Interviewed by GSIS Newsletter Team)
▶ Professor John Delury
On April 24, Professor John Delury, Professor of Chinese Studies at Yonsei GSIS, was awarded the 2023-4 Tsao Family Rome Prize by the American Academy in Rome.
The American Academy in Rome (AAR) is a leading American center for advanced research in the fine arts and humanities. Each year, the Academy announces its winners of the Rome Prize, a distinction awarded to select scholars and artists in the eleven disciplines supported by the Academy.
This year, the Academy awarded the inaugural Tsao Family Rome Prize in recognition of humanities research in the history of ideas and cultural exchange between the East and West. In this interview, Professor Delury shared his comments about receiving this distinction.
1. Could you share some of your thoughts and remarks about receiving this award?
It's hard to know what to say. It's a little hard to get over the chance to spend little over a year in Rome with the kind of freedom that this fellowship gives to just do your work. I am not only honored, I consider it something to really treasure.
It's just kind of a dream come true in terms of what I would like to do next, which is a fairly ambitious project, my next book—looking at, really trying to understand and shed light on, the idea of "empire" from a Chinese historical and philosphical perspective. That's something that obviously has a certain contemporary or future relevance, because we're all watching this incredible power emerge from China. But it's also something that, in my own work, for a very long time, I've been chipping away at—the historical origins, or different historical valences, of what empire means in a Chinese context, particularly in terms of Confucian China and Confucian philosophy and thinking. Like, what is empire, what did they mean by "empire"?
It turns out to be, I think, curiously understudied, even though you'd think there's got to be tons of books on that. There's tons of books with "China" and "empire" somehow on the title, but I think there's still a lot of room to directly take on what does empire mean—and, critically, how is it different from Western empire. When we talk about this in English, most of our language is from the Roman Empire. When you stop and reflect on it, it's actually shocking how much of the language that we use is directly from Rome, and that legacy is quite profound. So, what an incredible opportunity to be there for a whole academic year, thinking about the comparative dimension to all this.
The other thing I'd add is that the unique feature of this fellowship is fellowship. The community is a really extraordinary group of both artists and scholars, and I'm kind of the token sinologist and Asia and China guy. So that's going to be really stimulating, because I think it will be really exciting to be around visual artists and fiction writers to absorb some of that influence and how they think about craft, which is something I care a lot about although I do non-fiction.
So I'm very excited to be around artists, and the scholars as well. Scholars of archaeology, of the Renaissance and modern Italy, but very much rooted in Italy and Europe and Western civilization. So I think we have the opportunity for really interesting dialogue, since most of my intellectual life is spent in the East and China in particular. So it's a great opportunity in terms of the community.
2. What's your history with the American Academy in Rome? And the work you were recognized for—it was called, Thinking through Tianxia in Rome?
I feel like I've known about the American Academy in Rome since I was in college. It was kind of one of those mystical places that, as an American with scholarly inclinations, you heard exists buts seems too good to be true—this ancient building in the heart of Rome, where artists and scholars are just given a year to do their thing. So I have known about it for a very long time, as one these unusual institutions of American culture, in almost the highest sense of the phrase. But I never really thought I'd be able to do it, so this is you could say a dream come true.
And it's really because I lucked out in that they started a new prize specifically on China and comparative thinking about East and West, and that's where my work fits with what they're looking for. So I really kind of lucked out. I have no personal connection with it, and I don't know anyone there. It was more of a "dream-come-true" type of thing. There is one Yonsei faculty, actually—Krys Lee, who's a fiction writer in Underwood International College, and she had a Rome Prize. But I didn't know that until I had my own.
The project that they selected me for is kind of what I was talking about before. It's Thinking through Tianxia in Rome. I'm translating "tianxia" as "empire"—that's one way to translate it. It can mean different things, but one of things that the Chinese word "tianxia" means is what we mean by "empire". And that's what I'm exploring—to be in the epicenter of empire, for Western civilization to be in the city of Rome and use that as inspiration to try to get insights and think about how to write about empire in a Chinese context, which is to say writing about the meaning of "tianxia". That's the project that they approved and [I] got to spend a year for in Rome.
3. That sounds intriguing. When can we read this? Have you published something about this topic already?
There's nothing written (yet)! It's in my head. That's what I'll be doing: writing the book.