LIM Boon Keng
Doctor of Laws
Your Excellencies, I find it extremely difficult to express in adequate terms my gratitude for the great honour which the University has conferred upon me. I appreciated the honour all the more because it haas come from a British source - a centre of British learning at the very doors of China offering to the Chinese people the greatest gift - the best fruits of British culture - at the disposal of the British nation. Through the University the British Empire is extending the hand of goodwill and friendship to a great and ancient nation.
I observe on the shield of the University two words or rather two phrases that shine forth like great lights, showing up the very basis of our human culture, as they involve, in fact, the guiding principles that must determine the great discussions to be held by the wisest men of the nations who are assembling today to consider the peace terms to be imposed upon the barbarous Germans. The Latin legend of the crest is a very apt translation of the Chinese phrases - Ke-wu and Ming-te - but I am afraid many students may not fully realize the true meaning of Sapientia et Virtus.
The word Sapientia has undergone changes in meaning in the course of time. It was in the middle ages rendered "wisdom". It represents the best results of Ke-wu or Science as we should translate the phrase in modern English. Then there is the other expression Ming-te which the late Dr. Legge had translated "illustrious vitue". With all humble submission to such a venerable authority I venture to think that "illustrious virtue" is too learned and ponderous phrase. The Latin Virtus, in the sense employed by the stoics, with emphasis on the vir, has no exact equivalent in modern English but it is the right meaning of te in Confucian literature. What do we mean, after all, by these words? They indicate simply the application of knowledge to the necessities of life, subject to moral restraints. In that Chinese phrase Ke-wu, we have the basis of modern science - the investigation of things. But science, by itself, does not suffice to maintain civilization, as we have recently seen how science when detached from Virtus - in spite of Sapientia a wisdom as the ancients translated it, has simply developed into German militarism.
And so this university standing at the very doors of China has a great message and a great duty to fulfill. I have heard it said that it is difficult for the University in Hong Kong to serve as a centre of education for the regeneration of the Chinese people. I do not concur with this view. I think a great deal can be achieved by a University such as ours before the Chinese will be ready to have a proper University of their own, because, after all, a University should not only be a factory for "turning out" machines or mere professional experts. The University must impart something more than technical knowledge and professional skill. True it must provide its students with a complete view of life, but it must also bring to bear upon them its salutary influence so that they will not only have gained a knowledge of life - but what is infinitely better - they will be able to live with wise teachers in such a way as to get the inspiration to live in their post-graduate days the noblest life known to mankind.
It is therefore very auspicious that the University authorities have wisely chosen two texts from the Confucian Classics to be the motto and the guide of all the succeeding rulers of this great centre of learning. In a recent volume dealing with the great problems that will arise in the future between capital and labour in different parts of Europe and the world, these is a paper by the Bishop of Birmingham in which he says that it is curious to discover in the Confucian Classics the ideal that is worthy of the consideration of the Twentieth Century. That ideal is to be found in the saying of Confucius: "If you wish to establish yourself, seek also to establish others". The idea is that education in its best and highest sense is only the means towards the attainment of the perfect life and that not for the individual alone but also through the perfection of the individual for the family, the nation, and the world. The principle of education is that a man must endeavour to make himself perfect in every way, exercising all his facilities, and training all his senses, so that the eye can appreciate beauty, the ear can understand harmony and so forth till the mind becomes the willing instrument of the spirit. Thus the individual in the totality of his being is en rapport with nature. But this is not all. The cultivation of the arts and sciences should never serve merely as the means of self-gratification or as the stepping stone to advancement wealth and glory for self. Neither must it aim solely at the prosperity and happiness of the family for the latter is after all only a unit of the social organism. "The perfection of self" in the Confucian ethics implies the acquirement of altruism as an active force to extend all the benefits of education perceived by the individual to the family, through the family to the nation, and through the nation to all mankind. Therefore the same enlightment that leads to the individual to seek perfection for himself, urges him to diffuse the spirit that gives life to understanding, to refinement, and to culture so that the whole human family may attain to the peace and happiness which he, the individual, is seeking for himself. This is, as no doubt every one is aware, the great ideal of Confucianism and it cannot be an unworthy programme for a University.
We have heard the Pro-Vice-Chancellor speaking in feeling terms when he appealed to His Excellency for the provision of adequate funds for the necessary requirements of this centre of learning. May I venture as a visitor and a stranger from a neighbouring Colony to offer my criticism or opinion of certain views as to the position of the Hong Kong University today. Speaking now as a graduate, I feel justified in saying a few words to express what I feel about our University. In my humble opinion, the University should not and never been in want of the necessary funds. The Government of this Colony must not look upon the Hong Kong University merely as a little Colonial concern. If I might be bold to employ a figure of speech, I should call the University a great British lighthouse built upon the most prominent rock upon the China coast in the darkest age of Asia. At present chaos in the shape of a political typhoon rages throughout the troubled waters of Chinese life, and darkness reigns supreme. The British Empire has therefore with characteristic generosity built a great lighthouse in Hong Kong, and the late King Edward, whose memory the Great War has taught us to bless, declared that this was the gift of the British nation. Surely it is not asking too much to demand that the British Empire and the British Colonies especially should see that the British lighthouse should be properly and efficiently lighted. Surely the British Empire, which has been prepared to sacrifice its best manhood for the defence of Liberty will not be found wanting in such a good cause where the cost is so small and trivial. I trust Your Excellency will pardon me if I ask the Governor and all the Members of the Civil Service of the Colony to regard the University as the great lighthouse of the British Empire in the Far East. We are building up a structure not only in material things, for over and above the things that are visible, there are elements of greater permanency with light to light up the whole of mankind. Therefore, if we regard our University as a British institution intended as the means of providing the gift of British culture to the Chinese people, we may be sure that the British Empire - particularly the Colonies - will respond to any reasonable appeal by the Government of Hong Kong.
Many thoughts come to one on such an occasion as this but it is impossible in this short address to consider them all. However, before concluding my speech, I wish to emphasize the fact that if the University were to help China in any way at all, the students and the graduates of Chinese race, should not forget that they were Chinese. It is hardly necessary in this hall for me to justify my position as a British subject, as a lover of British ideals, or as a loyal and humble member of the British Empire. The lessons of psychological and history - especially of the long annals of the Chinese nation - show that a man is a better and more loyal subject when he does not forget the source from which he has sprung. The French Canadians have not been ashamed of their French nationality, the Boers are proud of their Dutch origin, the Welsh make much of their Cymric ancestors, and who dares question the Scotch as to whether he has a native land of his own? So surely a Chinese, who is a British subject, does not need to become denationalized in a linguistic, psychological, or ethnological sense, on account of his political allegiance. There are good scientific and philosophical reasons for believing that nationalities develop best and most happily along definite lines of least resistance acquired by long generations of adaptation and inheritance. The happiest results therefore will be achieved when the Chinese, whether subjects of Alien Powers or not, coming to study in this University, do not forget that they are Chinese. Whether they come from the United States, Australia, or Malaya, or from the great Republic of China, they will surely be better citizens in the future, if they can manage to conserve whatever is beautiful, whatever is good, and whatever is wise in the old traditions of China, while they strive to imbibe the spirit of the British Democracy with its ideals of veracity and justice and law and freedom - which have built up the grandeur and the might of the British Empire. If with the virtues truly characteristic of the British, they succeed in combining reverence for the aged, respect for authority, love of order, and enthusiasm for learning, so conspicuous in Chinese institutions, they will have equipped themselves fully for the uplifting and the amelioration of the great Chinese nation. Then they would be able to go back amongst their people and - perhaps the Chinese would excuse me for my plain language - these young men, wise, learned, but humble, will bring them piety, knowledge, patience, skill and humanity to relieve the Chinese nation of that terrible paralysis of the senses, and one is almost tempted to say, of the mind - that moral and spiritual malady which accounts for all the symptoms of decadence of what was once a brilliant civilization. When that paralysis shall have passed away then, and only then, will the Chung-hua Republic wake up, recover her senses, and banish for ever the sights, the smells, the sounds, and the thoughts at present characteristic of Chinese surroundings - the obnoxious and disagreeable evidences of national degeneration and decay! Then shall arise in the Flowery Land a rejuvenated "Middle Kingdom" with beautiful cities, clean homes, high ideals, happy children, refined women, and heroic men, excelling the best features of the glorious times of the T'angs and the Sungs in Ancient China.