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Professor Lawrence Juen-yee LAU

77th Congregation (2014)

Professor Lawrence Juen-yee LAU
Doctor of Laws


Just over one hundred years ago, a young man from Shaanxi province named Yu Youren was appointed Deputy Minister of Transport and Communication in the government of Dr Sun Yat-sen. He had already written satirical poems, spent some time as a refugee from Qing forces, and established several newspapers. He later went on to command revolutionary activities in the northwest; to play leading roles in founding Fudan, Shanghai and Northwest A & F Universities; to become the President of the Control Yuan in the Nationalist Government; and to write the standard book on Chinese cursive script. He is recognized today as one of the modern masters of Chinese calligraphy. This exceptional man lost his mother when he was two years old: he was raised by his aunt. He in turn raised his aunt’s grand-daughter (his niece) when she lost her father. His niece had a son (his grand-nephew), who was to find his greatest inspiration in the example of this distinguished uncle of his mother; as well in that of his father’s father, Liu Houwu, a leading administrator in Guangdong and Guangxi. That grand-nephew was eventually to become a renowned scholar and leader himself, as well as our sixth Vice-Chancellor. Leadership most typically involves having a clear mental picture or model of an institution or society, both how they are now and how they might be better, no matter which field the leader works in. In the case of Lawrence Juen-yee Lau, those fields included the economics profession, university administration, the development of the Chinese economy, and Hong Kong society. Though he was born in Guizhou, Lawrence Lau’s kindergarten, primary and secondary schooling was at St Paul’s Co-Educational College in Hong Kong, after which he took his first degree at Stanford University in 1964 and his MA and PhD at the University of California, Berkeley in 1966 and 1969 respectively. His decision to become an economist rather than an engineer was again influenced by an inspirational older figure, his professor at Stanford, from whom he gained the insight that economics offers both a rational explanation for social behaviour and the prospect of making society better. Professor Lau went on from his PhD to teach at Stanford, becoming full Professor of Economics there in 1976, and the first Kwoh-Ting Li Professor in Economic Development in 1992. He also held the position of Director at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research from 1997–1999. His specialized fields are economic development, economic growth, and the economies of East Asia, especially China, and he has authored, co-authored or edited five books and published more than 170 articles in professional journals in these broad fields. He has also been honoured by election to several learned Academies, including the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Academia Sinica, and the International Eurasian Academy of Sciences. Most significantly, he developed in 1966 one of the first econometric models of China, which he has continued to revise and update ever since. This was a far-sighted step, and in its professional leadership through its capacity to offer a rational intellectual explanation for a complex phenomenon. The work laid the foundations for what has been perhaps Professor Lau’s greatest contribution to Chinese society, namely his decades of discreet and influential advice on economic development to the Chinese leadership. It is this informal influence even more than his membership of the 11th and 12th National Committees of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference or other official roles, such as Adviser to the National Bureau of Statistics, which will be his lasting legacy to Chinese economic policy. Meanwhile Professor Lau has also made a significant contribution to Hong Kong. Professor Lau currently serves as a member of the Exchange Fund Advisory Committee of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and Chairman of its Governance Sub-Committee and Member of its Currency Board Sub-Committee. He has also been a non-official member of the Executive Council of the HKSAR Government, and a member of the Task Force on Economic Challenges, the Commission on Strategic Development, the Advisory Committee on Corruption of the Independent Commission Against Corruption and numerous other high-level advisory bodies. He has held numerous company board memberships and was Chairman of CIC International (Hong Kong) Company Limited before his retirement earlier this year. In recognition of his contribution to Hong Kong he was awarded the Gold Bauhinia Star by the HKSAR Government in 2011. In all three roles, as scholar and as trusted adviser at both the civic and the national levels, Professor Lau has added honour to his distinguished family tradition and remained true to his original leadership inspiration. This is also the case in his fourth role, the one in which we know him best: as our former Vice-Chancellor. Professor Lau was appointed the sixth Vice-Chancellor of The Chinese University of Hong Kong on 1 July 2004 and held the position until 30 June 2010. Currently he is Ralph and Claire Landau Professor of Economics in the University’s Institute of Global Economics and Finance. As Vice-Chancellor, Professor Lau’s achievements were many, including overseeing the first ever quality audit of the University conducted by the Quality Assurance Council, in which the University was highly commended. But perhaps two achievements stand out as likeliest to remain his most lasting contributions. First, he led the University in its efforts to establish new directions in student recruitment and academic exchange, thus laying important foundations for a more internationalist outlook. Secondly, Professor Lau played an active and enthusiastic leadership role in the University’s establishment of five new colleges to accommodate the additional cohort of 3,000 students arriving in 2012 as part of the reversion to a four-year curriculum. He had a vision of several smaller, fully residential college communities that allow for greater involvement of each student and teacher in college life and learning. Out of this vision arose the foundations of Morningside, S H Ho, C W Chu, Wu Yee Sun and Lee Woo Sing Colleges. Professor Lau can be said to have permanently changed the University through his advocacy of these foundations. For his achievements at many levels, as an economist, university leader, and trusted adviser to both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, it gives me great pleasure, Mr Chairman, to present to you Professor Lawrence Juen-yee Lau, for the award of the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.