2015 No.1
Chinese Calligraphy as a Choice

Professor Mok retraces his education and how he began to study Chinese calligraphy. He also introduces his teaching and research at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), from which we can see his passion for Chinese art and his contribution to promoting Chinese studies at CUHK.

Mok Kar Leung, Harold, Department of Fine Arts, CUHK

Professor Harold Mok received his BA and MPhil degrees from the University of Hong Kong and DPhil degree from the University of Oxford, UK. A historian of Chinese art, he taught at The University of Hong Kong before joining the Department of Fine Arts, CUHK, in 1989. Professor Mok teaches courses that include the history of Chinese painting and calligraphy, and methodology in art studies. He was Head of the Division of Fine Arts from 2002 to 2008, and is now Chairman and Professor of the Department of Fine Arts, and Expert Adviser (Museum) to the Leisure and Cultural Services Department. His research focuses on post-Tang and Hong Kong calligraphy. He has completed three research projects on Hong Kong calligraphy, Chunhua Ge Tie and the calligraphy of private secretariats in the Qianlong and Jiaqing periods. As well as publishing academic papers, he has edited The Bei Shan Tang Legacy: Chinese Calligraphy (2014), Chronology of Hong Kong Calligraphy 1901–1950 (2009), Shuhai Guanlan (1998, 2008), Double Beauty II (2007), Xuedao Yangchen (2003), Bimo Lunbian (2002) and The Hong Kong Visual Arts Yearbook (1999, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006).


I studied science in secondary school. In my sixth form, I changed my major to liberal arts, and was later admitted to the Faculty of Arts of The University of Hong Kong (HKU). I still remember the orientation day for course registration when I happened to see a slide show of the Department of Fine Arts. Probably because I was always interested in practising Chinese calligraphy when I was little, I immediately decided to choose an art history course as well as Chinese literature and Chinese history for my first year of study. The Department of Fine Arts had only been established for 2 years then, and Professor Chuang Shen, whose father was Chuang Yan, former Deputy Director of the National Palace Museum in Taipei, was the department head. I began to shift my study focus to Chinese art from the second year onwards. However, we were not allowed to choose fine arts as a single major, because the department was relatively new at the time. I therefore double-majored in Chinese and fine arts, but my main interest was actually the latter, particularly Chinese art. The courses that I took were Chinese painting, Chinese ceramics, Chinese sculpture, and art theories. In my final year, Professor Chuang was on sabbatical and Professor Chou Ju-hsi from the Arizona State University came as Visiting Professor. After graduation, I continued to pursue an MPhil degree at HKU and wrote my thesis on Liao ceramics under the supervision of Professor Shih Hsio-yen, who came from the Royal Ontario Museum to teach in the Department of Fine Arts. Professors Chuang, Chou and Shih were knowledgeable and noted scholars on Chinese art history. Both specializing in the studies of Chinese painting, Professor Chuang was experienced in textual research and had much experience in connoisseurship, while Professor Chou adopted Western visual analysis in class and emphasized looking at Chinese paintings through styles. Professor Shih, on the other hand, was an expert on early Chinese art. Looking back at my university years, which were short and passed quickly, I was lucky to learn from these three renowned art historians. Before MPhil graduation, one of my friends applied for further studies abroad and left some extra application forms with me. When I sought advice from Professor Shih, she suggested that I could apply for the DPhil programme of the University of Oxford and studied under the supervision of Professor Michael Sullivan. Professor Sullivan was a famous scholar on modern Chinese painting, which was quite a different area from the subject (Chinese ceramics) that I was studying at the time. However, Professor Shih encouraged me to widen the focus of my research, and I eventually decided to shift to Chinese calligraphy, a subject I had always been fond of. Professor Shih even helped me to find private sponsorship. In Oxford, I was deeply inspired by Professor Sullivan's academic vision and true scholarliness.

My DPhil dissertation is a study of the Southern Song calligraphy, with Zhao Mengjian as the central figure. Chinese calligraphy was not yet a popular subject in art historical studies in the 1980s, and thus it was not easy for me to find academic dissertations as reference. However, I felt fulfilled doing pioneering work. In the third year of my DPhil study, I returned to Hong Kong since Professor Shih invited me to teach a course on Chinese painting at HKU. Although this was a short-term post, it was a valuable opportunity for me to gain university teaching experience. Two years later, I joined CUHK until now. For more than 20 years, I have witnessed the curriculum development at the Department of Fine Arts. For example, under the leadership of Professor Mayching Kao, the Department offered a PhD programme in Chinese art history in 1990; and when Professor Jenny So joined the department from the Freer Gallery of Art, she conducted a series of course reforms. The department has now become one of the most important centre for the teaching and research of Chinese art history. As for me, perhaps one of the most unforgettable developments is the introduction of the course on the history of Chinese calligraphy, for on the one hand it has facilitated the application of my specialty to teaching, and on the other hand, since the course was the first of its kind in Hong Kong, it means CUHK was playing a more important role in Chinese art education.

Teaching and research in the Department of Fine Arts are closely connected with the Art Museum of the Institute of Chinese Studies (ICS). This intimate relationship is best reflected in the position of its senior staff, as Professor Mayching Kao was Professor of Fine Arts as well as Director of the Art Museum, and Professor Jenny So, also Professor of Fine Arts, was former Director of ICS and now Director of the Art Museum. I myself am currently Research Fellow (by courtesy) of the Art Museum and an ex officio member of its Advisory Committee. As such, I have long been working closely with the Art Museum on different types of activities, including publications, exhibitions, public lectures, conferences, etc., in addition to making use of the Museum collection in my teaching and research. One particular event that is worth mentioning is surely the "International Symposium on Chinese Calligraphy" organized by the Department and Museum to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Department in 1997. Serving as Chairman of the organizing committee, I had the opportunity to invite experts from all over the world to come to CUHK to discuss Chinese calligraphy in various areas, including its history, authentication, education, etc. There was also a session of calligraphy demonstration in which fine calligraphic works were produced at the gallery of the Art Museum. The symposium papers were then collected and published in 1998 as a book entitled Shuhai Guanlan. Ten years later in 2007, the Department of Fine Arts and the Art Museum worked together again to organize a second international symposium on Chinese calligraphy. This symposium also gave rise to a publication, entitled Shuhai Guanlan II.

The academic activities related to the Art Museum that I have taken part are indeed numerous. In addition to the two symposiums and publications mentioned above, the two catalogues that I edited, namely Double Beauty II (2007) and The Bei Shan Tang Legacy: Chinese Calligraphy (2014), are of particular significance. In these two projects, I have invited our postgraduate students to write the entries and transcribe the inscriptions and colophons of the calligraphic works. For the students, participating in the production of the catalogues means a valuable opportunity to gain experience in large-scale research projects; and for me, leading a research team of students was another way of integrating teaching and research. I need of course to point out that such a way of forming a working team with postgraduate students was first introduced by Professor Jenny So when she was doing the project "Noble Riders from Pines and Deserts". The catalogues Double Beauty III that I am now working on and The Bei Shan Tang Legacy: Chinese Painting that I will start editing very soon will also have similar student involvement. I am indeed fortunate to be able to carry out these projects at CUHK, for the Art Museum has provided useful resources for the teaching and research of Chinese art history.

Among my research projects on Chinese calligraphy are the three funded by the Research Grants Council on Hong Kong calligraphy, Chunhua Ge Tie and calligraphy of the Qianlong-Jiaqing private secretariats respectively. I particularly want to mention the project on Hong Kong calligraphy, which aims to fill a gap in Hong Kong art history, specifically Hong Kong calligraphy in the first half of the twentieth century. The early development of Hong Kong calligraphy relies heavily on the literati who moved south from the mainland. The calligraphic works and related cultural activities of these literati shed light on not only their artistic styles but also how calligraphy was related to social issues such as preservation of national heritage, salvation of China through culture, fund raising for disaster relief, etc. It is regrettable that this important period of Hong Kong calligraphy is overlooked in modern scholarships. Taking three years to complete, the project has given rise to the publication of a series of papers and a book entitled Chronology of Hong Kong Calligraphy 1901–1950 (2009). In addition, an archive of Hong Kong calligraphy was built up to facilitate further research, and I am glad that Chen Yafei, a PhD candidate then, made use of the archive materials for her study of Hong Kong calligraphy and eventually completed her dissertation entitled "Transfer of Traditions: A Study of Hong Kong Calligraphy (1911–1940)".

I have great expectations for the young scholars from our Department to contribute to the future studies of Chinese calligraphy. There are in fact quite a number of our former MPhil and PhD students who took Chinese calligraphy as their research area and are now working on Chinese calligraphy in universities, museums and other art-related institutions. Their efforts can perhaps be partly reflected in The Bei Shan Tang Legacy: Chinese Calligraphy, for the eight papers included in this catalogue are contributed by these young scholars. Looking back on my own education when PhD dissertations on Chinese calligraphy were rare, I was happy to be one of the pioneers yet there were also times when I felt lonely due to the lack of peer communication. However, time flies and changes happened quickly. There are now a great number of young researchers working on Chinese calligraphy, and the studies of this unique form of traditional Chinese art have become much stronger than one could imagine before. Despite its achievements, the Department of Fine Arts will surely continue to face challenges in educating young scholars of Chinese calligraphy. It is also foreseeable that the Department will keep working with the Art Museum to carry out more research projects on Chinese calligraphy as well as other areas of Chinese art and culture. Such a strategy concords not only with the aims of the New Asia College but also with the mission of ICS and CUHK in promoting Chinese studies.


Back to Issue
Chinese Calligraphy as a Choice
Event: 2015 Institute of Chinese Studies Luncheon I – An Academic View of Hong Kong Archaeology
Event: 2015 Institute of Chinese Studies Luncheon II – Guangzhou City Culture from the Qing Dynasty to Republican China
Event: Splendid Images Lecture Series, Art Museum
Event: 'Jubilant Rams in Chinese Culture: Celebrating the Year of the Ram', Lunchtime Gallery Talks, Art Museum
Event: Linguistics Seminar, T.T. Ng Chinese Language Research Centre
Event: Writing Chinese Translation History: The Sixth Young Researchers' Conference, Research Centre for Translation
New Publications
Splendid Images Lunchtime Gallery Talks with Live Music – Art Museum
Young Scholars' Forum in Chinese Studies, Institute of Chinese Studies
Conference on Labour, Mobility and Development in the Pearl River Delta and Beyond, Universities Service Centre for China Studies
Simplicity and Splendour: Chinese Furniture from the Ming Dynasty to Early Republican Period, Art Museum
Jubilant Rams in Chinese Culture: Celebrating the Year of the Ram, Art Museum
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.