Chung-ying Cheng (1935-2024): A Life Dedicated to East-West Scholarship

Born in Nanjing on November 8, 1935, Professor Chung-ying Cheng’s early life was shaped by the upheavals of the Chinese civil war, which led his family to relocate to Taiwan in 1949. In the following year, he enrolled at Taipei Jianguo Senior High School. He then furthered his education at National Taiwan University (NTU) in 1952, majoring in foreign languages and literature.

In 1956, Professor Cheng was admitted to the Institute of Philosophy at NTU, where he studied under the guidance of Professor Fang Dongmei (1899-1977). His classmates included future scholars Shuxian Liu and Fu Weixun. During this time, he developed a deep interest in the works of Plato, Nietzsche, Bergson, the Hua-yan school of Buddhism (Du-shun), and the Book of Changes.

Professor Cheng’s academic excellence earned him a scholarship to the University of Washington in 1957, where he earned an M.A. degree in philosophy. He received further postgraduate scholarships from prestigious institutions such as Harvard University, Yale University, Cornell University, and the University of Illinois. Opting for Harvard, he completed his doctoral thesis, “The Inductive Logic of Peirce and Lewis,” in 1963 under the mentorship of Professor W. V. O. Quine. While at Harvard, he also attended John Rawls’ course on the Theory of Justice.

In the fall of 1963, Professor Cheng joined the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy. He has been a full professor since July 1, 1974. Describing him solely as a specialist in Chinese Philosophy would be an understatement since his mastery extends across all Chinese schools of thought, both ancient and modern, including Buddhism. He has also made significant contributions to American philosophy, metaphysics, comparative philosophy, and philosophy of hermeneutics (he pioneered onto-hermeneutics).

Professor Cheng served as the founding editor of the Journal of Chinese Philosophy. In 2023, the journal commemorated its 50th anniversary with four special issues featuring world-renowned Eastern and Western philosophers. In addition to his role as the Founding President of the “International Society for Chinese Philosophy,” Professor Cheng continued to serve the Society as an Honorary President until his death. Furthermore, he established the “International Society for Yijing,” the “International Association for Onto-Hermeneutics,” and the “International Association for Confucianism.”

Regarding honors, Professor Cheng was bestowed with an honorary doctorate from the Institute of Far Eastern Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1995. He also holds Honorary Professorships from two universities in China and one in Poland. Listing all his fellowships and grants would be exhaustive, but notable ones include awards from the National Science Foundation, the Pacific Cultural Foundation, the Stanford Institute in the Philosophy of Science, and the Fulbright Foundation.

With 42 books and numerous peer-reviewed book chapters and articles published in both English and Chinese, Professor Cheng was bestowed with the prestigious title of “Light of China 中国之光” in 2016. This recognition is arguably the highest honor attainable in the field of Chinese Studies.

Before his retirement on June 30, 2024, the Department of Philosophy invited Professor Cheng to deliver one last lecture in a field of his choice on Friday, April 19, 2024. The topic he gave himself was “Knowing the Future: Based on Yijing’s Theory of Situational Meaning” (Dr.-Chung-ying-Cheng-Sp24.pdf ( Dean Peter Arnade and Professor Tamara Albertini (Chair) marked the event by addressing his extraordinary scholarly trajectory and world-wide renown. Also, Professor Cheng was presented with a bronze plaque that will be placed on his office door in recognition of his scholarly achievements. The lecture was followed by a reception in honor of his remarkable 61 years of service to the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, during which faculty and students talked stories. Our graduate students expressed their gratitude for his mentorship by creating a virtual wall of pictures (Dr. Cheng’s Kudoboard | Kudoboard).

Faculty, students, and staff are saddened by Professor Cheng’s passing. It occurred just two days after his official retirement, preventing him from enjoying the emeritus status the UH Department of Philosophy unanimously requested on his behalf.

Professor Chung-ying Cheng is survived by his wife and soulmate, Linyu Gu, as well as four children and grandchildren.

Tamara Albertini Chair and Professor of Philosophy