"Spring of hope" for Hong Kong future

Peter Ho

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These days, pessimism abounds about Hong Kong's future, particularly in the wake of its weakening economy. Yet, according to Professor H K Chang, such gloomy feelings overlook Hong Kong's real strengths and the unique contributions the higher education sector can make to revitalize its dynamic role.

To the President, Hong Kong's unique stronghold in the cross currents of increasing globalization of trade and China's growing economic power lies in its continuing to be a window for China and a bridge between the Chinese mainland and the rest of the world. He used his two recent trips to illustrate his point.

In early November, the President led a top-level University delegation on a four-day tour of the Pearl River Delta. On the one hand, Professor Chang was impressed by the momentous socio-economic changes in the five cities he visited and the strong sense of confidence exuded by leaders in the region. He said: "this is most fortunate for us in Hong Kong because the Pearl River Delta region is our hinterland," with which the future of Hong Kong's development is more and more intertwined. Yet, he and other CityU colleagues also came away from the trip with reinforced feelings on what Hong Kong can uniquely offer to the delta region and the rest of China. In Zhuhai, Professor Chang met a professor from Australia and immediately the CityU visitors, all fluent speakers of Putonghua, were able to engage in lively and meaningful discussions with him in English about Australia's higher education while most of their hosts, representing the mayor's office and local universities, could only watch and listen. "This episode reminded me vividly that we in Hong Kong still have a competitive edge over our mainland counterparts, notably our proficiency in the English language and our knowledge of, and networks through, the world beyond China," he said.

Talking about networking the world, President Chang said this is one of the assets of which Hong Kong can be most proud. In late November, the President led another delegation to visit The Netherlands, France and the United Kingdom to explore possible collaboration on launching English and French versions of our popular Website on Chinese civilization. Even though CityU is a young university with only 18 years of history, the delegation was well received by the Rectors and Vice Chancellors of old and famous universities, such as the University of Leiden and Oxford University. The visit culminated in the signing with the President of the Universite Paris I Pantheon-Sorbonne of an accord of exchange and collaboration. "They are interested in CityU and, through us as a conduit, to better understanding Chinese culture," said the President. Such heightened interest in Chinese civilization across Europe and among universities there presents opportunities for us to become partners in studying the interactions between China and the West, a unique role Hong Kong is ready to fill.

Hong Kong is part of China, the President said, and a very special part. We in Hong Kong straddle the developed world and the developing world, and stand in the cross currents of the cultures of the East and the West. "Our infrastructure--physical, economic and social--and our extensive international networks put us in an enviable position to contribute to China's modernization by serving as a conduit of goods, capital, services and, increasingly, knowledge and ideas," he explained.

In order to fulfill this historic mission, the young people of Hong Kong must be educated to take an active interest in learning about China, as well as the rest of the world, the President said. As early as May 1996, in his first speech as CityU's President, Professor Chang admonished the students of CityU to familiarize themselves with the history and civilization of China and the West. And our graduates must all have a high degree of proficiency in both the Chinese and English languages, he said. "I uttered those words almost six years ago, but now I am even more convinced of what I said," emphasized Professor Chang. Towards this goal, CityU has in the past few years made the learning of English language and Chinese civilization the core of its general curriculum requirements. And along the way, the University has added regional studies on Southeast Asia and cross-cultural studies to its widening range of humanities subjects. The next focus, the President said, will be to expand our students' international outlook through student exchange programmes and, if possible, recruitment of more non-local students to CityU.

Even though we are facing great economic difficulties, a product of global influences and our own past excesses, he believes the future still holds enormous promise for Hong Kong if we can be clear-headed about where we stand and what our strengths are. "We have to dwell on our assets and persevere in our role as China's window on the world so we can start to experience, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, 'the spring of hope' again."

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