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Professor AU Ho-nien

82nd Congregation (2016)

Professor AU Ho-nien
Doctor of Literature


A master of the three perfections in Taoling, where in poetry, calligraphy and painting are execellent, and braving the world through a century, his heroic spirit has inscribed the sky and the ground, through his inspired cultivation of the arts planted in Lingnan.

Professor Au Ho-nien is one of China’s greatest art masters, a practised poet, a fine painter and a calligrapher of high calibre. His artistic achievements in painting, poetry and calligraphy are powerful and exquisite. In former times, Chen Jiru and Zheng Banqiao were both hailed, throughout Chinese literature, for their mastery of the era’s top three perfections. There has scarcely been anyone who could hold a candle to their legacy. Professor Au Ho-nien was born in modern times and is a treasure in the arts world. Professor Au combines strong literary abilities with a vigorous and charming painting style. He also masters the art of Chinese calligraphy. He is a priceless gift to all of Chinese painting, with creative pieces that incorporate myriad styles. Professor Au is a leading figure in contemporary art in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the mainland, and also stands at the forefront of the third generation of the Lingnan school of painting. He is this century’s heir apparent to the Chinese traditions of poetry, calligraphy and painting.

In 1935, Professor Au Ho-nien was born to a traditional family of Chinese scholars of Maoming, under Wuchuan in Guangdong. He conformed to the traditions of his family in his childhood. He studied Chinese classics and acquired a good knowledge of traditional Chinese culture. In 1950, he moved to Hong Kong with his father. At the age of 17, he became a protégé of Chao Shao-an, a master of the Lingnan School. He showed signs of a special talent from the very beginning. His work was getting attention in the art world in his twenties. In 1956, he was invited to take part in an exhibition tour in Southeast Asia and in 1957 his artwork was exhibited in the Asian Youth Painting Exhibition. In 1958, he was one of four artists exhibited in the St John’s Cathedral Joint Exhibition in Hong Kong, and he also took part in the Fifth Academy Art Exhibition in Ueno, Japan. His talent was fully recognized. In the early 1960s, he was professor at Chung Chi College, prior to the founding of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, where he taught Chinese painting. Apart from his teaching, Professor Au recruited followers and engaged in creative work. His artwork was showcased numerous times in Hong Kong, Japan, and SoutheastAsia. In 1970, he migrated to Taiwan, where he was an art professor in the Chinese Culture University, and at the Fine Art College of the National Taiwan University of Arts. He is currently a Hwa Kang Professor at the Chinese Culture University in Taiwan. When Professor Au held those fine arts teaching posts, he led the faculty and spared no effort to foster talent and train the next generation. He has nurtured many leading young artists in Taiwan. Not only did he teach, he also worked in calligraphy and painting. His highly prolific painting talent was inherited from the style of the Lingnan School, wherein landscapes, birds, flowers, insects, fish, and all kinds of creatures are painted in vivid detail. His work has been exhibited in Hong Kong and on both sides of the Taiwan Strait, as well as Japan, across Europe and the US. He has been earning applause from all sectors, and has also received numerous prizes, including the Gold Dragon Award of Global Outstanding Scholar in 1999, the first Dragon Culture Golden Award from the International Yanhuang Culture Research Association in 2000, and an award from the French National Society of Fine Arts Biennial Exhibition, Grand Palais Museum of Paris in France.

In the history of Chinese painting, Professor Au belongs to the Lingnan School. This school was founded in the late Qing period by Ju Chao and Ju Lian, focused on painting birds, inserts and fishes. The first generation of artists included Gao Jianfu, Gao Qifeng and Chen Shuren, known as the ‘Three Masters of the Lingnan ’. These three Masters studied in Japan, and incorporated both East Asian styles and Western painting techniques. This led to the development of the Lingnan style, in which the brushwork is strong and the colours are bright. The second generation rose to prominence in the 1930s: Chao Shao-an, Li Xongcai, Guan Shanyue and Yang Shanshen were its representative figures, dubbed the ‘Four Great Masters’ of the Lingnan School. Professor Au studied with Chao Shao-an, inheriting the landscapes and natural creatures as depicted in the Lingnan style. Combining Eastern and Western techniques, with the addition of modernist elements, not only is tranquillity touched with majesty displayed, but also the glorious colours of the Lingnan tradition, which morphs the Chinese and Western style. This is a perfect match for CUHK’s mission: ‘To Combine Tradition with Modernity. To Bring Together China and the West’. The former Director of the Palace Museum in Taipei, Chin Hsiao-Yi, once praised Au Ho-nien as the current Grand Master of the Lingnan School, and there is nothing excessive in this praise. The poet-painter Tsai Ding Hsin also lauded his painting to the heavens in these terms: ‘He encompasses the mighty expanses of mountains and rivers, and depicts the anxious reach of the human heart. Billowing clouds and misty seas emerge from his ink, and objects vividly depicted stand out brightly in his compositions. His vigorous and mighty vision gathers all the forms of the cosmos in its generous embrace.’

Professor Au Ho-nien has continued to promote Chinese painting and culture in mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and abroad. In order to expand and effectively improve art education in the long run, as well as to innovate and promote the culture of watercolour painting, Professor Au founded the Au Ho-nien Cultural Foundation in 2000, in which a great number of painting classes for children are offered and academic seminars on watercolour painting are held. This aims to popularise arts education and to engage in academic study at a higher level. The purpose is to advance on both fronts so that Chinese art can flourish in the 21st century and bloom once again.

In 2003, Professor Au donated several of his masterpieces, along with masterpieces by the masters of Lingnan School, to the Academia Sinica for the creation of Lingnan Fine Arts Museum, aiming to encourage academic study and cultural preservation. In 2005, he set up the ‘Au Ho-nien Art Centre’ at the Chinese Culture University, and then three more centres in the US and China, with the mission of promoting traditional Chinese culture, and the art of the Lingnan School.

Professor Au has a deep and long-standing association with CUHK. He taught at Chung Chi College in his early years, grooming many protégés. Now, his precious works are displayed in the CUHK’s University Library, Art Museum, Department of Fine Arts, and Chung Chi College. In 2001, Professor Au kindly presented his couplet to the University General Education Programme: ‘Range widely in the past and the present to make your knowledge comprehensive; move with the elaborate and rest with the simple to discern the unique idea.’ These inscriptions are displayed at the ground floor of the University Library, encouraging students to simultaneously pursue elaboration and simplicity, featuring both beautiful calligraphy and painting. He is truly a man with a mission.

Mr Chairman, in recognition of Professor Au Ho-nien’s outstanding achievements in calligraphy and painting, his contributions to the promotion of Chinese cultural traditions and the advancement of art education, and his support and generosity to the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I have the great honour of presenting to you Professor Au Ho-nien for the award of the degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa.