Citations and Speeches


133rd Congregation (1988)

LIU Ts'un Yan
Hon.D.Litt., B.A., Ph.D., D.Lit., Dip.Ed., F.A.H.A.

It was the early seventeenth century which saw the rise of the 'banner' system in China, concurrent with the creation of a sinicized Manchu empire. The warriors were eventually grouped under eight different coloured banners, and these groups became administrative units of the new state. With the conquering of more land and people, more groups of warriors were added to bring the total of banners to 24. Of the 563 companies of militia which then existed, 165 were made up of Han Chinese, and it was as members of one of these Chinese companies that Liu Ts'un-yan's ancestors travelled from Shandong province to Guangdong, to be stationed in Guangzhou. There they were to remain until Liu Ts'un-yan's father made the long journey north in the late Qing period to sit the Civil Examinations in Beijing and to settle there as a government servant. It was thus that Liu Ts'un-yan came to be born in Beijing in 1917, and for him to follow in his father's footsteps in becoming absorbed in the study of language and literature. However, while his father had studied English and German, Liu Ts'un-yan studied initially Chinese language and literature, graduating in 1939.

It was a turbulent time to be a new graduate, and part of the post-graduation period was spent as Lecturer at Kwang Hua University in Shanghai. In the early, 1950s Liu Ts'un-yan and his family came to Hong Kong, where he began to establish himself as a teacher of Chinese in a number of different institutions, including Queen's College and Northcote College of Education. He used this time to expand his own scholarship, completing an external B.A. in Classical Chinese of the University of London in 1954, while he was awarded a Ph.D. by the London School of Oriental and African Studies in 1957. His research was originally into popular traditional Chinese fiction from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries, but this exploration of fiction led to an increasing desire to investigate the other forces affecting Chinese literature. Thus was Liu Ts'un-yan led to new areas of research and study. Hence from his firm grounding in a knowledge of Chinese language and literature, his scholarship now embraces just as much the study of Chinese history and philosophy. In particular, he has studied the influence of Confucian, Buddhist and, above all, Taoist thought upon Chinese literature and culture.

Professor Liu is recognized as an international authority on Religious Taoism, and much of his published work, and his many invited lectures, reflect this abiding interest and devotion. To convey the depth of Professor Liu's knowledge and scholarship in this field is no easy task. Indeed, I am informed that anyone attempting to write on Taoism faces great difficulty, for it can only 'be an attempt to express the inexpressible, since the Tao is the ultimate mystery. Other religions have their mystical aspects; Taoism is mysticism'. Perhaps I can illustrate this, however inadequately, in a quotation from the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu ,the most hallowed work in the Taoist canon, and this in turn may reveal a little of the man who stands before this Congregation: "We search for it yet see it not;it is the invisible We listen for it, yet hear it not; it is the inaudible it is the untouchable Its trinity is inseparable. We recognise it only as one, innerboundIts distance is incomprehensible, its depth can not be fathomed. Eternally creative, it can not be defined. It goes back to Nothingness. It can be called: The form of the formless, the face of the faceless. It can be called: The incomprehensible Mysterious. You walk towards it and find not even its Beginning. You follow it and there is no End".

Mr. Chancellor, there are 1,200 volumes in the Taoist Canons, the Tao-Tsang , and Professor Liu has read them in their entirety several times. His encyclopaedic knowledge of them and his painstaking research about them has led to bibliographical notes which are a model of classical scholarship. He is much in demand by teams of workers elsewhere, in Europe and in China, who are engaged in similar tasks. Liu Ts'un-yan has published some 25 books, nine of which are in English, and a great many articles and monographs. His collected works in Chinese will be published in several volumes in Shanghai later this year. There are two publications of his collected works in English, one published in 1976 and the other more recently, in 1984, both of which, according to their titles, emanate from The Hall of Harmonious Wind. A felicitous title, certainly, but one which holds considerable nostalgia for Professor Liu, for his father had named the family home in Beijing the Hall of Harmonious Wind.

The second of these collected works in English, New Excursions from the Hall of Harmonious Wind, reveals a less well known side to Professor Liu's talents. The book contains an essay on 'Peking Opera', and his love of this art form shines through the text. He knows many of the operas extremely well, and his friends will testify to the fact that he is a most able and gifted amateur singer of some of the roles. He well remembers his visits to the theatres of Beijing in his childhood, and perhaps because of these memories, he still has a fondness for the roles of the young and brilliant warrior, or the knight errant in these traditional stories. While engaged in his very considerable output of scholarly work, Liu Ts'un-yan's academic career had also progressed. The Australian National University in Canberra had succeeded in attracting him as Senior Lecturer in Chinese in 1962 and he rose to be Reader in 1965, and Professor and Head of Department in 1966. He held this post until 1982, when, upon his retirement, he was created Emeritus Professor of Chinese and became the first Asian scholar to be elected University Fellow at the Australian National University. This rise to eminence in his own university was paralleled by invitations to spend time as Visiting Professor or Visiting Fellow at universities overseas, including Columbia, Harvard, Hawaii, Paris, Malaysia, Singapore, and Tokyo. He has been honoured by members of many learned societies and he has lectured around the world. The University of London awarded him a Doctorate of Literature in 1969 and Yeungnam University in South Korea an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in 1972.

In reflecting upon Professor Liu's achievements, Mr. Chancellor, one cannot help but reflect upon how he is one of so many respected scholars who have left China to make homes overseas. It is significant how these scholars have advanced their own spheres of knowledge in their new countries, but have not lost their cultural and historical heritage. Indeed, there are those like Professor Liu who have become guardians in a very real way of an approach to scholarship which is firmly rooted in their cultural heritage. It is worthy of note that there is a long preface to his Selected Papers from the Hall of Harmonious Wind. Professor Liu points out that this explanatory preface was necessary to make clear his research methodology and his approach to literature and philosophy. In such a manner he could indicate to all, not least those scholars in China itself, the way in which classical Chinese studies should be carried out, and how they can relate to modern Chinese studies.

While Professor Liu himself courts humility and gentleness and extols with greatest sincerity their virtues, this University now wishes to honour him and to acknowledge the contributions he has made through his scholarly analysis of Chinese literature, history and philosophy, most especially in relation to Taoist beliefs. He has rightly been described as 'a distinguished member of a distinguished generation of native sinologists who spent most of their career abroad'. Mr. Chancellor, I am honoured to present Professor Liu Ts'un-yan for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa.

Citation written and delivered by Professor William Ian Rees Davies, the Public Orator.

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