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Letter to Lingnanians

16 December 2014

Leonard K Cheng

Leonard K Cheng

Dear students, colleagues and alumni,

As the first semester comes to a close, I’m glad to report that several new initiatives at Lingnan have already borne fruit. Among them the most refreshing and heart-warming one must be the inauguration of the Lingnan Gardeners project, which pulls together the efforts of staff, students and alumni. Experiencing nature through growing plants of various sorts, Lingnanians think about our environment and how we can better protect it through our own actions and through sharing our message. Besides, farming is also good for health!

At Lingnan we uphold ethical principles like gender equality and respect for every individual. Our recently established Equal Opportunities Committee kicked off its first activity last month. More activities will be held next year to promote a learning and working environment without discrimination and barriers on our multi-cultural campus, where one-seventh of our degree-seeking and exchange students are from outside Hong Kong, and 53% of our academic staff are from overseas.

In addition to openness towards and respect for people who are different in terms of gender, race, culture, physical ability or points of view, Lingnan’s liberal arts education aims to cultivate a love of arts and culture. Our Arts Festival has been in place since 2011, and our first “Music Day”, which included a lunchtime concert by two renowned jazz musicians under our Skylight, was held in early November. There will be more music performances and course offerings in the coming year to enrich our music culture on campus.

As we continue to strengthen our liberal arts education, we should also draw inspiration for the future from our illustrious past. Since joining Lingnan last year, I’ve shared interesting stories about the rich heritage of Lingnan’s history with others. Most recently, I gave a talk on the history of Lingnan and our liberal arts education to 12 scholars and senior administrators from universities in mainland China as well as 50 local secondary school principals and representatives. They participated in our “Tin Ka Ping Mainland Scholars and Senior Administrators Exchange Programme” held in late November.

Speaking of Lingnan’s history, last month I visited Sun Yat-sen University with staff members and I also attended the 25th Anniversary Ceremony of Lingnan (University) College at Sun Yat-sen University. As you may know, when China’s university system was restructured in 1952, the Kangle (康樂) campus of Lingnan University in Guangzhou was given to Sun Yat-sen University. The intertwined history of our two universities has drawn us together. We shall be exploring areas of co-operation, not only with their Lingnan (University) College, which focuses on economics and business, but also with their humanities and social sciences disciplines as well as their Liberal Arts College.

As part of our current effort in reviewing, reaffirming and revising our statement on the University’s mission, vision and core values, I was fortunate to have held a meeting this month with six alumni – three each from the Guangzhou and Stubbs Road eras as well as a faculty member who is an expert on LU history – to learn more about the history and intended meaning of our University motto when it was adopted. The meeting was a rare occasion for alumni from different generations to learn directly from one another. It was remarkable that our senior alumni from the Guangzhou era have all written on the University’s history and its interesting stories and characters. Our Stubbs Road era alumni are in close touch with those from both Guangzhou and Hong Kong.   

Coming back to events on campus, I would like to congratulate the newly elected Executive Committee members of our Students’ Union. Together with our Associate Vice President for Student Affairs and two colleagues from our Student Services Centre, I had a four-hour meeting with the majority of the members early this month, during which they raised about 20 issues related to hostel residence, staff quarters, Integrated Learning Programme, the LU Ordinance, the search for a new Vice President, and other matters for discussion. The constructive meeting has helped to clear some misunderstanding due to inadequate information, and some of the suggestions made by the students have been accepted. A separate meeting with the SU’s Editorial Committee members has been scheduled, and I look forward to having another fruitful discussion.

I would also like to report that a staff forum on the Academic Development Proposals for 2016-19 was held on 15 December, during which the strategic directions for academic development and key initiatives in the next triennium were highlighted, and the views of staff collected. In a similar vein, a consultation is being conducted on the criteria and processes for the promotion of assistant and associate professors. Views of deans and department heads have already been sought in the preparation of the consultation documents.

On a personal level, I'm happy to have attended a talk recently given by the Nobel laureate for literature Dr Mo Yan, and to have joined a small dinner gathering in his honour afterwards. I've read several of his novels and enjoyed them very much. To the Nobel Committee, he is one who “with hallucinatory realism merges folk tales, history and the contemporary.” As for myself, I like his remarkable ability in using local stories to record major historical upheavals through the eyes and thoughts of individuals and even animals, and doing so with a frank reflection of both good and evil. I admire his courage to delve into the negative sides of the policies of the current government, and touch on the less than glorious acts of the communist guerrillas before the establishment of the PRC.

I’ve also read an opinion piece in the International New York Times by Stanford University’s Prof T M Luhrmann, entitled “Wheat people vs. rice people” that could be of interest to our colleagues in history, cultural studies and psychology. He argued that the production methods and environments of wheat and rice have shaped the individualistic versus collective mentality of people in different places. While rice production requires irrigation and institutions that support the necessary cooperation among rice growers, wheat production depends on rainfall which is determined purely by nature. An interesting point brought out by the author is that differences are found not only between Europeans on the one hand and Asians on the other, but also between Northern and Southern Chinese. As in the case of many other social phenomena, are there other factors that give rise to this observed correlation or regularity?

As winter approaches, I hope all of you can find time for a good rest and a good time. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

With best wishes,
Leonard K Cheng