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Charles Ralph BOXER

Doctor of Letters
honoris causa

It is customary for the speaker in my position to profess his unworthiness of the honour which has been conferred on him, but I can do so with real conviction. Whereas my fellow graduand is of a very prominent Hong Kong family and has given a lifetime of distinguished service to this place. I have only lived in Hong Kong for some nine years and I spent nearly four of those in jail. Moreover, I have only paid two flying visits to Hong Kong since 1945, so I am in no position to speak with authority on the vast changes which have taken place in the last quarter of a century, with which all of you, ladies and gentlemen, are perfectly familiar, and to which some of you have made notable contributions. Hong Kong's actual and potential achievements were brilliantly outlined last year by Mr. Lee Kuan Yew in his address entitled: "Hong Kong and Singapore - a tale of two cities". A perusal of his address suggested to me the possibility of offering a few random reflections on the historical connection of Hong Kong with another and nearer city - Macao.

Their origins were very different, but they both quickly developed from being mere fishing-villages into thriving commercial entrepots. Although their respective relations with the Chinese authorities were often difficult, both depended on close co-operation with Chinese traders on order to achieve the success which they did. Nor were the benefits all one-sided. Chinese historians have recently established that the Ming period as a whole was one of remarkable economic expansion. The influx of Japanese and of Spanish-American silver channeled into the Middle Kingdom through Macao helped to make the Chinese economy more variegated than before. In fact, Chinese historians have coined the term 'incipient capitalism' to describe the Ming and early Ch'ing economy. If the City of the Name of God of Macao in China was founded when the Ming dynasty was basically strong, Hong Kong was founded when the Ch'ing dynasty was in full decay and unable to match the armed might of Western Imperialism. But the position of Hong Kong since 1949, is analogous to that of Macao for most of its existence, which a Portuguese chronicler writing at Goa in 1635 describes as follows: 'The peace that we have with the Emperor of China is as he likes it; for since he has such vastly greater numbers of men than the most that the Portuguese could possible assemble there, never did we think of breaking with him whatever serious grievances we may have had'.

Candour compels us to admit that British traders and others who enjoyed the hospitality of Macao during the late 18th and the early 19th centuries were not always appreciative of the highly precarious position of the City of the Name of God in China, and were apt to take for granted the relative freedom which they enjoyed there. Some were more perceptive, at any rate in retrospect, including Dr. W.W. Cadbury and Miss H.H. Jones, in their book 'At the point of a lancet', published at Shanghai in 1935.

'Had Macao not belonged to a foreign country, it is safe to say that Christianity and Western medicine would not have come into China until a much later date. Because Macao had enjoyed the benefits of medicine for two centuries, western doctors and dispensaries were admitted there. Christianity was not stamped out as a barbarian religion and foreigners were not treated as uncivilized creatures. Canton has proved to be the commercial gateway of China, but Macao has been the back door at which have stood Pearson who introduced vaccination into China, Morrison who was the first Protestant missionary to the Chinese and the first translator of the Bible into their language, and College who started an ophthalmic dispensary first in Macao and then in Canton, and who became president of the Medical Missionary Society, the first medical missionary society in the world. These three men would not have been able to start their work in Canton, which was open for commerce and nothing more...But Macao provided a place where these men could stand which they were knocking at the gate of China. It opened a little way for them, and once it started it could never be barred again'. The last sentence sounds a little oddly today, but let that pass.

My friend and colleague, Mr. J.M. Braga reminded us a few years ago that the Portuguese authorities at Macao allowed both the English East India Company's officials and Protestant missionaries to print and publish books at Macao, at a period when the function of both was strictly prohibited everywhere else in the Portuguese overseas empire. Among the works produced in this way, apart from Robert Morrison's famous 'Dictionary', and various translations from the Chinese, were many volumes of the 'Chinese Repository', whose enduring usefulness is attested by an abridged Japanese translation published during the last war and the high price (£225) of a facsimile edition at the present day. The part played by Portuguese from Macao in the development of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and the former Treaty Ports needs no stressing to an audience like this. I merely remind you that if the co-operation of the Chinese, British, and Portuguese has reached its most impressive form at Hong Kong, it was at Macao that it began. It is equally obvious that this tripartite relationship has not always been harmonious, and has been at times downright acrimonious, but that is the way of human kind. 'Man', as Sir William Temple observed nearly three centuries ago, 'is the only animal who is born crying, lives complaining, and dies unsatisfied'. Nevertheless, despite various vicissitudes and recurrent crises, Chinese, Portuguese, and British are still living and working together on the shores of the South China Sea in the Water Lily Peninsula and the Fragrant Harbour. Nothing is eternal in this transitory and fleeting world; but we may hope with guarded optimism that these two historic places will continue to function for some time yet, as cultural and intellectual entrepots as well as commercial ones. This university which, I am glad to say, still believes in the idea of freeing the mind by training it, will have a crucial role to play for as long as these conditions endure. My fellow graduand and I thank you most sincerely for the honour bestowed upon us by our admission to the university community.

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