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QC Spirit: Past, Present and Future

by Norman T.L. Chan, Chief Executive, Hong Kong Monetary Authority

(Speech at the Queen’s College Annual Speech Day)

13 December 2013

Principal Li Sui-wah, Mr. Lai, Mr. Kan, Mr. Yu, Teachers, Parents, Distinguished Guests and my fellow QC Boys,

1. First time I set foot in this hall was 1966, almost half a century ago.  Last time was 1972, when I left after Lower Six to pursue my undergraduate study at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

2. Like you sitting in front of me, I can recall that I attended a couple of Speech Day gatherings at which some prominent Old Boys or reputable members of the community came to deliver talks, just like what I am doing now.  But no matter how hard I try, I simply cannot remember what were said in these speeches, not because my memories are fading but because the speeches were normally too boring for a youth of my age.  These speeches seemed to be repeating the same messages, which are high sounding but abstract moral principles, such as need to work hard and excel, never give up, and be honest and kind to other people and contribute to the society etc.

3. So if you don't remember anything that I say this afternoon, don't worry and I'll understand.  But I'll try to avoid talking too much about high sounding moral principles.  

4. I propose to talk about “What has changed” vs “What has not changed”.

5. What has changed since my time at the Queen’s College?  There must be quite a long list.  Let me cite a few examples of what it was like 40 to 50 years ago and you can judge for yourselves what has changed.

6. In 1966 when I started my first year at Queen’s, it wasn’t an easy time to attend school.  Why?  There was an extended period of time in 1966-67 in which bombs (nicknamed locally made Pineapples) were everywhere and streets became highly dangerous for obvious reasons.  When a bomb was found, the street would be blocked off by the Police so that the explosive disposal experts could deal with the bomb.  So many students had to take a long detour in order to walk to school (bus and tram services of course were stopped at the time).  In a way we were risking our lives by coming to school everyday.  But nobody seemed to be too bothered and very few students and, for that matter, teachers missed classes as a result.

7. In addition to bombs and riots on the streets, there was a time in the 1960s when Hong Kong suffered water shortage.  This was the era before we built the pipes to pump almost unlimited supply of fresh water from the East River.  Many students had to run back home to help store up water when the Government turned on the tap for only four hours in every four days.  If you didn't store up enough water during this 4-hour period, you were doomed in the next four days.

8. In my first three years at Queen's, I had to come into the school through the side and back entrances only.  The only time I could come in through the Main Entrance was when I was late for school in the morning.  At the Main Entrance a group of Prefects were eagerly waiting for the late arrivals and marked down their names for the usual punishment.  I did not like this arrangement at all as it was discriminating against the juniors, but interestingly enough I had begun to like it from Form Four onwards when I was allowed to use the Main Entrance all the time.

9. In my time at Queen's, my parents gave me one dollar and thirty cents every morning.  The 30 cents was to buy snacks at the morning break, 20 cents for a Vitasoy and 10 cents for a bun.  A plate of rice for lunch was one dollar.  To save money to buy anything else, including sharing the cost of a leather football amongst classmates, we had to skip snacks and lunch once in a while.

10. I don't know if you still have annual school excursions and where you would go nowadays.  In my time, my first school excursion, at my Form One year, was somewhat disappointing as the destination, you won't believe it, was next door at the Victoria Park!  So you can imagine how “excited” I felt a few years later, the excursion took us to the Victoria Peak!  I gather from my friends that nowadays some secondary schools in Hong Kong organised trips for students to far away places, such as Shanghai, Beijing, Japan and even Europe and the USA.  I hope that Queen's does a better job today than excursions to Victoria Park and the Peak.

11. Quite apart from school excursions, I am sure things are very different now compared to my days at Queen's.  At least you don't have to risk your lives coming to school or get water supply only four hours in every four days.  These difficult if not unfortunate times have long gone and we all hope that they will never come back again.  While Hong Kong has become much more prosperous in the last three decades, things are becoming much more expensive and I doubt if you can survive with one dollar and thirty cents a day as we did.

12. Despite the considerable changes that have occurred since I left Queen's, there is one thing that has not changed.  That is the enormous pride I take in telling people which high school I came from.  Of course, I also went to the Chinese University of Hong Kong and attended graduate programmes in Oxford and Harvard and am occupying a senior position in the Government.  However, I simply cannot hide my sense of pride when it comes to my Alma Mater.  One may ask: is it not the common feeling most people harbour about their high schools at which they spent their youthful years?  I would say this: our feeling towards Queen's is not the same because Queen's is very, very special and different.

13. Queen's is special not only because of its long history, which dated back to 1862, which was only 20 years after Hong Kong was ceded to Britain after the Opium War.  Queen's is special not only because it was the first public school in Hong Kong, but because alumni of Queen's had become important part of the history of Hong Kong and China throughout the last 150 years.  I need not remind you that amongst the first students of Queen's College, which was known as the Central School then, was Dr Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of Modern China.

14. When I say "Modern China", China was not "modern" at all.  In 1911, just over 100 years ago, Dr Sun overthrew the weak, decadent and corrupt Imperial Qing Dynasty, but China was then ripped apart by seemingly endless civil wars between the warlords, which were followed by invasion by the Japanese.  Hong Kong, and Queen's College, had had its dark days during the three years and eight months of occupation by the Japanese during the World War II.  Even as recent as 1979, when Deng Xiaoping launched the reform and opening programme, China was very poor with its population earning on average less than US$1 a day.  Now China has emerged as the second largest economy in the world, overtaking Japan a few years ago.  At the same time, Hong Kong has transformed itself from a refugee centre in the 1950s into a vibrant international financial centre as we know today.  Looking back, alumni of Queen's College feature prominently in each and every crucial stage of Hong Kong's history.  There is no need for me to mention the key personalities in Hong Kong who were QC Old Boys as they can be easily found on the internet.  Even today, Queen's continues to shine with outstanding colours, as we did in the past.

15. In my class, the Year of 1966-73, I have 23 classmates who have become medical doctors.  So when I fall ill my problem is not whether I can find a doctor to help me but who among my classmates to turn to.  I believe the same is still true today.  Apart from supplying the universities in Hong Kong with the best of students for the medical schools and other faculties, Queen’s is the source of talents for the community as a whole.  There are numerous QC Boys who have become government officials at the top level, Executive Council Members and Legislative Councillors, who together help shape and move Hong Kong into a place as we know it today.  In the academic field, two out of the eight universities in Hong Kong are currently headed by QC Boys.  There are many, many QC Boys who have excelled in other fields, such as commerce, finance, art, professional and community services. 

16. You may ask: these are truly interesting success stories, but what have they got to do with someone like me who have no way of knowing what fortunes or misfortunes would lie ahead?  I have no secret recipe for success.  In general, I would say follow your heart and you won’t be far wrong.  That said, there is no guarantee that all of you will become as successful as the prominent alumni before you.  However, you should never forget that there is one thing in common between you and them.  All QC Boys share the same identity, sense of pride and responsibility for being the cream of the cream in our society for the past 160 years.  This proud tradition has become the heritage that is passed down from one generation to the next.  It is this tradition or heritage that binds QC Boys together regardless of age and differentiates us from all other schools in Hong Kong.  It is this sense of pride that propels QC Boys to excel in all fronts.  However, it is also this sense of pride that helps lift QC Boys’ fighting spirit when we are feeling down and low.

17. QC Boys have all learnt the truth, enshrined in our School Motto, that success can only come from hard work as QC Boys, mostly coming from humble family background, know full well there is no shortcut or easy way out.  To be successful we will be judged on the basis of whether we have lived full and meaningful lives, not just in material sense but also in spiritual sense.  You don't have to be the richest or most powerful man in town to have a truly meaningful and colourful life.  You are not measured according to what you have but what you are.  In this context, the judges who will make the judgements would be our families, our friends, colleagues and society as a whole.

18. Fellow QC Boys, it's a great privilege to me to be given the opportunity here to speak.  As with any great tradition, the old generation must pass on its accomplishments and legacy, no matter how great they may be, to the younger generation.  It is not possible for the old people to hold anything back because no one can defy the natural law governing life and death.  And you, as the youngest generation of Queen’s, must do your utmost to hold tight and treasure the baton that has been handed down to you.  It will be you who can preserve the proud QC tradition and pass it on to the next generation when you have reached my age.  Some of you may feel worried about whether and how you can accomplish this?  Don't worry, the QC spirit already runs in your blood by the time you graduate and I can assure you that such spirit will stay with you for your entire life.

19. Thank you for having me and for your kind attention.

Last revision date: 13 December 2013
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