Citations and Speeches


180th Congregation (2009)

LAM Shan Muk
Doctor of Social Sciences honoris causa

I believe that Mr Lam Shan Muk will be the first illegal immigrant to be awarded an honorary doctorate by this University! Since his unconventional arrival, Mr Lam has, of course, risen to become one of Hong Kong's most famous and respected writers and journalists. Of the profession of journalists, Warren Buffet wrote:

`The smarter that journalists are, the better off society is. For, to a degree, people read the press to inform themselves and the better the teacher the better the student body'.

Through his writing Mr Lam Shan Muk has proved himself a remarkably able teacher and Hong Kong society, together with his Mainland and Taiwanese readers, have greatly benefited over many years from his enlightening editorials and articles.

Mr Lam was born in 1940 and received his primary and secondary education on the Mainland. At the age of 18, wishing to join his parents who lived in Hong Kong, he set out one dark night from Swatow (汕頭 ) via Macau in a small boat with nine other hopeful illegal immigrants. The boat was intercepted by marine police who proved to be quite benign and gave him his first Hong Kong culinary treat - a pineapple bun (菠蘿包).

Having made this rather unusual entrance into the Colony, he then worked at several different lowly paid jobs in factories and trading firms before becoming a research clerk for the Ming Pao Daily in the early 1960s. Having studied English at night school, he went to England to study economics as a mature student at the Cambridgeshire College of Technology, earning money as a part-time tutor in modern Chinese at three prestigious Cambridge Colleges. He tells me that the habits he formed in Cambridge, involving a demanding schedule of both learning and teaching, laid a solid foundation for the regime of strict professional discipline that he has imposed upon himself throughout his working life.

During his sojourn in England he travelled extensively, later writing about his life in England and, in particular, his experiences as a hitch-hiker. He returned to Hong Kong in 1969, joining Ming Pao as an editor and contributed to the founding of the Ming Pao Evening News.

It was at this time that Mr Lam married his wife Sally, who had been the first female news reporter for Hong Kong's Rediffusion TV. In 1973 Mr Lam, together with his wife, co-founded the Hong Kong Economic Journal ("Shun Po"信報) at a time when the Hong Kong stock market was facing a severe downturn due to the oil crisis, and life initially proved a struggle. The name `Shun Po' was carefully chosen - `Shun' meaning `trust'. Mr Lam did not set out to make the Journal a best selling newspaper or even a highly profitable one; his aim was first and foremost to gain his readers' trust through honest and faithful reporting of events as they unfolded and through economic, political and social commentaries that respected the readers' intelligence and appealed to their rational instincts. There was no room for pandering to prejudices and all-too-ready jingoism, and his unshakable belief in the concept of liberty underpins and shines through his writings.

His daily columns, written over a period of more than 35 years, are a model of scrupulous principles, reasoned arguments and enjoyable literary prose.  In the process, he has introduced and popularized many difficult economic theories from Adam Smith to Paul Krugman. Indeed, some of his more famous aphorisms have passed into Hong Kong's everyday lexicon.

If any one newspaper most clearly personifies the views and ideals associated with its founder, that newspaper must be the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

Mr Lam's editorials have been widely acclaimed for being objective, insightful and well-argued. The Journal addressed itself largely to a readership comprising the intelligentsia and business community and his writings are read by most senior Hong Kong civil servants and, according to repute, by some senior leaders in the Mainland who had enlarged copies of important editorials specially made for them. Indeed, the former Vice-Mayor of Shenzhen, Mr Zhou Er Kang, when reflecting on the 30 years of Reform and Opening Up of China, said that Mr Lam was one of three individuals in Hong Kong who had had the most profound impact on Shenzhen's transition to a market economy.

In 1997 Mr Lam stepped down from his role of writing editorials and began his own column `Lam Hang Chi's Column', written under his readily recognisable pen name.

It is well known that the reports and commentaries published in the Hong Kong Economic Journal are always provocative, objective, fair and well-balanced. Its editors are free-thinking and outspoken and are often critical of both the Hong Kong and Mainland Governments' approach to economic and other issues. They frequently express sceptical views about governmental policies and have at times influenced the Government into changing its views.

Over the years, the Journal has been ranked number one in credibility according to various surveys and has become one of the most trusted and admired newspapers in Hong Kong. Throughout the most trying times, the Journal has proved itself to be steadfast and resolute, with Mr Lam unwavering in the face of extremely daunting circumstances, even when facing the prospect of cancelled advertising and social ostracism for the views expressed.  

Mr Lam writes his editorials and articles in his own hand and his wife describes him at work as `resembling a sewing machine'. He estimates that he has written more than 20 million words in Chinese and his writing has been anthologized into over 100 books in Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Mainland.

He was awarded an OBE in 1991 and received an honorary degree from Lingnan University in 1999.

He still writes his column five days each week and happily intends to continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

Mr Lam has attained a degree of prominence in society such that one might expect him to seek public acclamation. Not so for Mr Lam, whose modesty is well known. Rather than rush around from one public event to another, he prefers to sit at home playing his favourite instrument - the mandolin.

There can be no doubt that Mr Lam, over many years, has proved an informed, insightful and inspirational voice for his readers. 

Mr Pro-Chancellor, it is my honour and privilege to present Mr Lam Shan Muk for the award of Doctor of Social Sciences honoris causa.

Citations written and delivered by Professor Michael Wilkinson, the Public Orator.