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Dr CHEN Yidan Charles

89th Congregation (2020)

Dr CHEN Yidan Charles

Doctor of Social Science


In Shuo Yuan Tan Cong Pian[1], there is a saying: ‘The keen-sighted looks into the unknown; the wise plans before things take shape; the sharp-eared hears when void of sound; and the thoughtful forever on the watch’. What these sets of phrases mean is that the wise man predicts and looks into the future with penetrating eyes; is prepared for the coming of monumental changes to catch the emerging opportunities, and in the end builds up an impressive enterprise that heralds an era and brings both benefits and blessings to the whole world. 

Dr Chen Yidan Charles completed an undergraduate programme at Shenzhen University in 1993, graduating with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Applied Chemistry, and then went on to get a Master’s degree in Economic Law at Nanjing University in 1996. In 2019, he obtained from the Singapore Management University a Doctoral degree in Business Administration. Since the start of the 1990s, Shenzhen Time Square has been adjacent to the gate of Shenzhen University, with a giant sundial towering on the University’s vast piece of grassland. Here, dawn and dusk interchanges tirelessly and seasons rotate indefinitely, constantly reminding students of the inevitable slipping away of time, day and night, year after year. What and who can one cling on for support as time goes by? This sundial imagery has greatly inspired Dr Chen as a student. He deeply felt that to stand out amongst fellow competitors, he must move with the times and make headway towards his own goals without hesitation. In 1998, Dr Chen, Mr Ma Huateng and two other fellow students, all of Shenzhen University, foresaw the enormous potential of the social media on the internet platforms on the mainland even at its early stage of development. Without a second thought, they made the decision to pool their resources to set up Tencent, with Dr Chen becoming the Chief Administrative Officer of this young but promising company. Nowadays, the Internet has become an inescapable communication tool in society, and Tencent, with a staff establishment of over fifty thousand and a market value of above HK$3 trillion, has become the most important and impactful internet enterprise among its competitors, whether in China or around the world, serving the greatest number of people and making great contributions to people’s life. In Lu Shi Chun Qiu Shou Shi Pian[2], it is stated that: ‘What makes a task easy or difficult is not about its size or magnitude, but rests upon knowing how best to respond to it, and at the opportune time’. Dr Chen understands well the importance of making a tactical move at the right time to seize the golden opportunity, and is able to foresee the tides of the internet industry, all of which contributes to the great success of Tencent, enabling the company to win unanimous respect from the information industry and high praises from both the business and education sectors. 

The wise plans for the future and at the same time cares for the betterment of mankind. Just as Tencent’s business was flourishing at an unprecedented rate and becoming the major player of the internet industry, Dr Chen made the difficult decision of stepping down from the Chief Administrative Officer post in 2013 and instead assumed the position of Lifetime Honourable Consultant of Tencent. He wanted to devote all his effort and time to the promotion of community welfare on the internet. He understands that a proper social security network will ensure peace in community and promote people’s welfare. He always thinks about ways to give all possible help to people by leveraging the power of the internet. To plough back to society, Dr Chen worked together with several co-founders of Tencent to set up, as early as 2007, the first charity foundation of the internet sector of China: Tencent Charity Foundation. He also spearheaded the strategic plans of Tencent’s ‘Corporate Social Responsibility’, putting a lot of time and effort into harvesting the capability of the internet platform for the promotion of public welfare and charity work. He was the first internet entrepreneur to win the ‘China Charity Award’. For all his charity work, he was awarded: ‘The Most Compassionate Philanthropist’; ‘Top Ten Philanthropists of China’; ‘Godfather of Internet Philanthropy in China’; and ‘The Pioneer of China’s Internet Philanthropy’. 

Dr Chen not only concerns himself with public charity work, he also cares for intellectual property, and the protection of copyright and patent technology. In 2006, he initiated the setting up of the first copyright protection organisation in China, Shenzhen Copyright Society, and became its Founding President and now, its Lifetime Honorary President. Besides professional involvement in the intellectual property sphere, Dr Chen also took up positions in a number of community ventures, including that of Vice Chairman of Copyright Society of China; Deputy President of the Committee of Corporate Citizenship, China Association of Social Workers; and Member, Policy & Resource Working Committee, the Internet Society of China. For his outstanding achievements, he was elected Deputy of Guangdong Province in the 12th National People’s Congress, China. Since 2018, Dr Chen has been the Chairman of the Organising Committee of the China Internet Public Welfare Summit. 

In the book of The Mencius – King Hui of Liang[3], there is the saying: ‘Teach with care; expound the virtues of filial responsibility; and ensure that the elderly need not shoulder heavy loads’. This saying of the book, to Dr Chen, embodies the importance of ‘Love for Mankind’, how it should be practised, and what role education has to play to that end. Dr Chen totally agrees with the wisdom in the saying, and has thus always accorded the greatest importance to education. Since 2009, he put his belief into practice, investing heavily on education. His deeds included rendering assistance in the setting up of Wuhan College, the first non-government not-for-profit public university on the mainland. Following that, he made a generous donation to the College for the construction of a new library and the procurement of its holdings. In 2012, he again generously donated through the China Children and Teenagers’ Fund to sponsor the construction of Ciying Building at the senior secondary division of Tianxin Middle School, and to set up scholarships for the school as well. In 2013, he provided funds to help establish the ‘Chen Yidan Foundation’ at Shenzhen, and through the injection of funds from the Tencent Charity Foundation, also helped set up the Shenzhen Mingde Experimental School. Furthermore, he gave his consent to serve as the first Chairman of the School Board. Starting from 2018, he has been a Founding Member of the Council of West Lake University. In 2016, Dr Chen made a generous donation of HK$2.5 billion for the institutionalisation of the ‘Yidan Prize’, the world’s most well-endowed education award. The aim of the Yidan Prize is to commend and support innovative endeavours in education and also to honour individuals or groups who have made great contributions in the field. Dr Chen hopes that through the Yidan Prize awards, society will be made aware of the innovative ideas or laudable accomplishments of the Yidan Prize recipients, all outstanding educators. In the end, the community will benefit from these ideas and accomplishments, and be able to understand, through better education, the importance of ‘Love to Mankind’, as proclaimed by The Mencius, and that people should practise this core value of mankind under whatever circumstances and in step with the times. In addition, he donated US$1 million to Stanford Law School in the US to sponsor eligible students from China to pursue law studies at Stanford. Dr Chen places great importance on education. A gentleman of integrity and uprightness, Dr Chen wins the praise and respect of the whole country. He received a number of honours and accolades, including: First on the Forbes China Philanthropy List (2017); First on Chinese Philanthropist Chart of the 13th China Philanthropy List (2016); Top Philanthropist Prize, China Charity Alliance (2015); The Most Charitable Donator , The 9th China Charity Award (2015); China Children Charity Award – Touching Spring Buds (2014); Outstanding Award of the China Copyright Enterprise (2013); The Most Influential Person in the Protection of Intellectual Property, China (2012); and Outstanding Contribution Medal of the Children Charity Award, China (2012). Dr Chen was also conferred the degree of Doctor of Humanities, honoris causa, by The Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 2017. Honours and laurels for Dr Chen follow one another. 

Dr Chen has always been a great friend and steadfast supporter of CUHK. Since 2012, he has made numerous donations, through Tencent Holdings and its subsidiaries, to the Faculty of Engineering of the University in support of research work on digital communication and the like. His contributions, in kind or in cash, are countless and benefit both students and teachers. 

Mr Chairman, in the 1960s, the late Professor Sir Charles K. Kao, former Vice-Chancellor of CUHK, was the first person to publish a dissertation in which he suggested using optical fibre for high speed transmission of digital data in telecommunications. That innovative idea paved the way for the birth of the internet. In the 1990s, Professor Kao set up the Faculty of Engineering at CUHK, which promotes teaching and research in information technology in the region. About this time in Shenzhen, Dr Chen started garnering the capability of the internet to set up the most extensive and diversified social media platform in China. To plough back to society, Dr Chen later developed an expansive and comprehensive charitable project to promote, this time, education enterprises, making use also of the strength of the internet. His charitable project has achieved similar success. Among the many meaningful charitable endeavours Dr Chen has undertaken are a number of generous donations to various engineering departments of this University, benefiting students and teachers of the Faculty. For all his kindness, we at CUHK are forever grateful. Dr Chen is both enlightened and visionary. For the internet industry, he provided the paradigm that has the greatest applications and most significant impact on society. Its effects are far reaching and its significance unfathomable. It is therefore not entirely coincidental that we confer an honorary degree on Dr Chen today. Mr Chairman, it is my privilege to present to you Dr Chen Yidan Charles for the award of Doctor of Social Science, honoris causa.


[1] Shuo Yuan or Garden of Stories is a collection of stories and anecdotes from the pre-Qin period (Stone Age to 221 BC) to the Western Han Dynasty (220 BC-9 AD) composed and annotated by Liu Xiang, a historian of Western Han Dynasty, China. Tan Cong Pian is a chapter of Shuo Yuan on ‘abundant discussion’.

[2] Lu Shi Chun Qiu, also known as Lu’s Commentaries of History, is an encyclopedic classic text of early thought and civilisation of the State of Qin, China, compiled around 239 BC by the Qin Dynasty Chancellor Lu Buwei; Shou Shi Pian is a chapter of the book, about ‘biding one’s time’.

[3] The Mencius was a collection of anecdotes and conversations of the Confucian thinker and philosopher Mencius on the topics of moral and political philosophy, often between Mencius (or Mengzi, 372-289 BC) and the various state rulers of the warring states period of China (476-221 BC). In the chapter King Hui of Liang, Mencius was having dialogues with the King Hui of the State of Liang.