Address by Professor H K Chang, President


Chairman and Members of Council, Honoured Guests, Graduates and Colleagues:

In this crisp autumn weather and at a time of jubilation, we celebrate the 18th Congregation of City University of Hong Kong. As President, I am particularly pleased to see another class graduating with excellent academic achievements. Today, you have won society's recognition after years of hard work; and your parents and families are now receiving the reward they richly deserve for their loving care and unfailing support. On behalf of all the staff of CityUniversity, let me extend to you, the graduating class, our warm and hearty congratulations. I wish you good health and every success in your future career.

The year 2003 is quite extraordinary in many ways to many of us personally, to Hong Kong, to China, and even to the entire world.

The war in Iraq that started at the beginning of the year and the spread of SARS months later affected the whole world. In July, Hong Kong was shaken politically, and later we entered into a closer relationship with the Mainland. More recently, the Shenzhou 5 spaceship was launched successfully and returned to earth safely, and the visit of astronaut Yang Liwei to Hong Kong have generated a great deal of enthusiasm.

Certainly, these extraordinary events will be written into the records of history and be long borne in our mind. Today, however, I will not comment further on these events. Rather, I would like to share with you my personal experience forty years ago, back in 1963, and compare that with what we experience today.

Forty years ago, I left Taiwan for graduate studies in the United States. At that time, my parents were working in Ethiopia for the World Health Organization. So I left Taipei and visited my parents in Ethiopia, and then flew to the US East Coast by way of Europe, and finally reached my university on the West Coast by taking a bus all the way across the continental United States. We may recall that Columbus, in his effort to find the best route from Europe to China, landed on American shores in the end. My best route from Taiwan to California, on the other hand, took me across three continents around much of the globe — Asia, Africa and Europe.

On that journey 40 years ago, Hong Kong was my first stop. A friend from my secondary school days, who lived in Hong Kong, met me at the airport to take me to his home. My friend's mother gave me a warm welcome, saying: "Welcome to our house. There is, however, one hitch: you can only use one basin of water for each day." At that time, Hong Kong's infrastructures were not very good, and there was a serious problem in water supply. In the summer of 1963, tap water supply was restricted to a four-hour period, once every three days.

From Hong Kong, I continued my journey, stopping over in Bangkok, Calcutta and Bombay before I landed in Beirut, the capital of Lebanon. Lebanon was once a French colony, and Beirut was often known as "Little Paris". There, I learned of the sea voyages and colonial history of the Pheonicians, who invented the phonetic alphabet, and I toured and admired the site of a Roman temple at Baalbek. At that time, the US marines had just withdrawn from Lebanon, and I had my first exposure to the political tensions of the Middle East.

From Lebanon, I flew by way of Cairo and Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, to Gondar, an old city in the country's north where my parents worked. Ethiopia was a kingdom in East Africa with a 3,000-year history, where conversion to Christianity preceded that of Rome. I had a chance to visit a Christian church with a history of more than 1,000 years. I also visited Falasha Jews, who were said to have inhabited in Ethiopia for all 3,000 years and whose appearance and way of life were no different from the indigenous people.

In August, having left Addis Ababa, and after making stopovers at Khartoum in Sudan, Athens, Rome and Zurich, I arrived in Paris, a great city I had admired since my early years. I finally saw the Mona Lisa in the Louvre, whose mysterious smile had mesmerized countless viewers. I also went to La Tour Eiffel and the Arc de Triomphe. During my three days in Paris, I spoke a lot of French, but I discovered that among the people around me, many were English-speaking American tourists.

From Paris, I flew to New York and checked in a room in the Manhattan YMCA for US$3.50 a day. I took the opportunity to climb up the EmpireStateBuilding, visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and took a stroll along the

Fifth Avenue
and Broadway. My initial impression of New York was that it was a city of immigrants and tourists, and you hardly heard people speaking pure American English!

Then I caught a long-distance coach in New York and, after a 72-hour-long grueling journey, I reached StanfordUniversity in the Bay Area of San Francisco at last.

Soon, in the library at Stanford, I had the opportunity to read a variety of newspapers and magazines, including those from Mainland China, and I began to have some understanding of world affairs and the racial relations in America. At the time, the Reverend Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. had just delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Many white Americans were moved by him, so they spoke out against racial segregation and supported the Civil Rights Movement. But there were also many others who could not accept his point of view. As a result, race relations in the country at that time were very tense.

One day, around noontime, in the late fall of 1963, I noticed a sad mood gripping the campus, some students even sobbed. It turned out that President John F Kennedy had been assassinated that morning. That terrible event shook the world, and the facts surrounding the assassination are still murky today.

How time flies and history ebbs and flows! It seems that forty years have passed in the blink of an eye.

Those Asian and African nations that had just shed the shackles of European colonialism in those days have not yet found solutions to many of the problems left by their colonial past 40 years after. Today, ethnic and tribal wars are frequent; poverty and corruption still abound everywhere we turn our eyes.

During the same 40 years, the United States has welcomed into her arms millions of immigrants from all over the world, and has improved the country's race relations. In the 40 years, there are three Secretaries of State who are naturalized citizens born in foreign countries. Today, the US Secretary of State and the President's National Security Advisor are both African-Americans. What an open and liberal-spirited nation we see! And yet, we may ponder why has a country that stresses freedom and human rights within its borders resorted to military force so many times around the world in the past 40 years? And how can it reconcile, as its national policies, pluralistic and all-inclusive ideals at home with unilateralism abroad?

As for China, it has learned hard lessons from various political campaigns. In the past 20 years, China has pursued reform and openness, focusing its energy and attention on economic development, adopting science, technology and education as its national policies in the hope of bringing revitalization of the Chinese people. Externally, China advocates peace and development; it is playing an increasingly important role in world affairs. Compared with 40 years ago, we should be confident and feel proud of being Chinese today.

Let us now turn and take a look at Hong Kong in the year 2003. Hong Kong is by any standard one of the world's most modern, most affluent and most prosperous metropolitan cities. With their hard work, the two generations before us have pushed those days of no subway system, no cross-harbour tunnels and no adequate water supply out of our collective memory and turned them into traces of a bygone past. Now we are part of a prospering China, and we are at the main gateway of South China to the world. We can contribute to the modernization of China, and at the same time realize our own growth in this exciting historic development. To create a better future, we must resume the striving spirit of our past and use the principle of "One Country; Two Systems" to our advantage, dedicating ourselves to the future of Hong Kong while always bearing in mind the interest of our country.

Yang Liwei, the astronaut in the Shenzhou 5 spaceship, has brought honour to the country and brilliant accomplishment and a sense of personal satisfaction through many years of hard work and practice. In the past 40 years, American and Russian astronauts have also toiled long and hard, and made enormous sacrifices for their countries in fulfilling their duties, but they have attained personal success and gratification, too. We can draw some inspiration from these examples: without working for the interest of the society at large, there can be no personal success.

Some have said that Western nations put priority on the individual, while in East Asian societies collective interest always takes priority over the individual. Let us set aside the question of the validity of such simplistic generalizations. Even if such a statement had something valid to it, Hong Kong as the meeting place of Chinese and Western cultures should fuse the two sets of values and find the best reconciliation of collectivism and individualism.

In fact, although Chinese culture is heavily influenced by Confucian thought and puts relative emphasis on a sense of the collective, the mental state portrayed by many poets and painters by drawing on Zen Buddhism and Taoist philosophy are also quintessentially Chinese. A famous poem by Chen Zi'ang, an early Tang poet:

Where, before me, are the ages that have gone?

And where, behind me, are the coming generations?

I think of heaven and earth, without limit, without end,

And I am all alone and my tears fall down.


How can this be taken as a display of collective spirit?

Although the basic values of modern European and American societies are inclined towards individualism and personal interest, surely there have been uncountable examples of altruism and unselfish sacrifices, like the American and Russian astronauts mentioned above. The motto of the US Military Academy at West Point is: "Duty, Honor, Country." How can one say that this articulates the yearning of individualism?

I have lived and worked both in East Asia and in the West over the past 40 years. What I come to realize deeply is this: no matter where you live, it is only by helping one another in a community with a strong sense of solidarity can a society make progress and allow the individual to grow to the full potential. Only by reconciling and unifying individual interests and the interests of the community can a society become more lively and prosperous, and each individual in the society can feel relaxed and do his best.

Dear graduates, as you are about to commence your career or to open another chapter of your life, I have high expectations of you. From where you are standing today, facing challenges in Hong Kong, China and the world, you must work hard, and you will have your achievements.

I would like to offer you this quote, which I learned in 1963, from the late US President John F Kennedy: "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country." The bright future for Hong Kong and China lies in every effort you make in the interest of Hong Kong and the motherland. And in the bright future of Hong Kong and China you will find rich rewards both in your spiritual well-being and in your career.

I earnestly hope you will give this thought your careful consideration, deep understanding and unwavering commitment.

Thank you.


Contact Information

Communications and Institutional Research Office

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