Address by Dr. WONG Yan Lung


HKSYU 38th Graduation Ceremony

Address by Dr. WONG Yan Lung

President Hu, Governors of the Board, Professor Jao, Professors, Teachers, Students, and Distinguished Guests,

On behalf of Professor Jao Tsung-I and myself, I would like to thank Shue Yan University for conferring on us such special honour.  As I said at your graduation ceremony two years ago, I am an admirer of Dr. Henry Hu and Dr. Chung Chi-yung, and have a sense of fond affinity toward Shue Yan.

When I learned Professor Jao is the other honorary graduand, my immediate reaction was one of embarrassment.  How can I ever come close to sharing the stage with Professor Jao, whose life-long achievement in the study of Chinese culture is nothing short of the utmost pride and treasure of the nation?

I can therefore do no better than to pay tribute to the grand master and the star of the day, and to share with you how Professor Jao’s example and thinking have enlightened me.

The couplet I provided to Professor Nadja Alexander who kindly did my citation aptly describes Professor Jao’s unique qualities.  It reads “海納百川,有容為大; 壁立千仞,無欲則剛” and was written by Lin Tsz su 林則徐, the hero during the Opium Wars.

The first part of the couplet can loosely be translated as “Great is the man who has the breadth of the ocean which accommodates hundreds of streams.”

As stated in the citation, Professor Jao is the expert in many disciplines including literature, linguistics, history, archaeology, philosophy, calligraphy, painting and music, and his repertoire is not confined to those of Chinese origin, but extends to the European, Indian, and old Babylonian cultures.

What makes him great is not only the vastness of his knowledge from multiple sources, but his ability to build on such knowledge and open up completely new channels, leading up to virgin territory that no one else has touched.

This ability to embrace different streams is the lifeline of Hong Kong. Historically, Hong Kong has been a melting pot of the Chinese and Western cultures.  Generations of immigrants from different parts of China and the world help build this world city.  The design of One Country Two Systems has not only given Hong Kong a new lease of life but also imbued it with resilience, vitality and opportunities.

To me, the most visual and symbolic event epitomizing One Country Two Systems is the ceremonial opening of the Legal Year, where judges and lawyers in their complete English regalia of full-bottom wig and colourful robes rise to the Chinese national anthem.

In tackling challenges under the new constitutional order, the need for in-depth understanding of the contents of the respective regimes goes without saying.  More importantly, however, are an overriding concern for the long-term good of all as opposed to part, an uncompromising commitment to the core values and foundational principles, an enlightened liberty to identify and accept non-essentials, a humility and courage to embrace differences, as well as a wisdom and commitment to construct rather than to pull down.

The capability to accommodate does not necessarily entail convergence.  Certain things of our legal system if allowed to move an inch would erode the integrity of the whole. Yet, the interfaces between the two systems of law need not always spell risks of compromise. They can be opportunities for each side to reflect, review and test its own system, to see if the habitual or orthodox reaction can still catch up with the new constitutional, jurisprudential and globalized environment, and thereby create paths to consolidation or improvement.

Hong Kong must not only look to strengthen our ties with the Mainland, we must continue with and expand our international connections.  Widening one’s perspective to the realm of international law, it is clear that different systems of law can operate and cooperate pursuant to established norms and emerging platforms of public and private international law.  Thanks to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s participation in global matters has in fact increased since 1997, either in our own name or as part of the national team.  That ability and flexibility must be wisely utilized.

I was speaking last October at the 50th Anniversary of the Apostille Convention, held at the magnificent Ministry of Justice building in Paris, and in front of delegates from member states of the Hague Conference on Private International Law.  The Apostille Convention deals with international legal certification of documents. I emphasized how the separation of the two systems enables Hong Kong to continue to use the Apostilles when Mainland China is not yet a subscriber.  And I impressed upon our international friends Hong Kong’s leading role in the Asia Pacific Region regarding legal services.  And that must be our edge.

The concept of accommodation runs through many branches of the law, as it does in life. It is inseparable from the basic notion of equality and the exhortation to respect one another.  It plays a pithy role in the different anti-discrimination laws, and buttresses the protection of fundamental human rights and minority interests.  It is a yardstick to measure the civility of any modern and cosmopolitan society.  It is the driving force of the new culture of dispute resolution and of mediation in Hong Kong and elsewhere.  It also underlies the profound truth advocated by Father Cormac Burke of the Vatican that the law, if applied properly, ought to have a healing effect like medicine.

The second part of the couplet can be translated as “Strong is the man who is without selfish desires, like the cliff standing upon thousands of measuring units”.

For a man of his age, Professor Jao indeed possesses exceptional health and strength. There is such energy and exuberance within him that he could even appear “boyish” at times.  Apart from his sense of humour, it is well-known that Professor Jao likes to grip people’s hands firmly to make good his claim of superior physical strength.  I can testify to that based on first-hand experience being under his pressure. And it was a most heart-warming encounter.

Obviously, the strength and warmth come more from the inner self. In a media interview some years ago, Professor Jao shared his insight on “the heart being free from worries”. He said people are too much enslaved by their desires for material things, hence the many worries they shoulder.  Misery is self-made.

Men have many desires, not confined to wealth.  They could be for fame, recognition and other kinds of gratification.  They could stem from an innate quest for heroism or championship of one cause or another.  If one puts these ahead of the pursuit of truth and justice, one can be easily swayed.

A cardinal value in the rule of law is judicial independence.  And the judicial oath is to do justice without fear or favour, without bias or prejudice, without any of your personal considerations coming into the equation.  Shue Yan’s first honorary doctorate of laws was conferred on the former Chief Justice, the Hon. Andrew Li Kwok-nang.  In him we find sterling personal and judicial fortitude. In him we find an unyielding commitment to do what is right and fair according to the law, and the inner strength to maintain clarity of purpose, thought and judgment.  In him we find a man of steel.

In the persons of your founders Dr. Hu and Dr. Chung, we also find that steely quality that the entire community has come to revere.  The perseverance with their ideal mode of education, the efforts to elevate Shue Yan to university status, fueled by supreme personal sacrifices over decades, have created a formidable moral force which prevailed over the strongest cynicism, barriers and opposition.

In the first press interview upon my appointment as Secretary for Justice in October 2005, reporters raised the question of resignation should I be required to act contrary to my principle.  My answer was that I am not the type who quits lightly.  I am pleased to say, as I said at my farewell press interview, that hypothetical situation was never realized.  Yet throughout the past seven years I kept reminding myself that the retention of the job was not a must and the reputation on the job was not to be idolized.  Only then could one be emancipated to seek to do what is right, to face opposition and even ridicule with serenity, come what may.

Finally, in his award-winning book If the World Were a Village, David J. Smith concluded that despite the different cultures and religions, “Do unto others what you would have them do unto you” is the common aspiration among almost all the inhabitants of the global village.  That coincides with the spirit of the new term of wisdom coined by Professor Jao, “天人互益”, meaning in all things we should proceed on the basis of benefiting others, not hurting them, and treat that as our ultimate goal in life.

So to all graduates today, may you find food for thought from this universal truth, so that your future paths will be fulfilling, blessed with richness and strength.  Thank you.

Source: December Issue 2012

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