73rd Congregation (2013)
Dr the Honourable Elsie TU
The poem Crane Cries, found in the chapter of Lesser Court Hymns of the Classic of Poetry, states that “the stones of one hill, may be made into grind-stones for the gems of another mountain”, suggesting that talents from other countries could still serve our country all the same. Hong Kong is a place where Chinese and foreigners blend in together, where East meets West. Over the past century, with the contribution of expatriates, Hong Kong has displayed a bright and colorful cultural landscape, and has become a major metropolis of the world. Some of the expatriates were benevolent, moral and wise. They disregarded their differences in nationality and culture, and took care of the underprivileged, willing to become grind-stones of another mountain. They contributed their all to the grassroots of Hong Kong, devoted their lives to educate disadvantaged students, and when they reached their later years, they were pleased to see the students become gems.
Dr Elsie Tu was born into a working class family in Newcastle-upon Tyne, England in June 1913, and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Durham. She went on a missionary journey with her first husband William to China, and arrived in Hong Kong in 1951. She created an immediate and unbreakable bond with Hong Kong upon her arrival, and has stood by Hong Kong people for 62 years. Dr Tu is a famous pioneer of social movements in Hong Kong. She was a member of the Urban Council from 1963 to 1995, and became a member of the Legislative Council from 1988 to 1995. She was also appointed as a member of the Provisional Legislative Council from 1997 to 1998. Dr Tu was committed to upholding social justice, dared to speak out, fought for the rights of the disadvantaged, and was loved by the working people. She felt that society was corrupt during the 1960s, and wrote articles as well as accepted interviews from the media to castigate the colonial government at that time for its mis-governance, and attacked government officials for their corruption. When she was a member of the Urban Council and the Legislative Council, she frequently stood up against the colonial government, forcing the government to confront its own corruption problems. The government eventually established the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 1974 to eradicate corruption. Since then, Hong Kong has been internationally renowned for its clean politics, and is known as one of the most incorruptible cities in the world. This attribute has become a core value most cherished by Hong Kong people. Towards this, Dr Tu should be commended for her persistent efforts in admonishing the government over its corruption problems.
Dr Tu was disgusted by the corruption in society. In order to improve the social environment and people’s livelihood, she knew deep in her heart that education was the starting point for improving the living conditions of the underprivileged. She therefore established the Mu Kuang English School in the squatter area of Kai Yip Estate in Kwun Tong in 1955, and taught under tents abandoned by the British military, providing the children from the grassroots an opportunity to receive education. She is a person with a strong personality, and is always deeply concerned with social hardship. The school’s motto “Sapientia et Lux” encourages students to learn and be reasonable, and create a promising society through the pursuit of knowledge. Part of the lyrics of Mu Kuang’s school song says “the society is promising because of education”, and this reflects Dr Tu’s philosophy on education. Since Mu Kuang was established, Dr Tu worked with a hands-on attitude. For nearly 60 years, she taught by her words and by example, and her teachings have nurtured and inspired numerous underprivileged students into becoming successful members of society. Dr Tu still serves as the Supervisor of Mu Kuang English School, and lives in the school as her home. All employment contracts of the school are personally signed by her. Although she now needs to use a wheelchair, and has a hearing problem in her right ear, she still gets excited whenever she talks about the school’s development. Dr Tu still contributes on ways to subsidize underprivileged students. “There are currently 1,300 students here, and half of them are from low-income families. If students have financial problems and can’t afford to pay for the fees of extracurricular activities and school trips, we will provide additional subsidies, and the list of all students under subsidies is classified.” On Dr Tu’s 100th birthday in 2013, the alumni of Mu Kuang established the ”Elsie Tu Education Fund”, in order to continue Dr Tu’s spirit of lifelong service to the public, to subsidize local education, and to contribute back to society.
Residing in Hong Kong for more than 50 years, Dr Elsie Tu can speak Putonghua and Cantonese fluently, and as a foreigner she was joined in marriage with a Chinese. Elsie Tu met Andrew Tu in church. They shared the same passion for education, and were both willing to serve the general public. They shared the same dream and the same mind. They got married in 1985, and that is when she began using her husband’s family name. Mr Tu died of cancer in 2001. When recalling the life of her husband, Dr Tu once said, “Until today, Andrew Tu is the only person I met who shared a similar dream with me, and the love I have for him has never changed during the past 25 years… I have learned much from him, even more than when I was at school or became a teacher. I taught him English, and he taught me Chinese, and I realized talking to him is just like talking to my father and brother back home…Tu helped me revive my dream I had when I was young, before I was constrained by doctrines.” From this, one can see the couple shared the same mind, and were deeply in love with each other. After Mr Tu passed away, Dr Tu devoted herself to writing. She published Colonial Hong Kong in the Eyes of Elsie Tu, in which she used her consistently outspoken style to review the darker times of the past. In her new book Shouting at the Mountain, she recalls her love story with Mr Andrew Tu, and it was described as “Hong Kong’s most heartwarming love story book” by the South China Morning Post.
Dr Tu has selflessly committed her life to serving the general public. She was awarded the
Ramon Magsaysay Award, often called Asia’s Nobel Prize, by the Philippine government in 1976. She was made a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in 1977, and was awarded numerous honorary doctorates by various Hong Kong and British universities, including The University of Hong Kong (1988), the Open Learning Institute of Hong Kong (now the Open University of Hong Kong, 1994), The Hong Kong Polytechnic University (1994), the University of Durham (1996), and the University of Newcastle (1996). After the handover of Hong Kong to China, Dr Tu was awarded the Grand Bauhinia Medal by the HKSAR government in 1997 to commend her contribution and service to the grassroots of Hong Kong. In 2010, she was chosen as one of the ten “Hong Kong Loving Hearts”.
Dr Elsie Tu has dedicated her life to taking care of the grassroots, to promoting education and fostering talents, and she has pushed society forward. Her achievements have been outstanding, and she has made immense contributions to Hong Kong. Her passion towards the grassroots has long gone beyond the limits of race, nationality, geographical boundaries and language, and she has successfully contributed to a more caring and inclusive society. Please allow us to commend this sincere friendship that spans two centuries. Mr Vice-Chancellor, it is my privilege to present to you Dr the Honourable Elsie Tu for the award of the degree of Doctor of Social Science, honoris causa.