2016 No.1
Interview with Professor Chang Song-hing: Fifty Years at CUHK


Date:January 29, 2016
Location:Room 124, the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS)
Interviewee:Professor Chang Song-hing, Senior Research Fellow of the T.T. Ng Chinese Language Research Centre
Interviewer:Professor Lai Chi Tim, Associate Director of the Institute of Chinese Studies
Recorded by:Xu Yanlian, Research Associate, ICS

The Institute of Chinese Studies Bulletin was honoured to interview Professor Chang Song-hing on 29 January 2016. Professor Chang recalled his study and teaching career at United College, CUHK. He also shared with us stories of the development of the Institute of Chinese Studies and the T.T. Ng Chinese Language Research Centre, and summarised his own research.

Professor Chang Song-hing, Emeritus Professor at the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at CUHK, is currently a Senior Research Fellow of the T.T. Ng Chinese Language Research Centre. After receiving his BA and MA from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at CUHK, he started teaching at CUHK in the early 1970s and stayed for more than 40 years until he retired. He served as Teaching Assistant, Lecturer and Professor in the Department. He is also a former Director of the T.T. Ng Chinese Language Research Centre, former Associate Head of United College, and former Dean of General Education of United College. He is interested in studies of dialectology, Chinese etymology and phonology, and Chinese fiction. His major publications include A Report on a Survey of the Keijia and Gan Dialects; The Dialects of the New Territories, Hong Kong; Studies of the Lianzhou Dialects; Studies of the Lechang Dialects (as Chief Editor and one of the contributors), and many other articles published in various academic journals. As Chief Editor of Studies in Chinese Linguistics (SCL) from the early 1980s, he supervised the publication of 32 issues of the journal before he retired. He also supervised the publication of Current Research in Chinese Linguistics (CrCL), a journal that reports current teaching and research information in Chinese linguistics, for more than twenty years. The Hong Kong Home Affairs Bureau awarded him a commendation for his contribution to the promotion of cultural activities in Hong Kong.

1. My Study at United College, CUHK

I was admitted to the Department of Chinese Language and Literature at United College in 1966 by Professor Yao Hsin-nung, who was the department head at the time. Professor Yao was a famous translator and playwright. In addition to studies of modern literature and translation, he wrote plays, including The Abyss. At that time, many liberal arts students at United College studied Professor Yao's History of Chinese Modern Literature. One of his most famous plays, Sorrows of the Forbidden City (later made into a movie entitled Secrets of The Qing Court), aroused much controversy in China during the Cultural Revolution and he was denounced severely by the Communist Party. During the second year of my study at United College, Professor Yao retired. He continued to carry out research into translation at the Department of English at CUHK and later moved to the United States. When I started my studies at CUHK, United College was still located on the Bonham Road; it moved to the Shatin site in 1971. The College had a very strong liberal arts teaching team during those years. Two of the most famous teachers were Professor Chen Zhanquan and Professor Feng Kanghou. Before and after the establishment of CUHK in 1963, the College invited many senior professors from Taiwan and Hong Kong, including Professor Cheng Shui-sum and Professor Su Wenzhuo in classical Chinese poetry, Professor Gao Ming in Chinese jin and zi (經子), and Professor Du Qirong in linguistics. Li Yan, a famous expert on oracle bones, was also invited from London University to promote studies of Chinese etymology. Professor Li Huiying, a pioneer writer of anti-Japanese war literature, was in charge of studies of modern Chinese literature at the College. The famous poet Yu Kwang-chung also joined the College in the early 1970s and taught at CUHK for ten years. The College was the first college in Hong Kong to provide various courses on modern liberal arts. With many senior professors, the College developed greatly in studies of linguistics, classical literature and modern Chinese literature. I also benefited a lot when I studied and served as the Teaching Assistant at the College.

The Professors of Chinese etymology at CUHK adopted two distinctively different research methods. Some of them followed the traditional method of the Zhang-Huang School (Zhang Taiyan and Huang Kan), and considered the Chinese classics of Shuowen jiezi as the authentic document for research. They often questioned the values of newly excavated materials such as inscriptions on oracle bones and bronze objects. In contrast, Professor Li Yan mainly relied on newly excavated materials to study Chinese etymology. Noticing the two completely research methods, students needed to be quite cautious about their own arguments in the exams. When I started my graduate studies with Professor Li Yan in 1970, China was experiencing the Cultural Revolution, and few excavated materials could be accessed. My research topic was jinshi (金石) inscriptions of Qin during the Warring States period. I could only look for research materials from documents, not real excavated objects. Professor Li Yan was an expert on oracle bones. He was able to borrow oracle bones from different libraries around the world. The parent of one student at United College even donated more than twenty oracle bones to our college. They are now kept in the University Library and form the largest collection of oracle bones in Hong Kong.

During my graduate studies, Professor Chou Fa-kao was Chair Professor of Linguistic Studies for the Graduate School at CUHK. Professor Chou joined Chung Chi College at CUHK in 1964. At first, his office was in the On Lee Building on the Nathan Road site. After CUHK moved to Shatin, Professor Chou set up his office in the ICS and became Director of the Chinese Linguistics Research Centre. The ICS was one of the earliest buildings at the Shatin campus. My graduate courses were mostly carried out in the ICS with Professor Chou and Professor Li Yan. The Chinese Linguistics Research Centre was the only centre in the ICS at the time; the other research centres were not yet established. One other student and I were the only two graduate students of Chinese Linguistics at CUHK, and we were to enjoy the full facilities of the ICS. Professor Chou required us to recite various phonology materials, such as the 36 initial consonants of Song phonetic theory and 206 final rhymes in Guangyun (《廣韻》). During the exams, we were separated in two different rooms in the ICS and wrote down our answers on the blackboard. We could not see each other's answers and we saved our papers. Professor Chou would walk between the two rooms to check on us. It was very interesting.

During the establishment of the ICS, Professor Li Yan became the most important assistant to Dr Li Choh-Ming, Founding Vice-Chancellor of CUHK, supervising preparation for the move to the Shatin campus. As Professor Li Yan's student, I often helped to transcribe and note down various records. I still remember clearly Professor Li, Professor Sheung Chun-ho and Professor Su Wenzhuo gathering to discuss and revise the inscriptional article for the ICS, and Dr Li Choh-Ming personally wrote down the inscriptions. Now all these professors have left us.

Even though my major was Chinese Etymology, I was deeply influenced by Professor Chou during my graduate studies. Professor Chou was a demanding teacher, and he often prepared rich and practical materials for students in his classes. To study etymology, students need to have a solid understanding of classical Chinese documents, but I did not have much training in Chinese classical documents at that stage. Reading different analyses and conclusions in etymology, I got confused and lost my confidence to carry on with further studies in etymology. Professor Chou came from Jiangsu Province, and he became familiar with south-east Chinese dialects in Hong Kong. Our Teaching Assistant was Professor Cheung Yat-shing at the time, and he spoke Cantonese. Another staff member, Mr Cai Junming spoke Chaoshan dialect. I spoke Quanzhou dialect. Professor Chou made use of these available dialect examples and encouraged us to discuss our own dialects in the class. Applying Chinese dialectology and phonology, we were able to compare most of the ancient and modern pronunciations of different dialects and came up with clear conclusions. I was greatly encouraged by the results. Professor Chou also encouraged me to read the works of Chao Yuenren and Dong Tonghe and to write my own research papers. I was inspired to write down my comments on the study of Jinjiang dialect in Dong Tonghe's book Four South Min Dialects. I thus developed a great passion for studies of dialectology and it became my research interest and career for the rest of my life.

I once studied Modern Literature and Classical Chinese Fiction with Professor Li Huiying, and we got to know each other quite well. When I became a Teaching Assistant, I assisted Professor Li, Director of United College at the time, in administrative works, and we became close. When Professor Li retired in 1975, I was asked to continue to teach his course of Classical Chinese Fiction. I taught the course since then. My teaching in the Department of Chinese Language and Literature thus included both Linguistics and Classical Chinese Fiction. For academic research, I mainly focused on dialects, including Cantonese, Fujian and Hakka dialects.

2. The ICS and the Department of Chinese Language and Literature

After the ICS was established, the University expected different departments and the ICS to establish close and supportive connections. The Department of Chinese Language and Literature has been supporting the ICS from the very beginning. Professor Chou Fa-kao took up the position as Director of the Chinese Linguistics Research Centre, and teachers and students from the Department often worked with Professor Chou to assist in ICS research projects. After Professor Chou retired, Professor Lau Din Cheuk, Chair Professor of the Department, took over as Director of the Chinese Language Research Centre and continued to support the ICS. The Centre publishes two journals regularly. Studies in Chinese Linguistics (SCL) focuses more on academic research and Current Research in Chinese Linguistics (CrCL) pays more attention to practical language teaching. During the 1990s, Professor Dang Shu-leung, Director of the Department, became Chief Editor of Current Research in Chinese Linguistics, and Professor Fan Sin-piu became the Executive Editor. After Professor Dang retired, Professor Wan Bo and I took over the editorial responsibilities. All these endeavours reflect solid support for the ICS from our Department.

Instead of hiring independent full-time research fellows or professors, the ICS cooperated with different departments within the campus. It provided funding and invited professors from different departments to establish research centres in the ICS. During the 1970s, the Hong Kong government did not pay much attention to academic research in universities, and professors were merely given lectureships by the government. When establishing CUHK, Professor Li Choh-Ming often emphasised that CUHK was a university for Chinese people. The founding of the ICS was also inspired by Professor Li's idea to establish a university for Chinese people. Later, the ICS received strong support from Mr. Lee Jung Sen and his family, and the ICS was able to promote studies of Chinese culture in colonial Hong Kong.

Professor Lau Din Cheuk came back to CUHK in the late 1970s, and became Director of the Chinese Language Research Centre. I was instructed by Professor Lau to serve the Centre, and became Associate Director later. After Professor Lau retired, I took over as Director of the Centre. In addition to pure academic linguistic research, the Centre started to promote Chinese language teaching and improve Hong Kong people's Chinese education after changing its name to the "T.T. Ng Chinese Language Research Centre". (In 1980, the Centre received generous support from Mr. Tor-tai Ng, and consequently changed its name.) Current Research in Chinese Linguistics published a large number of articles on Chinese language teaching and education. The Centre also actively participated in Chinese language and literature activities organised in Hong Kong. At the same time, we cooperated with the Department of Extramural Studies to provide training courses such as Chinese Language Certificate courses for extramural students. The Centre also compiled Chinese textbooks (「大一國文」) for the University. In past years, the Department of Chinese Language and Literature has worked closely with the T.T. Ng Chinese Language Research Centre to promote Chinese education in CUHK. Furthermore, in 1997 the Centre co-organised with The Chinese Language Society of Hong Kong the significant conference, "Chinese Language and 1997 Hong Kong" to discuss the development of Chinese education in Hong Kong after Reunification. The conference proceedings were later published.

I paid much attention to promoting dialectical studies after I became Associate Director of the T.T. Ng Chinese Language Research Centre. We started the ten-year project, "Studies and Comparisons of Southeast Chinese Dialects". For the first three years, we were supported by Professor Hirata Shoji from Kyoto University, who received funding for the project from the Mitsubishi Foundation and Mitsubishi Research Institute. For the next seven years, the project was fully supported by the T.T. Ng Chinese Language Research Centre. Through this project, we organised a conference every year from 1994 in different major dialectical regions in China. Scholars were invited from all over the world, and famous professors such as Professors Li Rulong, Ting Pang-hsin, Anne O. Yue and Pan Wuyun were all participants in our conferences. Unlike previous dialectical studies that mainly focused on phonetics, our project aimed to attract new research interest in the grammar of dialects. We also tried our best to create more chances for young scholars to present their research outcomes in the conferences, hoping to nurture more young scholars and inspire new developments in dialectical studies. We set up a specific theme for the conference each year, and scholars from different dialect regions would introduce dialects from their own regions. Rich research outcomes were achieved during the conferences. Many previous young participants have become senior specialists in the field, including Professor Cao Zhiyun (Vice President of Beijing Language and Culture University), Professor Liu Danqing (Director of the Institute of Linguistics of the Chinese Academy of Social Science), Professor Li Lan, and Professor Zhuang Chusheng of Sun Yat-sen University. A good number of books were published after more than ten conferences and seminars. Aspect of Verb was one of the most influential. In addition, Dongci weiyu ju, Jieci, and Daici, published by Jinan University Press, and Fangyan tezhengci, published by Xiamen University Press, were all influential books in dialectical studies. The Centre also published outstanding books in other fields, such as Wen Lin: Studies in the Chinese Humanities (Vol. 1 and Vol. 2) by Professor Chow Tse-tsung and Studies in Honor of Jerry Norman.

I received strong support from the ICS for various academic activities as well as my research projects. In 2000, I was supported by the ICS to investigate the distribution of different dialects in the New Territories in Hong Kong before urbanisation. With some primary outcomes, I was able to successfully apply for fundings from the Research Grants Council, and later published the book of The Dialects of the New Territories, Hong Kong (Commercial Press, Hong Kong). During the years of research before I retired, I successfully applied for funding from RGC for three other projects that included studies of the Min, Northern Min and Guanzhong dialects. I applied for four projects and I received funding for all of them. I carried out these projects in the Centre and we received great support from the Centre as well as the ICS.

I have been serving the Centre since 1979. I am very grateful for Professor Lau Din Cheuk's trust in me to organise various academic activities. We have cooperated actively with mainland China to promote academic exchange for the past 30 years. We co-organised many academic conferences, including conferences on Min, Hakka, Yue and overseas Chinese dialects, and on Chinese dialectal grammar, all of which were influential and helped to promote the significant development of dialectal studies in China. I was therefore selected as a member of the Administrative Committee for the Chinese Dialect Society. In addition, the Centre worked with the Department of Chinese Language and Literature to promote Chinese teaching and learning in Hong Kong. We co-organised conferences to discuss Chinese language teaching for matriculation and university courses. Professor Lau Din Cheuk also raised the issue of proper Cantonese pronunciation, which was of great concern in Hong Kong. It was because of Professor Lau that people in Hong Kong started to pay attention to the pronunciation of Cantonese. This is still a much debated issue today.

Professor Tang Sze-wing, the current Director of the Centre, is doing a very good job in leading the Centre's further developments, especially in digitising research resources and strengthening the Centre's international reputation. Thanks to Professor Tang's efforts, Studies in Chinese Linguistics is indexed and abstracted in many international citation indexes for academic articles, such as the MLA International Bibliography. These are Professor Tang's new contributions that we were not able to accomplish before.

3. Recent Research and Previous Students

I am most interested in studies of phonetics and glossaries of dialects. A few years before I retired, I did some research on a glossary of Min and Yue dialects in classical Chinese fiction and drama, combining my interests in both linguistics and literature. I have been quite occupied since my retirement in 2011. As Senior Tutor of United College, I am responsible for organising various literary and artistic activities for the College. I am also a Senior Research Fellow of the T.T. Ng Chinese Language Research Centre, and I am preparing the publication of my previous research works, such as re-publication of A Report on a Survey of the Keijia and Gan Dialects, and publication of a new book, Studies of Dialects in Northern Min. My hometown Quanzhou is a famous historical city with a profound cultural background, but the dialects in Quanzhou have not been sufficiently studied before. Glossaries of Quanzhou dialects are actually very rich and some of them have clear structures worthy of further academic study. I hope to edit a dictionary of Quanzhou dialects. I am also a Visiting Professor at the Baptist University of Hong Kong, where I teach Cantonese Studies and Classical Chinese Fiction. Most of my former students continue to teach and carry out research in the field of language. Professor Lam Kin Ping is in charge of Putonghua courses in the Department of Education in CUHK. Professor Wan Bo from the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, Dr Cai Xuanhui and Dr Xu Yuhang continue to study dialects. Dr Chan Chu Kwong is now working in the Gratia Christian College. Many others have become Chinese teachers in community colleges and middle schools. As I have been teaching the required course of Phonology for many years (other required courses such as Etymology and History of Chinese Literature have different teachers for the same course), the number of students I have taught is huge. They still invite me for meals every week, and I greatly enjoy their friendship. The Department of Chinese Language and Literature has nurtured a large number of talented professionals for Chinese education in Hong Kong. Five years ago I organised a group of my previous students to establish the Alumni Association of the Department of Chinese Language and Literature, hoping to unite our alumni to contribute further to the development of Chinese education in Hong Kong.

4. Comments and Hopes for the ICS

Reviewing its development, I think the ICS needs to have better planning for its overall structure and organisation. As most of the research centres of the ICS were set up by certain professors, the centres might be affected greatly by the professors' retirements. For example, after Professor Chou Fa-kao retired, the Chinese Linguistics Research Centre was not able to continue its research for a few years until Professor Lau took over as the new Director. It is also a pity that as an institute for studies of Chinese culture, the ICS has not established specific research centres for Chinese literature, philosophy and history which are the three major aspects Chinese culture. I think the ICS could have better planning for establishing new centres in the future. In addition to its close relationship with the Department of Chinese Language and Literature and the Department of Fine Art, the ICS needs to strengthen cooperation with other departments in CUHK to seek better support. If possible, inviting a few long-term research staff to build up a more supportive and stable research team for the ICS would be beneficial for the further development of the ICS and its centres.

In addition to the publications of its existing centres, the ICS could cooperate with other institutes or organisations to publish more high quality academic works in history, philosophy and other fields. Such new publications are not only significant for the promotion of Chinese studies, but also help to promote the academic reputation of the ICS.

The founding of CUHK aimed to support Chinese middle schools in Hong Kong. As a result, both CUHK and the ICS are responsible for fostering a spirit of Chinese culture. The ICS has become the main institute to carry on the great mission of CUHK to promote Chinese culture, and it should take on the responsibility of contributing more to strengthen studies of Chinese culture in the future.

Back to Issue
Interview with Professor Chang Song-hing: Fifty Years at CUHK
Jao Tsung-I Visiting Professor Public Lecture 2016: "The Possibilities and Limits of a Genre: Lyrical Pictures from the Ming by Professor Yuan Xingpei"
2016 Institute of Chinese Studies Luncheon I: "Deng Erya's Calligraphy: A Discourse Originating from the Collection of the Art Museum"
Event: Opening Ceremony of "Erudition in Ink: The Calligraphy of Sheung Chun-ho", Art Museum
Public Seminar: Gold Working Techniques of Ancient China, Art Museum
Event: Let's Celebrate the Year of the Monkey, Art Museum
Event: Music for CM Li and You: The Lantern Festival Concert
Event: Academic Lectures and Roundtable Discussion, Research Centre for Contemporary Chinese Culture
Event: Documentary Screening Series, Co-organised by Research Centre for Contemporary Chinese Culture and Universities Service Centre for China Studies
Event: The Fourth Renditions Distinguished Lecture Series on Literary Translation, Research Centre for Translation
Event: Translators in the Making of Chinese Translation History, The First International Conference on Chinese Translation History, Research Centre for Translation
New Publications
Young Scholars' Forum in Chinese Studies 2016, jointly organised by CUHK–Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation Asia-Pacific Centre for Chinese Studies (APC) and ICS will be held on 19–21 May 2016
Exhibition: Erudition in Ink: The Calligraphy of Sheung Chun-ho, Art Museum (27 February 2016 – 22 May 2016)
Editorial Board Committee
Past Issues
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