Cheng Xuan, the VIP room of CUHK’s Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS), is bedecked with rosewood furniture and cabinets of academic journals, theses and books. Evoking a classic oriental elegance, the décor matches the Institute’s setting perfectly. ‘This is the room where the defense of my master’s thesis was conducted some 40 years ago,’ said Prof. Leung Yuen-sang, director of ICS. ‘It was also in this building that I attended classes throughout the entire course of my master’s studies.’ With ICS marking its 50th anniversary this year, Professor Leung takes the opportunity to discuss its current developments while reminiscing about the past.
The Literary and Historical Start-up
Professor Leung said, ‘The establishment of ICS was driven by the founding Vice-Chancellor Dr. Choh-ming Li’s⑤ passion for Chinese culture and his abiding concern for the people, society and the nation. Not only did he facilitate its inception, he also headed the Institute, demonstrating the importance he attached to this initiative.’
During the initial period of inauguration in 1967, ICS was primarily staffed by professors and researchers from New Asia Institute of Advanced Chinese Studies, including history and philosophy scholars like Wang Teh-chao①, Chen Ching-ho②, Chuen Han-sheng③, Chou Fa-kao④, Mou Jun-sun⑥, Tang Chun-I⑦ and S.S. Hsueh⑧. As former chairman of the Center for Chinese Studies at UC Berkeley, Dr. Li brought in the perspectives of overseas scholars on Chinese studies. Noting how Chinese works of art were dispersed in great numbers during the 1950s and 60s, Mr. Lee Jung-sen, then Council Member, made donations to CUHK to set up a museum under ICS in 1971 to collect and preserve these artefacts.
‘Broadly speaking, the Institute was built on a foundation of traditional literary, historical and philosophical studies in its early days, complemented by pursuits in overseas sinology as well as the preservation and research of historical artefacts,’ said Professor Leung.
Bringing Chinese Culture to the West
ICS started its research on translation and archaeology with the help of scholars, including Stephen C. Soong, George Kao, Cheng Te-K’un and Yu Kwang-chung, who joined CUHK from late 1960s to early 1970s. Renditions was inaugurated in 1973 to introduce Chinese literature and thoughts to English-reading public through translation. Professor Leung remarked, ‘Under the leadership of Dr. Chen Fong-ching, former director of ICS, in mid-1980s, research was infused with contemporary elements. Jin Guantao and Liu Qingfeng, both contemporary Chinese culture scholars, were recruited by ICS. As a result, Twenty-First Century was launched and found strong support from both mainland and overseas scholars. Later on, the Research Centre for Contemporary Chinese Culture was founded to promote research on modern Chinese thoughts and culture with focus on their transition and comparison to Western and other cultures.
‘Dr. Chen also pioneered the use of IT technology in Chinese studies by establishing a computerized database of the entire corpus of Shang oracular inscriptions and all classic texts up to the sixth century A.D. The project was led by Prof. D.C. Lau, Prof. Ho Che-wah, associate director of ICS, and Mr. K.K. Ho. Throughout the years, the content of the database–named as CHANT [Chinese Ancient Texts] Database–had been re-edited, enriched and released to the Internet for public use.
Dedicated and Unique
After half a century of hard work and dedication, ICS has developed into an institute with one art museum and six research centres. Professor Leung concluded, ‘Our research projects cover a very long timeframe–from the archaic to contemporary eras, with a wide range of research topics. The ICS members have always been striving for academic excellence and innovations. Our research projects are conducted in both Chinese and English in order to address an international readership as well as the Chinese-speaking readers and researchers.
‘The Institute has also been participating in academic exchange and collaborations with renowned universities and research institutes in the UK, the US, Germany, France, mainland China and Taiwan, including the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford, UC Berkeley, Leiden University in the Netherlands, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, as well as the Institute of History and Philology and the Institute of Modern History, Academia Sinica in Taiwan. Moreover, ICS has established the EFEO (École française d'Extrême-Orient) and the CUHK-CCK Foundation Asia-Pacific Centre for Chinese Studies. All of these special features are what make ICS unique among other similar institutions.’
Celebrating the Golden Jubilee
As ICS celebrates its 50th anniversary, a giant outdoor banner with a special logo for the Institute’s Golden Jubilee can be seen next to its main entrance.
A beacon of culture that lit up a wastesland
A foundation of learning to grace this half century
The above lines are the English rendition of the two lines composed by Prof. Ho Che-wah and elegantly calligraphed by Professor Leung. It was provided by Prof. David Pollard, former advisory editor of the Research Centre for Translation.
‘Though ICS is not planning to hold any large-scale celebratory events, a number of conferences, seminars and lectures will be hosted by the research centres under ICS from January to October. We will also be publishing collections of academic papers. These academic events and publications will serve as a token of gratitude to our predecessors. Throughout the planning process of these activities, members also use the opportunity to discuss the directions of ICS’s future, as China’s role in the international arena has become increasingly important in the 21st century,’ remarked Professor Leung.
One of the nation’s large-scale plans would be the recent ‘Belt and Road’ Initiative. Many related research projects have been undertaken under this topic. ‘The T.T. Ng Chinese Language Research Centre at ICS and the Department of Chinese Language and Literature have jointly organized the “Maritime Silk Road Suite” from 27 March to 30 April, with a series of academic activities focusing on the linguistic properties of Chinese spoken in countries and areas along the 21st century Maritime Silk Road,’ said Professor Leung. One of the major events under the Maritime Silk Road Suite, ‘The International Symposium on Chinese in the Maritime Silk Road’ held on 7 and 8 April had brought together more than a hundred scholars from around the world.
Prof. Tang Sze-wing, director of the T.T. Ng Chinese Language Research Centre said, ‘The “Maritime Silk Road Suite” is the first-ever attempt for a series of academic conferences and seminars to adopt a “Belt and Road” perspective, with a focus on Chinese linguistics. We hope that these events would open new research opportunities for the University, as CUHK has always been renowned for its academic excellence in Chinese studies, and in the long run, enhance Hong Kong’s level of academic significance among the nations and regions along the maritime silk road.’
New Initiatives, Same Commitment
‘In the previous half-century, we’ve seen major changes taking place in our society and our nation. ICS has therefore redirected the focus of our research projects according to these national and societal changes, as well as changes which took place within the Institute. Nevertheless, one thing stays the same–our commitment to Chinese studies. In the latest strategic plan of the University, China studies is listed as one of the four major research areas. With the concerted efforts of ICS’s dedicated researchers, I strongly believe that the Institute will continue to thrive for many more golden jubilees to come,’ concluded Professor Leung.
This article was originally published in No. 498, Newsletter.