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In Memoriam

Jiyuan Yu

Celebrating the Life and Legacy of Jiyuan Yu
February 3, 2017
Friday, 3:00 pm, UB North Campus

Center for the Arts, Screening Room and Atrium Reception

Reception hosted by Neil E. Williams, Chair, Department of Philosophy, and Stephen C. Dunnett, Vice Provost for International Education, and Chair, Board of Advisors, UB Confucius Institute.

Professor Jiyuan Yu, born in Zhuji, Zhejiang, China, on July 5 1964, passed away November 3 2016 in Buffalo, New York, after a lengthy struggle with cancer. He was 52.  Yu had been a member of the Philosophy Department of the University at Buffalo (SUNY) since 1997, and Director of the UB Confucius Institute since 2013. He had an international reputation for his work in ancient Greek philosophy, classical Chinese philosophy, and comparative philosophy. Yu is survived by his wife Yajie Zhang, son Norman Yu, mother Youqing Zhao, and three brothers.

Entering academics early, Yu was admitted to the highly competitive Shandong University in 1979 at the age of 15. According to Yu, his high school instructors decided he should study philosophy, though at the time he knew little of the field. While at Shandong, however, he discovered his calling, winning an award his senior year for an essay on Plato. From 1983-86, he worked towards a master’s degree at Renmin University in China, studying with the scholar of Greek philosophy, MIAO Litian. From 1986-89 he stayed on at the RUC Department of Western Philosophy, serving as both graduate student and professor. Yu continued his studies abroad at Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa in Italy, before receiving his doctorate from University of Guelph in Canada in 1994.  From 1994-1997, he conducted post-doctoral research at Oxford University in the U.K. as a member of Wolfson College and the Institute for Chinese Studies.

During his time at UB, Yu rose to the rank of Full Professor, and was awarded both SUNY’s Exceptional Scholar Award and the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching. Yu remained with the UB Philosophy Department until his passing, drawn by the intellectual freedom afforded by his position and UB’s collaborative atmosphere, resulting in many fruitful joint projects with SUNY faculty. Yu’s inclination towards collaboration is perhaps best evidenced by his role as UB’s Confucius Studies Director, where he was greatly successful in achieving the institute’s aim of building a cultural bridge between China and the Western New York Region. He also served as president of the International Society for Chinese Philosophy, and held a visiting post as Changjiang Professor at Shandong University in Jinan, China.

Throughout his academic life, Yu was an indefatigable scholar, publishing 10 books and 74 articles. While his early-career work focused mainly on ancient Greek philosophy, his later work attempted to juxtapose texts from the ancient Greek and classical Chinese traditions, with the goal of gaining new insights from comparative study. His scholarship frequently triangulated insights from Greek and Chinese texts with contemporary philosophy as practiced in the English-speaking world, and combined a deep familiarity with technical aspects of classical texts with an emphasis on the richness of the philosophy they contained. Yu’s books written in English include: The Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of Virtue (2009); The Structure of Being in Aristotle’s Metaphysics (2003); The Blackwell Dictionary of Philosophy (co-authored with Nick Bunnin, 2004); and A Dictionary of Western Philosophy (co-authored with Nick Bunnin, 2001). His books in Chinese include: Aristotle’s Ethics《亚里士多德伦理学》(2011); Plato’s Republic《〈理想国〉讲演录》 (2009); and Plato and Aristotle《柏拉图, 亚里士多德》(co-authored with Shizhang Tian, 1992). Yu also worked with MIAO Litian on a Chinese translation of the complete works of Aristotle, providing one of the first Chinese translations of Aristotle’s Prior Analytics and Posterior Analytics《工具论》(1991); he also translated Gadamer’s Dialogue and Dialectic 《伽达默尔论柏拉图》(1991). His prodigious output and creativity will no doubt prove of lasting importance in discussions of Ancient Greek, Chinese, and Comparative Philosophy.

In addition to his prolific research achievements, Yu was an inspiring and popular instructor at UB, drawing students regardless of discipline with his uplifting attitude and effortless ability to make philosophical topics compelling and relevant to their daily lives. Yu’s courses often emphasized thinking critically about human flourishing, providing a format in which he could guide students on a path of self-discovery through works of philosophy. His love for ancient philosophy inspired two decades of students at UB, and number of his former PhD students continue his work in the research and teaching of Greek and Chinese philosophy at universities around the world. At the time of his death, he was working on a project that would bring together Daoism, Stoicism, and disease, focusing on the practical appeal of both philosophies for dealing with trauma. “What is important,” Yu would tell his students in summary of the ancient ideal, “is not to live, but to live well, and to live well means to live happily.”

Prof. Yu will be missed by all those who have had the pleasure of his company. A memorial service will be held at the University at Buffalo on February 3 at 3:00 p.m. in the Center for the Arts Screening Room, followed by a reception in the Atrium hosted by Neil E. Williams, Chair, Department of Philosophy, and Stephen C. Dunnett, Vice Provost for International Education, and Chair, Confucius Institute, Board of Advisors.