Citations and Speeches

Citations

133rd Congregation (1988)

Elsie TU
C.B.E., B.A., D.Th., P.T.

As Public Orator, I must be grateful to Elsie Tu, for she has in one sense made my work easier in that, she has published her autobiography Crusade for Justice.

This provides a rich vein of information about her life, her work and her philosophy of life which just waits to be tapped. At the same time at one point in this book she evinced a healthy scepticism about the use of quotations, which is hardly good news for a Public Orator, and she even singled out Shakesperian quotations for special mention. However I will risk her ire and turn to a passage from Henry VI, Part II:

"What stronger breastplate than a heart untainted! Thrice is he arm'd that hath his quarrel just, And he but naked, though lock'd up in steel, Whose conscience with injustice is corrupted".

You see, it seems to me, in reviewing Mrs. Tu's contributions to this community, there have been many occasions when she has appeared as the community's conscience - a conscience that has despised corruption and raged against any injustice which it has perceived. And, we must not forget that in another play, the same author warns us that at one time or another, 'conscience doth make cowards of us all'.

How came such a person of strong conviction and resolve to spend the major portion of her adult life in this Territory? Childhood was spent in various family homes in Newcastle-upon-Tyne when Elsie Hume, as she then was, the second child in a family of four children, suffered from having to move through a number of different schools in but a short space of time. These several changes of school, although intrinsically disruptive, did not affect her academic performance. She was strongly encouraged by her father, John Hume, to make the most of every educational opportunity, and her results in the School Certificate examinations put her at the top of her class. There were now two choices before Elsie Hume - a career in the civil service or entry to University. She chose in 1932 to enter Armstrong College of Durham University, which was within easy reach of home, and where family support could be of the greatest assistance. It is interesting to speculate now what might have happened were Miss Hume to have chosen to enter the civil service instead.

Graduation came in 1937, and almost inevitably, teaching presented itself as one of the few careers open to female graduates at that time. Although Elsie Hume did not feel any great ambition to be a teacher, she moved to Halifax almost immediately to take up her first teaching post. While at University, there had been the kindling of a desire to embark upon missionary work overseas which followed her involvement with the Intervarsity Fellowship of the Evangelical Union. But for the time being her teaching career continued, even following the outbreak of the Second World War, a period that Elsie Tu identifies as the start of the flowering of her social conscience. This growing awareness she attributes in part to her work with the Civil Defence, when there was the shock of seeing at first hand war taking its cruel toll in the frequent air raids, and also to her work with young people as an organizer of the local youth club.

The opportunity to follow the call to missionary work occurred after the war and Elsie Tu first set eyes upon Hong Kong on a misty, grey midwinter day in 1948, en route to three years of missionary service in China. In that period, her work in Kiangsi province was carried out under two diametrically opposed regimes and her personal experiences there led to a re-evaluation of her calling. Virtually three years to the day after first seeing Hong Kong, Mrs. Tu found herself back here in 1951 and, apart from visits to the United Kingdom, Hong Kong has become her home.

In a period of over thirty years, Elsie Tu has been witness to the enormous changes which have occurred in this Territory. But she has not been a bystander, a mere observer of the social development here. On the contrary she has been closely involved in the changes, following the dictates of her conscience with such a sense of purpose and resolve that she has found herself from time to time to be the very instrument of change. Mrs. Tu remembers, even as a young school girl in Newcastle, that when her father emphasized the importance of a good education, he had not done so for the advantages it would give in terms of an established career. He had rather emphasized to the young Elsie the chances that she would then have to serve the poor in the community. Little did John Hume imagine that it would be the poor and the disadvantaged in far-away Hong Kong who would ultimately reap the benefits of his advice. The sense of social commitment he inculcated runs like a thread through Mrs. Tu's autobiography. It emerges even at secondary school in West Jesmond where the teenaged Elsie decided upon her guiding principle: 'I made up my mind,' she said, 'I could at least be good and useful in life'. It is there in the questioning of some of the attitudes she encountered as a missionary in China, when for some of her colleagues, social conditioning seemed more important than encouraging the honest and upright person. It is most certainly written large upon her time in Hong Kong, from her early work as a teacher to her role as a true servant of the public which has steadily increased since her entry into public life as an Urban Councillor in the early sixties.

Elsie Tu has done much that could give her satisfaction, although one suspects that sitting back and being satisfied are not part of her make up - there are always more problems to confront, and society's conscience must needs be pricked, even when the process is not without pain and trauma. Undoubtedly Mrs. Tu derives her strength and resolve from her involvement with the people of Hong Kong at grass-roots level. Their problems are not for her theoretical, but very real, as her understanding of them comes from personal encounters. It is the experiencing of the reality of the issues involved that Mrs. Tu advocates as the proper basis for promoting policy change. Twice a week she holds an open-door 'surgery' in Kwun Tong and some two hundred members of the public bring their problems to her each week. Solving the problems has meant taking up battles on behalf of these members of the public, battles which Mrs. Tu has so often won. She has rightly, through these activities over the years, become regarded as the champion of the disadvantaged and the underprivileged, and her knowledge of the system together with her refusal to be deflected in her quest for a just solution has gained for her a very special and particular reputation in many organizations, both public and private.

From her perceptions of people's problems has emerged her involvement in seeking improvements in so many areas of concern - in education, in social welfare, in housing and in legal matters like the 'no fault' insurance system and the rehabilitation of young offenders. As well as being an Urban Councillor, Mrs. Tu has been a member of the Kwun Tong District Board, the Hong Kong Transport Advisory Committee, the Hong Kong Housing Authority, the Hong Kong Branch of Justice and the Association for the Promotion of Public Justice.

'Justice' has indeed been very much her watchword. I hope Mrs. Tu will allow me to quote two definitions of the word, from the same author, Joseph Joubert: 'Justice is the right of the weakest', and 'Justice is truth in action'. Consistent with the first definition, you will have heard already of how Mrs. Tu has sought justice for the weak and for the ordinary man in the street in Hong Kong. In relation to the second definition, I must cite Mrs. Tu's consistent efforts to fight and eliminate corrupt practices in both the public and private sectors in Hong Kong. Her effort in this regard was one of the driving forces which ultimately led to the setting up of the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1974.

Anyone who meets Mrs. Tu, Mr. Chancellor, will soon recognize that the present Vice-Chairman of the Urban Council has lost none of her zeal in her quest for fairness, truth and justice. Our conscience, which only 'with injustice is corrupted', will not be stilled. Mrs. Elsie Tu was created Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1978, while the Region acknowledged her achievements with her receipt of the Magsaysay Award in Manila in 1976. Now I am very pleased, on behalf of the University, to present Mrs. Elsie Tu for the award of the degree of Doctor of Social Sciences, honoris causa, so that we may add our acknowledgement of her devoted services to this community in Hong Kong. It is an award in which, I am sure, many in Hong Kong will share the University's pleasure. Mrs. Tu ended her autobiography with the words, 'I am sure there is no real happiness in life except in service to the community. The greatest reward has been on the faces of the people who were helped'. In looking out on this Congregation, containing as it does many of her friends and colleagues, I hope Mrs. Tu, in her mind's eye, can see in addition the other faces of those whose lives she has touched who would fill this hall hundreds of times over. I also hope that she may see the faces of people in her life who helped to shape her conscience and her sense of justice. Most especially, I hope she may be able to picture the face of her father, John Hume, who had so much influenced her, saying 'well done'.

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

Related links