Born to a scholarly family in Chaoan, Guangdong, Professor Jao Tsung-i was first known to literary circles at a young age when he sorted out and published his father's posthumous ethnographical work . He came to Hong Kong in 1949 and taught in New Asia College in 1952. Later he taught at the University of Hong Kong from 1952 to 1968. From 1968 to 1973 he was the first Chair of Chinese and Head of the Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore. During the same period he also taught at Yale University as Visiting Professor and served as Research Fellow of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan. In 1973, he returned to Hong Kong and joined the Department of Chinese Language and Literature of the Chinese University as Chairman until his retirement in 1978. Thereafter, he travelled and lectured in France, Japan, Mainland China, Taiwan and Macau. Upon his retirement, he became Honorary Professor in Fine Arts and Emeritus Professor in Chinese Language and Literature at the Institute of Chinese Studies. He is currently Wei Lun Honorary Professor of Fine Arts at CUHK. Over the years, he has generously donated his calligraphy and paintings to the University and provided invaluable advice on promoting academic development at the University. In 2003, Professor Jao was conferred a Doctor of Literature, honoris causa, by CUHK.
Professor Jao Tsung-i is a world-renowned sinologist. He has engaged in the study of a broad spectrum of disciplines traversing the east and the west, the ancient and the modern. His expertise covers ancient philology, Dunhuang studies, archaeology, the study of ancient bronze and stone inscriptions, history, classical literature, the study of ci, historical musicology, the history of fine arts, the history of Sino-Indian relationship, the history of religions, the study of Chu Ci, literary bibliography as well as regional historiography. He has published a number of significant works on these topics, there being over eighty specialist books, and over five hundred learned theses to his credit. In the past three decades, Professor Jao has dedicated himself to the study of recently discovered artefacts and ancient history, and continued to make significant contributions. He also set up the Computerized Database of Excavated Wood/Bamboo and Silk Scripts of China and the Computerized Database of Oracular Inscriptions on Tortoise Shells and Bones at CUHK, in which modern scientific technology is used to excellent effect in bringing the traditional and the cultural to the modern mind.
Professor Jao Tsung-i is commonly regarded as a sinologist of the highest calibre in his own right, and a venerated pioneer in the field. He has received numerous prestigious awards and honours over the years, such as Honorary Membership of the Société Asiatique in France, an Honorary Doctor of Letters degree from the Ēcole Pratique des Hautes Ētudes of France, being the first Chinese to receive such an honour in the humanities from that institution, and Associate Foreign Member of the Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres, Institut de France. He also received the Award of Special Contributions to the Protection and Research on Dunhuang Relics from the Gansu Provincial People's Government and the National Bureau of Relics, China, a Grand Bauhinia Medal from the Hong Kong Government, as well as a lifetime award for achievement in the arts from the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.