HIGHLIGHTS

  • The Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction, launched on the mainland of China in 1948 and primarily responsible over the past decade for Taiwan’s peaceful and successful rural revolution, was conceived in large measure by DR. YEN.
  • He chose the Philippines as a promising site where these lessons could be applied and an international center established to train rural leaders who would carry forward this pioneering work.
  • JAMES YEN has spread the seeds of his mass education ideas to Asian countries.
  • The RMAF Board of Trustees recognizes “his sharing of experience and creative leadership in rural reconstruction and his bringing to East and West an awareness of the urgency for meeting the aspirations of the Asian farmer for a fuller life.”

 CITATION

JAMES YEN saw the tragedy of illiteracy among his own people in France during the first World War, when he was beseiged by Chinese laborers seeking help in writing to their families at home. Returning to China in 1920, he began a career dedicated to educating rural people who had no opportunity for schooling and reeducating the educated to share in this task. Through the years, he labored, sometimes alone, from one disheartening disappointment to another lesson learned, in his quest for ways to help farm folk realize their own strengths.

The endeavors he has originated are milestones on the path of coping effectively with Asia’s age-old problems of ignorance, poverty, official abuse and lack of confidence in themselves among ordinary citizens. The “Ting Hsien Experiment” in North China was the first of its kind bringing scholars to live and work with the rural people. To this the wartime and postwar community developments in West China’s Szechuan Province were worthy successors.

The Joint Commission on Rural Reconstruction, launched on the mainland of China in 1948 and primarily responsible over the past decade for Taiwan’s peaceful and successful rural revolution, was conceived in large measure by DR. YEN. UNESCO’s Fundamental Education Movement in Southeast Asia has drawn much from his program.

In order that 30 years experience in China might be made helpful to other developing countries, JAMES YEN, in 1951, joined with friends in the United States to organize the International Mass Education Movement. After searching through Asia, Africa and Latin America, he chose the Philippines as a promising site where these lessons could be applied and an international center established to train rural leaders who would carry forward this pioneering work. A result is the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement which has begun to make a positive impression on life in the barrios it has reached. Stimulated in part by this private effort, the Presidential Assistant on Community Development, World Neighbors and other groups now are seeking to bring needed change to the rural areas.

DR. YEN’s lifetime devotion to the cause he chose and the extraordinary talents cultivated in furtherance of this effort give expression to the ideals and spirit of service exemplified by Ramon Magsaysay. Born into a family of scholars, he has remained humble and at ease with the simplest of those whose lot he has sought to improve. These qualities have been translated into renewed faith and purpose by many who have worked with him.

At all levels, from chiefs of state to legislators, government administrators, businessmen, field workers, and village people, JAMES YEN has spread the seeds of his mass education ideas to Asian countries. He has become a citizen of the world, who, by his works, gives substance to the dream that one day men everywhere may freely enjoy security, equal opportunity and a sense of international brotherhood.

In electing Y. C. JAMES YEN to the 1960 Ramon Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes his sharing of experience and creative leadership in rural reconstruction and his bringing to East and West an awareness of the urgency for meeting the aspirations of the Asian farmer for a fuller life.

The Award Foundation particularly commends Dr. YEN’s continuing concern for the whole man and molding his social institutions, rather than simply refashioning the physical environment.

 RESPONSE

It is with a deep sense of gratitude and humility that I accept this great honor. Of course, I realize that this is not so much a recognition of any achievement on my part as a recognition of the basic importance of a movement for rural reconstruction and mass education with which I have been associated for nearly 40 years. Such an award given by such a distinguished Board in the name of such a great champion of freedom and education for the masses cannot but spur me and my colleagues on to greater efforts for our underprivileged fellowmen.

We greatly appreciate the sympathetic and understanding statement made by the Foundation that we have a “continuing concern for the whole man and molding his social institutions, rather than simply reshaping his physical environment.” The village is important but the villager is more important. No village reconstruction can be truly effective and lasting unless the villager is reconstructed mentally and spiritually. Rural reconstruction is only the means, and human reconstruction the end. God’s noblest creation is not the sun, the moon and the stars but man because man is made in His own image.

Now, let us see what is the state of our fellow man in our world today. To answer this question, I can do no better than quote President Eisenhower: “In vast stretches of the earth, men awake today in hunger. They will spend the day in unceasing toil and as the sun goes down, they will still know hunger. Many despair that their labor will ever decently shelter their families or protect them against hunger and disease. So long as this is so, peace and freedom will be in danger throughout our world.”

President Eisenhower’s statement applies particularly to our Asia which contains more than half of the world’s hungry people! Now, what is the matter with us Asians? Is it because we have a low mentality, descended from a poor human stock? No, my friends. Confucius, Buddha and Jesus were all Asians! Nothing wrong with the stock. But what accounts for their being the victims of poverty and diseases? I will venture one reason. I believe our Asian ancestors spent too much time searching for ways of dealing withhuman nature, whereas the ancestors of the West devoted their time to discovering ways of conquering physical nature. As a result, they have developed what is called science. With it they have conquered the land, the sea and, before too long, the air. And to a remarkable extent, they have also conquered poverty and disease. If we are, therefore, to transform our Asian peasants into a modern people, a people that can conquer poverty and disease, we must take science to them. This, however, is more easily said than done.

In the first place, modern science, as it is being taught in the colleges, whether it be agricultural or medical science, social or political science, is beyond the comprehension of the Asian peasant. To make it practical for them, science must step down. This is a great challenge to the ingenuity and creativity of the educators and scientists: they must humanize, simplify these complicated sciences and translate them into terms that are simple and practical so that the peasant people can understand and can put them into operation.

This is also a challenge to the educated and privileged youth of the colleges. They must be willing to play the part of a science-missionary, to work, to live in the barrios in order to be teachers and to bridge the tremendous gap that exists today between modern science and the peasant. It is one thing to give improved seeds to the farmers; it is quite another thing to train them to select seeds themselves. It is one thing to give drugs to the farmers for diseases; it is quite another thing to educate them to prevent diseases. The one is relief, the other is release—the release of the potential powers of the people, so they can stand on their own feet and fight against and conquer poverty and disease.

To combat diseases and hunger, science is important but science alone is not enough. If we pay attention only to science and technology but forget ideology, we may wake up one day to find that the people may have more to live on but little to live for. They may enjoy a full rice bowl, but they cease to be free men. It would be indeed tragic if we think only of the empty stomach and neglect the empty mind. While we promote science and technology to increase production and improve health, we must deliberately and vigorously push our democratic ideology.

What makes the present situation in the Philippines so hopeful is that there is an increasing awareness of the urgency and basic importance of developing the “whole man.” Outstanding civic leaders representing business, banking, industry, education are backing up this movement for rural reconstruction and mass education. College presidents, professors, and scientists leave their city homes to go to the barrios to share their scientific knowledge and skills and adapt them to the simple and practical level of the peasant people. College-educated youth are dedicating themselves to become science-missionaries and freedom crusaders, living and working with the barrio people. When I watch these dedicated young men and women working, teaching, singing in the barrios with the poor and the lowly, the men make me think of St. Francis of Assisi and the women remind me of St. Clara. This is what gives us faith in the future of the Philippines and in the future of the peoples of Asia.

Distinguished members of the Board, your gracious recognition, through me, of the work of the Movement has given great encouragement to the members of our International Board in the United States and to our fellow-workers in different parts of the world. You have put steel into the hearts of our rural reconstruction workers. We are more determined than ever to extend this program of science education for the masses and the crusade for freedom to as many developing countries as we possibly can. We intend to promote national rural reconstruction movements in these countries such as we have done with our Filipino colleagues in the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement. Your generous award of US$10,000 will be added on to our International Scholarship Fund to encourage the finest young men and women to come from different developing countries to the Philippines to learn the techniques of rural reconstruction and to catch the spirit of a science-missionary and freedom-crusader.

In due time, we hope to organize these different national rural reconstruction movements into a World Federation that will serve as a global force to promote international understanding and to assist one another in this urgent and fundamental task of mass education and rural reconstruction. So friends, we accept your award not so much as an award but as a challenge. The greatest challenge of the 20th century is not the exploring of the mysteries of the outer space but the developing of the millions of God’s forgotten children, the developing peoples of the world, so they can become our equal and full partners to build a better world—a world of freedom and brotherhood.

 BIOGRAPHY

Developing areas of the world in recent years have increasingly recognized opportunities must be made available to improve the quality of rural life before healthy progress can be achieved. In the search for tested formulas and skills to rouse rural citizens to active participation in their communities, JAMES YEN and the mass reconstruction movements he and his colleagues have authored were in the lead.

YEN YANG-CHU was born on October 26, 1893, at Pachou, Szechuan Province, China. The son of a scholar family, his early life and training conformed to the pattern of the gentry, remote from the people. After a traditional education in the ancient classics, he attended schools in Chengtu, Szechuan and the British Colony of Hong Kong to take up “Western learning.” Continuing his studies in the United States, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University in 1918.

In college, a close English friend, James Stuart, helped him with English and YEN taught his friend Chinese and gave him his Chinese name. Later, learning that Stuart had been killed in France during the early part of World War I, YEN adopted his friend’s Christian name as his own in memory of the “brother” he had lost.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)