Yu Ying-shih’s knowledge encompasses nearly the entire span of Chinese history, from early times to the present. His rich scholarly production can be loosely clustered under three fields, each having a different specialized audience: early and medieval Chinese history, intellectual and cultural history of the later imperial period (the Song, 960-1279; Ming, 1368-1644; and Qing, 1644-1911 dynasties) and studies of intellectuals and intellectual problems in the modern period.
Yu is an Emeritus Professor of East Asian Studies and History at Princeton University. During his academic career, which began in 1962, he has taught at three Ivy League universities (Princeton, Harvard, and Yale) and the University of Michigan. He also served concurrently as president of New Asia College, Hong Kong, and vice chancellor of Chinese University of Hong Kong from 1973 to 1975. He spent the bulk of his academic career at Princeton, where he taught from 1987 to 2001. He is a member of various scholarly societies.
In 1970 Yu published an interpretive article in Chinese, “A Consideration of the History of the Qing Thought from the Perspective of the Development of Song-Ming Confucianism.” This required command of the full span of Confucian thought, from the classical period prior to 231 B.C. up through the 19th century. In 1972 he published groundbreaking research on the major thinker Fang Yizhi (1611-1671). Asked in the 1990s to write a short historical introduction to the collected works of Zhu Xi (1130-1200), the most influential Confucian after Confucius himself, Yu read so deeply in the source material that he ended by writing a 600-page book that fundamentally reinterpreted this towering figure.
Yu is known not only for his scholarship but also for his support of the democracy movement in mainland China. Despite Yu’s outspoken criticism of the Chinese Communist Party and support for the democracy movement, his historical works are widely read and admired on the mainland as they are in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and other nations in East Asia.