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Professor KING Yeo-chi Ambrose

62nd Congregation (2005)

Professor KING Yeo-chi Ambrose
Doctor of Laws

We who are living today have the good fortune to stand astride two centuries as witnesses to many earth-shaking historical changes. Yet what significance do these experiences hold for us? Will they become just a part of our memory of the past, now and again raising a smile, or inducing a sigh? Or should we look squarely at these historical events and consider their underlying causes and implications from various angles? To ponder the past and look toward the future from the vantage point of the present: this is a sage’s approach to life. Professor Ambrose Y C King is a sociologist, thinker and educator, touching on issues and areas that span over different generations and centuries. Professor Ambrose King’s academic training began in Taiwan. In the 1950s he gained a Bachelor of Arts from Taiwan University and an MA from Chengchi University. Following this he went abroad to study at the University of Pittsburgh in the United States, where he broadened his intellectual horizons. He was awarded a PhD in 1970. Like many intellectuals of the day, he was concerned about the new developments in China as it sloughed off the old society, and gave his attention to the subsequent course that Chinese culture might take. He employed the theoretical framework of Max Weber, a western scholar, as a different entry point to formulate a new analysis of this series of political and intellectual issues. Between From Tradition to Modernity (1966) and The Modern Turn of China (2004), Professor King devoted almost four decades to the study of the course and pattern of changes that China underwent during the past two centuries and more. From the end of the nineteenth century to the beginning of the twenty-first, following the disintegration of the dynastic order and the collapse of the clan system, China has gradually entered upon a new era. But in these two hundred years as China has modernized, what costs have been endured, and what has been achieved? In today’s world, where the major trend is globalization, how can China preserve its own unique identity? Professor King points out that each of the two cultures, East and West, have their strengths and weaknesses. We should not be complacent, nor should we feel inferior. We must understand Western civilization and reconcile the contradictions and tensions between East and West, striving for the construction of a pluralistic world where different cultures co-exist in harmony. Professor King recognizes that, in this lengthy revolution spanning three centuries, the path of modernization has been enormously difficult and fraught with danger, but the way ahead is growing brighter. Even as we bid farewell to the past, we must respect history and learn from it, finding our own place in this plural and internationalized society, in order to develop our own potential, strive for the future and build a new order of civilization. Professor King came to work in Hong Kong in 1970, thereafter publishing a series of theses on Hong Kong society. These include The Administrative Absorption of Politics in Hong Kong (1975); Social Life and Development in Hong Kong (1981); The Special Character of Hong Kong’s Polity and its Democratic Prospects (1987); and One Country, Two Systems: An Idea on Trial (1995), and Hong Kong: A City with the Most Traits of Modernity in Chinese Societies (2000). He held that in order to understand Hong Kong, one cannot overlook two important threads: colonial rule and capitalism. It is only upon the tapestry woven from these two that we can attempt a deep analysis: having cast off colonialism, whither the political system and culture of Hong Kong? As China seeks a new order of civilization, how can Hong Kong transform itself from a colonial city into an international metropolis? These are issues that Professor King has been pondering in recent years, and ones that everyone in the Mainland, Taiwan and Hong Kong are concerned about. In 1975, Professor King went to Cambridge University in England where he wrote his first essay on university education, entitled “Two Cultures and Technological Humanism”. He pointed out that, in an atmosphere where there was interaction between different cultures and fields of study, the unique internal spirit and external dynamism can better manifest themselves. In 1983 he published The Idea of a University, a work that was the fruit of many years of reflection and study. Professor King has been involved with university education for close to forty years, and has set an example of personal involvement by moving forward along this path to make his ideas of a university a reality. He believes that both western monastic education and the traditional Chinese academy attached equal importance to knowledge and character-building. The ideas of the wise men and philosophers of the past are the life-giving headwaters of today’s universities. Yet modern universities tend to over-emphasize the teaching of knowledge at the expense of cultivation of the moral character. Therefore, Professor King eagerly promotes the philosophy of the traditional Chinese academy as a way to enhance moral education, while at the same time emphasizing the global vision and foresight crucial to university education. He has initiated diverse programmes for visiting scholars, inviting world-renowned academics as visiting lecturers, with the goal of enhancing intellectual exchange to inspire young scholars’ thirst for knowledge and to establish a broader platform for intellectual pursuits. In 1970, Professor King joined the ranks of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, teaching in the Department of Sociology. In 1974, he was promoted to Senior Lecturer, in 1979 to Reader and in 1983 Professor of Sociology. From 1977 to 1985, he served as Head of New Asia College and in 1989 he became Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the Chinese University. In 2002 he was appointed Vice-Chancellor of this University, and honorably retired in 2004. Professor Ambrose King and the Chinese University grew to maturity together; he was involved in the University’s breakthroughs and every stage of development over these thirty years. This was particularly true of the years he served as Vice-Chancellor, when he set the fifth ten-year development plan for the University, introduced a new mechanism to improve the governance of the University, and successfully established the School of Law. With incomparable energy and an indomitable spirit, he led the University through numerous difficulties: the SARS outbreak and the substantial budget cuts imposed by the government. That The Chinese University of Hong Kong today takes its place among the leaders of world universities is in a meaningful way due to the efforts of Professor King. In addition to his academic research and administrative work, Professor King is active in community affairs: he has advised the ICAC, served on the Law Reform Commission of Hong Kong, and has been members of the Central Policy Unit and the Hong Kong Research Grants Council. Professor King’s achievements have gained him a high academic reputation. In 1994, he was elected a Fellow of Academia Sinica in Taiwan, and in the following years he has been honoured by many universities. In addition to his teaching, research and academic administration, the multi-talented Ambrose King also delights in penning beautiful and profoundly literary essays. Cambridge Musings (1977), Heidelberg Musings (1986), and Ever in my Heart (2005) are the literary creations of a sociologist and the philosophical muse of a man of letters. Recently, Professor King has been enthralled by calligraphy, pursuing the traditional literati spirit and refreshment for the mind in brush, ink and paper. Professor King turned seventy this year, the age to follow what the heart desires. As the Chinese saying goes it is rare for a person to reach the age of seventy. However, with today’s medical advances, seventy is no longer a rarity. But in today’s world, a man such as Professor King, with his scholarly cultivation, breadth of mind, attainments and health: such is rare indeed. Though Professor King has retired, he still serves the University, lecturing and chairing the Committee on Bilingualism for the University. He has always striven relentlessly to contribute to the development of the University and to the construction of a new civilization order for China. He hopes to continue to reflect and to engage in such undertakings in the next decade. He once said that history created Hong Kong and Hong Kong created history. He also said, China entered the world and the world entered China. Professor King, though you did not found the Chinese University, it was under your care and that of its forefathers that it grew and prospered. You strode into Hong Kong, and into the Chinese University, together with colleagues, past and present, creating its history. We are confident that affection for the University is deep in your heart. You and The Chinese University of Hong Kong are in perfect harmony and the Chinese University is honoured by your presence in it. Mr Chancellor, I now respectfully present Professor Ambrose Y C King for the award of the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.