2017 No.2
Interview with Professor Chou Hung-hsiang: "Memories of Hong Kong"
The Institute of Chinese Studies Bulletin is honoured to interview Professor Chou Hung-hsiang for its new feature article. During his interview with Professor Lai Chi Tim on April 18, 2017, Professor Chou recalled experiences of studying with Professor Jao Tsung-I in Hong Kong as his student and research assistant. He also commented on the development of Chinese studies in Hong Kong and talked of his expectations.

Edited excerpts from the interview are given below.

Date:April 18, 2017
Location:Cafe, Hyatt Regency Hong Kong, Sha Tin
Interviewee:Professor Chou Hung-hsiang, Professor Emeritus of the Department of Asian Language and Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles
Interviewer:Professor Lai Chi Tim, Director of the Centre for Studies of Daoist Culture, Associate Director of the Institute of Chinese Studies, and Professor at the Department of Cultural and Religious Studies, CUHK
Recorded by:Xu Yanlian, Research Associate, Institute of Chinese Studies

Professor Chou Hung-hsiang is now Professor Emeritus at the Department of Asian Language and Cultures, University of California, Los Angeles. After graduating from high school in 1952, Professor Chou became Professor Jao Tsung-I's student and research assistant. Professor Chou's research was mainly on oracle bone inscriptions of the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC). Influenced by the extremely broad research interests of Professor Jao, Professor Chou's research fields extended to Chinese archaeology and ancient culture. His main publications include Bibliography of Studies of Xia History and Xia Culture, The Imperial Records of Shangyin Dynasty and Oracle Bone Collections in the U.S.

1. The Years with Professor Jao Tsung-I

I moved from my hometown Chaozhou to Hong Kong with my family in 1949. After graduating from high school in 1952, I was introduced to Professor Jao Tsung-I by one of my relatives and became his student and research assistant. I then lived with Professor Jao for 11 years until 1963, when I left for Australia for my further education. When I studied with Professor Jao, he was already a teacher at The University of Hong Kong. I first moved into the house Professor Jao rented in Bonham Road, and at that time Professor Wei Juxian also lived with us. Professor Wei went on to publish his books The Chinese Discovery of Australia and The Chinese Discovery of America, both of which aroused heated discussions among the academic community. I studied oracle bone inscriptions with Professor Jao and helped with the housework during the day. At night I attended classes at the Evening College of Arts and Commerce. A few years later, Mrs Jao and their two daughters came to Hong Kong from their hometown, Chaozhou, to join Professor Jao. They moved to a new residence, and I continued to live with them as part of the family. Professor Jao had many friends in the academic and art community. He would bring me with him when they met, and thus I got the opportunity to learn from many great scholars and artists. I published my first book, The Imperial Records of the Shang-Yin Dynasty, in 1958. At that time it was the first book to comprehensively examine the imperial records of the Shang-yin dynasty, and the references of oracle bone inscriptions I used were from collections in Hong Kong libraries and from the private collections of Professor Jao. After the book was published, Professor Jao's academic friend Dr Noel Barnard helped me to win a four-year full scholarship from the Australian National University. I left Hong Kong in 1963 to study with Dr Barnard as a Ph.D. student at the Department of Far Eastern History at the Australian National University. When I was writing The Imperial Records of the Shang-Yin Dynasty, I had the opportunity to ask questions of Professor Dong Zuobin, who was a very good friend of Professor Jao. They influenced each other in their academic research. Professor Dong's courtesy name (zi, 字) is "yantan", and four other great scholars in the academic community of oracle bone studies had the same character "tan" in their courtesy names. They were known as the "four tans" of oracle bone studies. Professor Jao's close relationship with Professor Dong and his passion for oracle bone studies prompted him to also adopt the character "tan" in his courtesy name, "xuantan". I was also fortunate to learn from other great scholars of oracle bone inscriptions during my study with Professor Jao, such as Professor Hu Houxuan. I later travelled around the world to visit oracle bone collections and made rubbings of them, some of which I was able to contribute to Professor Hu's great reference book Jiaguwen heji, particularly those recorded in my book Oracle Bone Collections in the U.S.

I returned to Hong Kong in 1967 and taught at the United College of The Chinese University of Hong Kong until 1969, during which time I wrote the textbook Zhongguo wenxuan tigang (Outlines for Selections of Refined Literature) to accompany the Wenxuan (Selections of Refined Literature), which was required reading for the students. I also finished writing my Ph.D. thesis at CUHK. The academic environment of CUHK at that time was not very good, and the British Hong Kong government did not provide sufficient support for teaching and research. In 1969, I published a book review article on the journal of Monumenta Serica: Journal of Oriental Studies, which was published by the Department of Asian Language and Cultures of the University of California, Los Angeles. The head of the department was impressed by my book review and invited me to teach at the University. I thus left CUHK for America in 1969.

When the Chinese economic reform began in 1978, I returned to mainland China for the first time. I still remember that I lived in the Prime Hotel in Beijing, right in front of the Institute of Archaeology of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. However, my meetings with Professor Xia Nai and Professor Hu Houxuan of the Institute were limited to phone conversations, as the political atmosphere was still tense. On behalf of the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the University of California, Los Angeles, I returned to China again in 1979 to invite Professor Shang Chengzuo from Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou on an academic visit to our University, but unfortunately Professor Shang was not able to travel to America in the end. My exchanges with the academic community of mainland China started right after its economic reform.

2. My Research and Academic Interests

I like to adopt new methodologies to study Chinese ancient culture. Early in the 1970s, when computers were first being used in offices, I started using computer technology in my study of oracle bone inscriptions. Assisted by my students, I attempted to match fragments of the inscriptions by inputting over 3500 cards of oracle bone inscriptions for computer analysis. Our research was published in the journal Scientific American. I have retained my passion for Chinese studies into my retirement. Currently, I am planning to work with Anyang Normal University in Henan Province on a research project that aims to explore the earliest pronunciations of 400 oracle bone inscriptions through computer technology. Professor Klas Bernhard Johannes Karlgren's study of Chinese ancient phonology will be an important reference in the project. I am also recording ancient Chinese pronunciations and dialects in different regions in China. I plan to use computer technology to analyse the recorded material and identify possible early pronunciations of oracle bone inscriptions. Most studies of the pronunciation of oracle bone inscriptions depend on classical materials of ancient Chinese phonology, such as Shuowen jiezi. My study is based on raw materials collected from field work. This will be an experimental combination of sinology and computer science, which in my opinion will become an important research methodology for future Chinese studies.

One of my main research interests is the grammar of oracle bone inscriptions, and I am one of the first researchers in this field. Studies of oracle bone inscriptions help us understand the influence of Shang culture on Chinese civilisation, particularly on the aspects of imperial succession and family heritage. The patriarchal system started to develop during the Shang dynasty, and it still affects Chinese people today. Chinese people in America can still refer to traditional Chinese patriarchal material as supporting legal documents for disputes over the inheritance of family property. Oracle bone inscriptions also provide interesting information on Chinese women and their status in ancient society. Through studying the records of Chinese women in oracle bone inscriptions for one of my papers, I discovered more than 120 female names. One example was a woman named Lady Hao, who enjoyed high status in the imperial court. Some of the inscriptions refer to her as a royal consort, some as a feudal vassal and some as a military commander with the rank of general. Although the example of Lady Hao is exceptional, the large number of female names on oracle bone inscriptions indicates that Shang women enjoyed relatively high social status.

My academic interests are quite broad. In addition to oracle bone inscriptions and archaeology, I am also interested in food culture, such as the origin of "boba" milk tea in Hong Kong. To discover when the name "boba" milk tea was first used, I flew from America to Hong Kong and visited the Hong Kong Film Archive to find out the first movie star to be nicknamed "boba" by the public. The word "boba" originated in Hong Kong, but the milk tea was first produced in Taiwan, where it was originally called pearl milk tea. It was during the 1970s that this pearl milk tea became known as "boba" milk tea in Hong Kong, and though the name is no longer used in Hong Kong today, it is still in use in America, from when it was brought there by Chinese people. The cross-cultural phenomena embedded in our everyday food is fascinating.

Influenced by Professor Jao, I am also very interested in books, calligraphy and Chinese poetry. My passion for books has resulted in my collection filling the shelves in my house, and so I must now use my garage for additional book storage. Professor Jao is very good at writing Chinese classical poems and calligraphically, and as his student, I also like to write poems during my spare time. In fact, Professor Jao has deeply influenced my whole life, not just my academic and personal interests.

3. Comments on and Expectations for Chinese Studies in Hong Kong

Hong Kong is developing very well economically. With sufficient financial support, I think Chinese studies in Hong Kong have a great potential for further development, but they are limited by the regional perspective in Hong Kong. Scholars from northern China and those from southern China, such as Guangdong and Hong Kong, seem to develop different academic perspectives and approaches to Chinese studies. This is probably because southern scholars do not feel as closed to Zhongyuan (the central plain region of China) culture as northern scholars do, but I think southern scholars can move beyond the regional perspective and overcome the limit of distance. Hong Kong scholars can also move beyond the limitations of this regional perspective and more effectively balance the western paradigm and the local Chinese perspective. Increasingly more scholars from mainland China come to Hong Kong to further their academic careers after completing their studies in western countries. With both local Chinese education and western academic training, these scholars tend to combine the local Chinese perspective and the western paradigm more effectively. They also compete with local Hong Kong scholars in a positive way. With these different approaches interacting, Chinese studies in Hong Kong can be extended and enhanced.

Young people in Hong Kong are also in a similar situation. The differences between the north and the south make them feel distant from the Chinese culture of northern China. They identify more with Western culture. If they can move beyond this regional perspective, they can contribute greatly to Chinese studies in Hong Kong in the future.


Back to Issue
Interview with Professor Chou Hung-hsiang: "Memories of Hong Kong"
Event: 2017 ICS Luncheon II
Event: ICS 50th Anniversary Celebration Activities Highlights
Event: 2017 Museum Professionals Training Workshop: Exhibition Planning and Design, Art Museum
Event: Enduring Presence: The Art of Professor Jao Tsung-i in the Collection of the Department of Fine Arts and Art Museum, CUHK
Event: Amazing Clay: The Ceramic Collection of the Art Museum Lecture Series
Event: Lecture by Ms. Cheng Qian
Event: Renditions Distinguished Lecture Series on Literary Translation, Research Centre for Translation
Event: An International Conference on "The Translation and Dissemination of Key Concepts in Modern China" , Research Centre for Translation
Event: Documentary Film Series co-organised by the Research Centre for Contemporary Chinese Culture and the Universities Service Centre for China Studies
New publications
Academic Activities of "History of Gold: Masterpiece from Shaanxi"
Educational Activities of "History of Gold: Masterpiece from Shaanxi"
Editorial Board Committee
Past Issues
Copyright 2024. Institute of Chinese Studies, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. All Rights Reserved.
This E-Newsletter is solely owned by Institute of Chinese Studies. The Institute accepts no liability for any loss or damage howsoever arising from
any use or misuse or reliance on any information in this E-Newsletter.