Academic Inquiry in the Search for Truth

Dr Chan Hok-yin Associate Professor,
Department of Chinese and History

Dr Chan Hok-yin was awarded the 2015 Hong Kong Book Prize by Tang Yun-kwong Roy, the then Director of Broadcas ng, and Lai Yiu-keung, the Assistant Chief Editor of Chung Hwa Book Co.

By giving Dr CHAN Hok-yin a name inspired by the Chinese classic The Book of Rites, his father hoped to engender a love of learning, reflection and inquiry.

That, indeed, is what happened leading, in due course, to a distinguished academic career, including notable research on a broad range of topics mostly linked to the socio-cultural changes in contemporary China.

In just the past five years, Chan has been principal investigator for four projects supported by the General Research Fund (GRF), and his May Fourth in Hong Kong: Colonialism, Nationalism and Localism, won the Hong Kong Book Prize in 2015.

“The essence of research in humanities is to seek truth, wisdom and beauty in cultures through the academic exploration of literature, history and philosophy,” says Chan, who is an Associate Professor and Associate Head at the Department of Chinese and History (CAH) and previously earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees at City University of Hong Kong. “The ultimate goal is to establish the 'virtues of humanities' so that people will have genuine enthusiasm and concern for all sorts of issues in their pursuit of knowledge and understanding,”

Since the humanities encompass so much, he adds, it is important to lay a firm foundation, so students and scholars can analyse the issues critically and think independently. This puts them in a position to safeguard reason and fairness in society and, in general terms, it is also the path to wisdom.

Academics in the field, he believes, should have enormous curiosity and embrace the search for truth.

“At the same time, we should be emboldened in making hypotheses and meticulous in our investigations,” he says. “This can drive and inspire our research efforts and, without that motivation, I think the career of an academic is meaningless. It is vital to sustain the sense of excitement, as well as the satisfaction derived from the 'discoveries' from conducting research. That serves to satisfy a hunger for knowledge and truth and fulfils our responsibility.”

The essence of research in humanities is to seek truth, wisdom and beauty in cultures through the academic exploration of literature, history and philosophy
Dr Chan Hok-yin

Chan's interests largely centre on Chinese intellectuals in the early 20th century, including ZHANG Taiyan, GU Jiegang, and TANG Junyi, plus the May Fourth Movement.

“This is the starting point and framework for my exploration of the history of academia and philosophy in the late Qing and Republic periods, ” he says. “My work also focuses on the 'migration' of academics from the mainland to Hong Kong and takes in cultural developments in Hong Kong during the Cold War.”

His GRF research projects covered several thought-provoking topics. These include “Sir Cecil Clementi and the Cultural Development in Hong Kong” (2017), “An In-depth Study of the Development of Private Tertiary Institutions in Hong Kong” (2016), “An Intellectual Study of Zhang Taiyan's Advocacy on Joint Provinces' Autonomy” (2014), “The Transformation of Contemporary Chinese Academia and Gu Jiegang” (2013), and “Zhang Taiyan and Foreign Scholarship: Japan's Role and Influences” (2011). Separately, Chan's research lecture series on “China and Asian Community in Retrospect and Prospect” was funded by the One Asia Foundation in Japan and the University Grants Committee in Hong Kong.

A firm believer that research and teaching go hand in hand and should progress together, Dr Chan applies this principle and lets it inform the intellectual exchange with his students.

“It is essential for university teachers to keep learning through academic research,” he says. “They need to develop their own insights, rather than just passing on second-or third-hand information to their students.”

The CAH department was founded in 2014 and has since welcomed seven academics who hail from world-renowned institutions such as Oxford, Harvard, Yale and the University of Chicago.

“Our colleagues complement one another with their research expertise and insights in diverse specialised areas,” Chan says. “That gives the necessary perspective on local, national, regional and global issues relating to historical interaction and cultural integration. For instance, our colleagues have led study tours to Europe and Southeast Asia, giving students an in-depth look at the cultural heritage of these regions and letting them participate in research aligned with the discovery-enriched curriculum espoused by CityU.”