Citations and Speeches


Congregation (1929)

Sir Reginald Fleming JOHNSTON
C.B.E., M.A.

The Vice-Chancellor Sir William Hornell, K.T., C.I.E., M.A. (Oxford), wrote and delivered the following citation:

Your Excellencies, ladies and gentlemen: My first act this afternoon is to welcome the Chancellor back to the University. His Excellency is not only the University Chancellor, but its champion.

In asking Your Excellency to confer honoris causa this University’s degree of Doctor of Laws on his Honour Reginald Fleming Johnston, Master of the Arts of the University of Oxford and Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, I have to explain that as long ago as 1919, Sir Henry May, then the Chancellor of this University, offered His Honour this distinction. His Honour could not come to Hong Kong at the time, but he was here for the Congregation of 1927. Unfortunately I did not know that he was coming till just before he arrived, nor had I any knowledge of the offer of 1916. The Chancellor asked me to look up the records and I did so, but found that though the offer had been made and accepted, the proposed conferment had not been before the Court of the University. The approval of the body is an indispensable condition of the award of an honorary degree, and there was no time to place the matter before the Court. The matter has since been adjusted. It is a great disappointment, especially to His Excellency – his friend since they were undergraduates together at Oxford – that His Honour cannot be here this afternoon. We had hoped that he would come and he tried his very best to arrange to do so, but it is a far cry from Wei-hai-wei to Hong Kong and in the strenuous days which now prevail in China it is not easy for an official to leave his work for several weeks. We considered waiting until next year, but His Honour may by next year have left China for good. Besides, he has already waited 12 years. So the Court decided that it would depart pro hac vice from its general principle that honorary degrees should not be awarded in absentia except in very exceptional circumstances, and ask His Excellency to confer the degree this afternoon, although His Honour Mr. Johnston cannot be here.

His Honour Mr. Johnston is too well-known to need a long introduction at my hands. He was born in Scotland and went, in due course, to Edinburgh University, where he won the Gray Prize and very nearly succeeded in carrying off the Lord Rector’s Essay. From Edinburgh he went to Magdalen College, Oxford, and it was then that his friendship with our Chancellor began. His thesis for the Stanhope Essay was honourably mentioned and in 1898 he took creditable honours in the Final School of Modern History. The same year he joined the Hong Kong Civil Service. Mr. Johnston worked in Hong Kong till 1904. He then went to Wei-hai-wei as Secretary to that Government. From 1906-1971 he was Senior District Officer and Magistrate in Wei-hai-wei and during 1917 and 1918 he administered that Government. From 1918 to 1925 Mr. Johnston acted as tutor to the Ex-Emperor of China. He was appointed Warden of the Summer Palace in 1924 and in November of that year he brought the Ex-Emperor into the Legation Quarter of Peking. He was Secretary to the China Indemnity Delegation in 1926. In 1927 he went back to Wei-hai-wei as Commissioner.

When Sir Henry May informed Mr. Johnston, in 1916, that the University wished to confer on him its honorary degree, he explained that the University desired to do so in recognition of the literary work which Mr. Johnston had done on the history and existing conditions of China. Among His Honour’s published works, mention may be made of “From Peking to Mandalay”, “Lion and Dragon in North China”, “Buddhist China”, and “Theodoric and Other Verses”. In the course of his varied career His Honour has received the Button of the Highest of the Nine Official Grades and the Sable Court Robe.

A distinguished Chinese scholar, a graceful man of letters, a great lover of the Chinese, and withal a courteous and delightful gentleman, the University welcomes at this late hour the addition of His Honour’s name to the roll of its honorary graduates.

Citation written and delivered by Sir William Hornell, Vice-Chancellor.

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