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  Culture Journals - Journal for Cultural Promotion
  Issue No. 9 : Dongguan Hillside Hotel (Guest - Professor Woo Chia Wei)
 

In the Eyes of the Culturati  

Prof. Woo Chia Wei was the first ethnic Chinese in America to become a university chancellor, many honors and prizes were awarded to him for his achievements in academic research on physics and for his contribution to the society. In 1988, he returned to Hong Kong to become the founding president of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST). Today, the University's achievement is evidence of Prof. Woo's devotion and efforts in education and in contributing to the nation.

"Stand on higher grounds, look far and wide, work with total commitment."
 
 Hong Kong's economy is undergoing major transformation. The first and foremost mission is to develop our technology and human resources. As the president of HKUST, Prof. Woo is the best person to talk about science and education. "No country with advanced technology has a weak economy. In other words, there is no country with strong technology and a weak economy at the same time." Prof. Woo points out the key relation between science and economic development. "HKUST is a research based University with both general and professional advanced disciplines. Our mission is to assist Hong Kong and the neighboring region to develop their economy. We put efforts on teaching and research, while encouraging practical application of knowledge." 
 
Prof. Woo sees developing students' cultural qualities as equally important. "Students should not just concentrate on their major, but should have a good grasp of knowledge in history, geography and culture. Therefore, we require students to take general study courses, including a lot of humanities and social science subjects." HKUST also hosts many art exhibitions, concerts and different cultural activities. Its debate team and choir achieve high score in inter-university competitions.
 
Prof. Woo has devoted wholeheartedly in the past ten years to the University. And he is very glad of the achievement has outgrown our expectation."
 
HKUST has highly qualified teachers and research staffs from well-known university. They are knowledgeable, capable and also passionate. They see Hong Kong as their home. They want to develop human resources for Hong Kong and mainland China. The University has a 60-70% success rate in bidding research funding, the top of all universities and post-graduate colleges and several times ahead per student. They have also been successful in applying researches into the real market. An example was setting up the first Internet service provider by a professor 6 years ago. When the University sold the company three years ago, there were already 80 similar companies in the market. The University has gradually built up its reputation among international academics. It is one of the best universities in the country and is well regarded in Europe, America, Japan and South East Asia.
 
Prof. Woo is satisfied but not too hastily. He says, "The real success lies in whether in the future HKUST can shoulder the mission of provoking the growth of the society; whether our graduates can contribute to the society; and whether we can help Hong Kong's economy to transform. We still have to wait and see. We will continue to put our efforts. Although the future is uncertain, I am confident of our students and teachers."
 
Besides the future of HKUST, Prof. Woo is equally concerned about the future of Hong Kong. He has analyzed the plus and minus of developing high technology using the three elements of heaven, land and man. "Now we have got the blessing of heaven. Take HKUST as an example; twenty years ago we could never set up such a university, because people did not think highly of science. Nor can the university be set up twenty years from now, since Hong Kong will then be finished if we do not start right now. Now is the time to develop technology. We have returned to China. One-Country-Two-System and the strong economy of China are our strong base. On geographical location, Hong Kong is the most important city in the south of Yangtze River. We have a hinterland of three hundred million people in south China, with rich resources and a giant market. Hong Kong also situates at the meeting point of East Asia, North America and Western Europe, which is a very strategic location."
 
Having satisfied the first two elements, what's remaining is the human factor. "Since Hong Kong had been a British colony, it was thought of as a borderland. Some says Hong Kong is the gateway to China. I hate such saying, because no one will say new York is the gateway to America, or Tokyo is the gateway to Japan. Hong Kong is part of China. It is a very important economic, communication and information centre. It is regret that even we regard our home as somebody else's gateway and a passage only. People look for quick money when they set up business. This is detrimental to developing high tech industry. We have to see Hong Kong as our home, and be proud of China. We have to shed off all prejudice and eye on long-term interest and the future of the society. Our mindset is the key to developing technology in Hong Kong. Negative thinking is our enemy. Positive thinking is our friend. Whether we want positive or negative results depends on ourselves."
 
Few Hong Kong people have broad vision. Even when students choose universities, they only eye on short-term interest. Prof. Woo says, "In these two years we do not see an increase application from graduates of brand-name high school. They say it is because HKUST emphasizes on continuing assessments and has more coursework and exams. They will rather opt for universities with more easy life and which give them the same degrees at the end. Are they being pragmatic? Not exactly. To be pragmatic one need to look further. An armchair degree might look the same at the start. But when you have to compete with people from mainland and the world later on, those without a sound foundation will be at the losing end." Young people should think seriously of Prof. Woo's comment.
 
Prof. Woo has a passion for education and a deep concern for youth. He was the first ethnic Chinese to become a university chancellor in the history of America. Why did he come back ten years ago? "Why not? I was influenced by my secondary school education. I graduated from Peizheng Secondary School. I have got a passion on Chinese culture and philosophy. Though I have left for America to continue my education 17 years ago, I have never divorced myself from the Chinese nation and culture."
 
"All my wishes are cast on this University. I hope it can be more influential in transforming Hong Kong's mindset, in creating opportunities and setting up a positive culture. HKUST does not just situated on HKSAR land. We have to stand on higher grounds and look far ahead. We have to focus on the Pearl River Delta, the triangular land enclosing Shenzhen, Nansha and Zhuhai. I call the metropolitan area comprising of Hong Kong and the Pearl River Delta the "Hong Kong Gulf". I hope it can become a beautiful comfortable cultural hub and education center, a technology, financial and business centre; a modern servicing and manufacturing centre, better than the old Jinshan Gulf area. I hope that eventually Hong Kong Gulf can help develop other parts of China and improve people's livelihood."
 
Prof. Woo strikes me as an approachable and energetic person. He has also kindly given us a few words of advice, "Stand on higher grounds, look far and wide, work with total commitment."
 
"Culturati" reports
 
The Silk Road Route across the sea
 
Since Zhangqian opened the way to the Western Territory, the Silk Road began its life. The Road promoted exchange and understand between Europe and Asia. It came to its height in Sui and Tang dynasties when merchants, missionaries and priests all came along. Yet after the 10th century, its position was taken over by the Silk Route - a new way of exchange across the sea.
 
The Silk Route began to emerge in the Tang dynasty. At that time the Silk Road was still the main means of exchange. It was not until the Song dynasty when sea transport began to prosper that the Silk Route developed. It continues to grow in Yuen and Ming dynasties. Zhenghe's seven voyage to the Pacific Ocean was the most well-known episode.
 
The switch from Silk Road to the Silk Route
 
Development in science and technology paved way for the Silk Route. In Tang and Song dynasties ship manufacturing industries were developed. Ships with loading capacity of 200 tones were built. China's navigation also led the world. Sea transport improved with the wide use of compass, typhoon forecasts and development in navigation knowledge.
 
The increase in variety and quality of merchandise also activated the development in sea transport. Since Tang and Song dynasties, spices and porcelain were also traded between East and West. Such goods were heavy and breakable, making it very inconvenient to deliver by camels or horses. Sea transport became the safer way. Besides, the spices imported by China mostly came from Southeast Asia and exports of silk and tea leaves are produced in coastal areas of southeast China. Sea transport was quicker and more convenient.
 
The other reason for switching to the Silk Route was the potential danger involved in transporting goods via land transport. Caravans had to pass through different tribes and regions. War or political disturbances were not rare. The Road had many natural barriers such as steep slopes and deserts. Sea transport was considered more convenient and safe.
 
The geographical conditions of China also facilitated sea transportation. It has 18,000 miles of coastal lines, with numerous good frost-free harbours. Ships can travel through the ports all the year round, leading to the rapid development of sea transportation.
 
The History of Silk Route
 
Sea transportation had entered into a new era in the Tang dynasty. There were fixed schedules of long distance shipping. Large ports like Jiaozhou, Guangzhou, Quanzhou and Mingzhou had ships going to the West (South East Asia and India). Guangzhou served as the gathering point. Ships from the West to China also stopped at Guangzhou before going onto other northern ports. At that time the Silk Route had already been extended form Persian Gulf to East Africa, reaching Vietnam, Malaysia, Pakistan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Iraq, Arabian Peninsula, East Africa and coastal areas of Red Sea.
 
In Song dynasty navigation technology had significant breakthroughs. Compass was used in navigation to help sailors identify their direction. Sea transport became safer and more reliable. Ships were equipped with the most advanced equipment at the time, including axis, safe boat, mast head light, steering wheel and anchor. Export merchandise were mainly porcelain and silk, with some gold, silver, tin and painted utensils. Imported goods were mainly spices, with luxuries for nobles like pearls, agate and hawk's-bill turtle.
 
Sea transport continued to prosper in the Yuan dynasty. But in Ming dynasty Emperor Mingtaizu banned trade, and sea transport came to a halt. It lasted for thirty years till Zhudi succeeded the throne and once again encouraged exchange. He sent for Zhenghe seven times on missionary voyage to the Pacific Ocean. Silk Route saw its height then.
 
Like Zhangqian, Zhenghe opened a new horizon for China. They contributed tremendously to the country and to cultural exchange between the East and West. They were heroes in the Silk Road and Silk Route respectively.
 
Guangzhou
 
Guangzhou situates at the northern end of the Pearl River Delta. It faces the South sea and has rivers weaving into each other. It is thus both a riverbank and a harbor. Since Qin Han dynasties, Guangzhou has been an important trading port in South China. During the Southern and Northern Jin dynasties, routes to South East Asia via eastern Heinan and West Sand Islands, as well as to West Asia and the Mediterranean Sea coasts were developed. Merchants and missionaries from different countries all came here. The Indian priest Damo also came and built a Xilai (Come from the West) temple in where is now Xiguan. The temple is now called Hualin Temple.
 
Tang Song dynasties were the glorious time for external trade. Guangzhou became the largest port in China and a world famous eastern port.
 
In 714AD, the Tang government set up a shipping office to deal with shipping, trade and various administrative issues. External trade accelerated the growth of ship making industries. Guangzhou became one of the third largest ships making centers in China. The ships made in Guangzhou at that time could carry several hundred to more than a thousand people, and could withstand winds and waves across the far ocean.
 
The prosperity of Guangzhou also attracted a lot of foreign settlements. The Tang government hence established a foreigners' quarter in the Hao coast Fanbo harbour, south west of Guangzhou city to facilitate management. The quarter was called "Fanfang" with "Fanzhang" (head of Fanfang) as the administrative head.
 
During the Southern Song dynasty, the country's political center moved to Linan (now Hangzhou). Guangzhou's position was taken over by Qianzhou in Fujian, but Guangzhou was still one of the largest ports in China. In Ming dynasty when sea transport was banned, Guangzhou still had a shipping office, and was the only external trading port in China. After the Opium War in Qing dynasty, Guangzhou was one of the five ports forced to carry out external trade. In recent years, with China's open door policy, Guangzhou is not only the largest coastal open door city in South China, but also the communication focus of air, sea and land transport, an important industrial and commercial city, financial centre and technology development centre.
 
Past glory of ancient ports
 
Yangzhou
 
Yangzhou situates at a strategic location between Changjiang and River Huai. Since Sui Tang dynasties, Yangzhou has been a prosperous city and an important external trade port. Merchants gathered. There were night markets and the city was very lively. In Yuan dynasty, Hubilie appointed Marco Polo as the Governor of Yangzhou. During his three years appointment, Marco Polo traveled a lot and recorded the prosperity of Yangzhou. The Tang poet Libai and Baijuyi also praised Yangzhou in their poems.
 
Mingzhou
 
Mingzhou lies at the meeting point of three rivers in the southern coast. It was the earliest external trade port, and the earliest port to have routes to Japan and Korea. In the middle of Tang dynasty, all missionaries and students send by the Japanese government to China landed in Mingzhou. Later Mingzhou also traded with South East Asia and northern Africa. Its shipping industry also prospered.
 
Quanzhou
 
Quanzhou is a world-renowned international port. It saw its height during the Song dynasty and became the main port where the Song government received foreign missions. The port has lots of ships. The wharf was full of imported spice, pearl and exported porcelain and silk. Arabian, Persian, Indian and Italian merchants settled and married there.
 
Zhenghe - the first sea hero in China
 
Zhengzhou was of the Hui nation. Since young he heard from his father and grandfather stories and customs of the Western world, and dreamed to have exciting sea voyage. He was kidnapped by the Ming army when twelve, and became a little eunuch. Since he is intelligent and possesses warrior skills, Zhenghe was highly praised by Emperor Zhudi. In 1405, he was sent to lead a fleet of ships on a mission to the West and returned two years later. In 28 years he had been sent seven times on mission, visiting a region stretching from Liuqiu and Philippines in the east, to Indian Ocean and Red Sea in the west. Communication, trade and friendship between Asia and Africa were bridged. Zhenghe led a large fleet of ships, with several hundreds to a thousand ships each carrying four to five hundred people. According to the "Mingshi" (history of the Ming dynasty), Zhenghe led more than twenty thousand people on his first trip. It was the largest ancient fleet. His seven voyages arouse the attention of the whole world, and marked the height of the development of the Silk Route. Zhenghe became the first sea hero in China.

 

 
 
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