Professor Chu Yun-han's legacy
“Kind and Gentle Soul”（「謙謙君子，溫潤如玉」）: Remembering My Dear Friend Yun-han Chu (1956-2023)
Written by Tse-min Lin.
Image credit: by author.
The news came as a total shock. I had arrived in Taiwan just five days earlier to visit the new Taipei School of Economics and Political Science that Yun-han had helped establish. I knew he was ill and had been hoping to visit him after being unable to do so for five years. That is never going to happen now.
Yun-han was a dear friend for 40 years. His passing is a heart-breaking personal loss.
In 1983, I joined the Political Science program of the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities. I was two years older than Yun-han, but he was two years ahead of me in the program. I had known him as a brilliant young scholar in Taiwan and felt very lucky to have him as a classmate who helped me get oriented in a new environment.
We were both young with high spirits. In my first semester, two department professors published an American Political Science Review article. Yun-han and I thought there was room for improvement in their application of time series analysis. We asked the professors for data, reanalysed the data with spectral analysis, which I learned in college as an EE major, and submitted our findings to APSR as a communication piece. Soon the editor’s decision letter arrived. The manuscript was rejected, but we were thrilled to find out that the single reviewer recommended publication, albeit only weakly. The experience was an extraordinary encouragement to me as a first-year PhD student. Perhaps getting published in APSR was not so difficult? After all, we almost made it! Little did I know that it would take 20 years before I published an article in APSR.
The two professors were Raymond Duvall and John Freeman. Professor Duvall soon became the supervisor of Yun-han’s dissertation, a part of which was later published in the Journal International Organization. Professor Freeman subsequently hired me as a research assistant and included me as a co-author in a paper published in the American Journal of Political Science. The professors’ generosity and mentorship were admirable, but Yun-han’s lead in this collaborative project was enlightening.
In 2014, Professor Duvall became Dean of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota, and Freeman was Chair of Political Science. Thanks to their support, Yun-han was awarded the University’s Distinguished Alumnus Award for Outstanding Achievement. As Yun-han’s classmate, I felt proud and incredibly happy for him. However, when I conveyed the news of Yun-han’s passing to Professor Duvall, he was deeply saddened. He wrote, “Yun-han’s passing is far too early. He will be missed greatly as a distinguished scholar and an especially kind and gentle soul. An absolutely wonderful person!”
In Chinese, “kind and gentle soul” translates to “謙謙君子，溫潤如玉” or “a humble gentleman, warm as jade.” So that is the most appropriate epigraph for Yun-han.
In the four years (1983-1987) in Twin Cities, when we interacted intensively and, indeed, in the 40 years in which we kept frequent contact, my impression of Yun-han was that of such a gentleman. He was savvy and eloquent but always kind and gentle. I had never heard him criticise anyone, even his critics.
In the last two years before his graduation, Yun-han worked as a research associate at the University of Minnesota’s Strategic Management Research Center. Before he left the post, he recommended me as his successor. Working for the Center was a pleasant and fruitful experience for both of us. Under the leadership of Prof. Andrew H. Van de Ven, Director of the SMRC, the Center published an edited volume, Research on the Management of Innovation. Yun-han and I respectively contributed collaborative chapters. The book was to become a well-acclaimed classic research work on business innovation.
Collaborating with Yun-han was always fruitful. Three years after Yun-han returned to Taiwan to teach at National Taiwan University, I joined the Department of Political Science faculty at the University of Texas. We were awarded a grant from the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation to conduct joint research on public opinion in Taiwan. Our project involved creating specialised instruments to gather data for analysis. The paper, “Conflict Displacement and Regime Transition in Taiwan: A Spatial Analysis,” was submitted to World Politics, then one of the top-ranked journals. Surprisingly, the manuscript was accepted without revision and resubmission, a rare feat. The publication came at a critical moment in my academic career, and once again, Yun-han played an important role in it.
Among Yun-han’s many academic achievements, his leadership in founding the Asian Barometer Survey and managing the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation were undoubtedly the most influential. The ABS institutionalised the comparative study of politics and culture of Asian countries, and the CCK Foundation promoted research that expands knowledge on Chinese culture and society. Together, both helped lay the infrastructure for international scholars to study Taiwan, China, and Asia. The scope of Yun-han’s contribution in this regard was enormous.
But Yun-han’s personal academic achievement was no less outstanding. His Google Scholar citation count easily leads Taiwanese political scientists and is very high among scholars in the international political science community.
Some criticised Yun-han for his high opinion of the authoritarian regime in China. However, that is not just his personal political position. Yun-han reached that position through years of extensive comparative study of democracy and governance. Critics can disagree with him, but no one can question his outstanding scholarship and academic integrity. As a close friend of his, I can also attest to his love for Taiwan, where he spent most of his life.
In his last years, Yun-han devoted his energy to building the Taipei School of Economics and Political Science even after suffering from painful cancer. He designed the institutional blueprint of the TSE with his broad international vision, which was realised when TSE became one of the colleges at National Tsing Hua University. This is yet another academic legacy that Yun-han left in his short but brilliant life.
As I stood before Yun-han’s portrait in the mourning hall, paying my final respects to my dear friend, the four years of our shared school life passed like a revolving lantern. I had only tears but no words. Goodbye, my old friend. You have lived a wonderful life; you should have no regret. In your last email, you wrote, “hope that the pandemic will eventually be over, and we can get together under normal circumstances.” Unfortunately, that will never happen, but I don’t blame you, my dear friend. I can only tell you, “If there is a next life, I hope we will again have another 40 years of friendship.”
Tse-Min Lin is an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the Taipei School of Economics and Political Science at National Tsing Hua University.
This article was published as part of a special issue titled “In Memoriam: Yun-Han Chu, 1956-2023.”