Dear MLC College Master Professor Xu, University Council Chairman Dr. Lam, UM Alumni Association Chairman Dr. Ao, Dean Jin, SHEAC College Master Professor Iu, Distinguished Guests, Faculty Members and College Fellows, Students of Ma Man Kei Lo Pak Sum College,Good evening! I am most honoured to be invited by Professor Xu Debao to give a talk at tonight’s high table dinner of your College.I will begin with an opening in Putonghua and round up the talk at the end in Cantonese. The talk itself will, however, be delivered in English.
Respect, Communication, and the Macau Story
The College Code of Conduct
準則第一條： “尊重別人、尊重自己、表裡如一、有社會公德。”英文是: “Respect others, respect yourself, have integrity, and act morally.”
Now I change to the English channel.
Billy So in New Asia College (singing with a guitar)
It is because what I witnessed at your College reminds me of all the fond memories of my undergraduate years back in the early 1970s. When I was at your age, pretty much like you I studied at a liberal arts college called New Asia College in Hong Kong, which had a student population of around 800, less than double the size of your College today. The difference is of course there were only less than 40 students who could have a hostel place to stay in. New Asia College was set up with the objective to preserve and promote Chinese traditional culture, in particular Confucianism. So, you can imagine as a student I was cultivated to behave according to so-called proper manner, for example, showing respect to teachers and fellow students with courtesy, integrity and sincerity. The spirit is to uphold a high standard of civility, which is among the core values of Chinese civilization. Our College foundation day is the same as the Birthday Anniversary of Confucius and we had to bow to the portrait of Confucius three times during the College foundation day assembly. Now you can see why I was so excited when I saw the code of conduct prescribed so prominently at the entrance hall of your College. But this is not yet the story.
This is just the background to my first story to unfold tonight.
One day in March 1973, I knocked on the door of a professor’s office. He was one of the faculty advisors who would give academic and daily life guidance to students. He inspired us very much, not only about academic knowledge, but also about how to behave properly following the Confucian ethical standards. He was a role model for us and gained a great deal of respect from us. “Come in!” he said. I heard a not-very-forthcoming voice behind the door. I opened the door, entered the room, and began to tell him the academic puzzle that was troubling me for a few weeks and I was so excited that very soon I would be enlightened by him.
However, after 15 minutes, I still had not received any answer or suggestion from him. In fact, all along while I was speaking, he had been sitting in his chair and continuing to write something at his desk, or at times playing with his pencil. He never raised his head to look at me. Nor could I be sure that he was listening to me at all. When the moment of silence finally created enough sense of embarrassment, I realized that it was time to say goodbye. I did so politely and I quietly left his office, still following all the code of conduct I learned from him.
Outside his office, I felt at once a strong sense of disrespect and humiliation as a student. I strongly felt that something was wrong beneath the Confucian code of conduct if it was not grounded on a real sense of respect to others, regardless of their status or role in society.
As a student yourself today, have you ever experienced something similar? Or turning the tables, have you ever showed disrespect to other people?
Eventually, this experience did not change my confidence in and commitment to Chinese civilization. However, it did change the image of that professor in my mind. I completely lost my trust in him as a role model forever.
It took me a long while to figure out what is the difference between good manner based on respect and good manner without respect, or between civility and pretentiousness. Since then, I pledged myself to learn from this terrible experience and not to give any student the same terrible experience in my educator’s career. Today, I must thank that professor as he simply demonstrated to me why respect to others, including that between teachers and students, is so important.
Teachers and students alike, we want to be respected and we all deserve to be respected. That is the essence of human values in major religions and philosophies in the world, including Chinese civilization. At the same time it is imperative that we genuinely respect others. Otherwise, there is no reason why we must be respected by others. The instruction of MLC tells it all – “Respect others, respect yourself, have integrity, and act morally.” But I think the Chinese version is even more explicit at this very point of having integrity. It says: 表裡如一. It reads like “Respect at heart and in action.” In Confucian terms, it is conveyed in the notion of Cheng (PTH), Shing (Cantonese) or 誠, may be translated as sincerity or integrity. Something from the bottom of your heart. Not pretending. Not hypocritical.
My first story of respect to others is only my personal experience. The implication of this story may, however, go far beyond. The next keyword is communication and it has much to do with respect as well.
Macau as World Center of Tourism and Leisure
The Macau SAR Government positions our city as the World Center of Tourism and Leisure. In this context, cross-cultural communication and the ability to convey friendship and goodwill to people from outside with different cultures and languages become increasingly vital to Macau. Sincere and true respect grounded in human dignity of every single individual must be the foundation of heart to heart communication and all practices of civility, manners and politeness.
Tourism prospers when outsiders and locals are genuinely happy with one another and both enjoy the experience of the encounter. Visitors want to return. Locals want them to return.
Leisure is enjoyed when visitors and locals both feel relaxed and comfortable with one another. Visitors want to return. Locals want them to return.
Respect must be from the bottom of our hearts. We respect others not because they are our bosses, customers, friends or relatives. We respect them as our fellow human beings, who may be rich or poor, who may be influential or deprived, who may be intelligent or slow, who may be nice-looking or otherwise. The reason why we must respect others is because we respect the most fundamental human value that is human dignity of the individual, as recognized by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of the United Nations. The human rights regime developed since the end of the Second World War has enshrined this as the universal principle underlying all human rights we have been talking about for the last 70 years.
Against this background of the need of successful cross-cultural communication, I would like to share with you my second personal story. It is about cross-cultural communication from the heart without a shared language.
Kyoto in 1981
It was in the winter of 1981. The stage is Kyoto. I was doing research at the Kyoto University as a doctoral student. Doctoral students are usually poor and I was no exception. In order to survive in the very expensive Japan at that time, I stayed at a charity type of temple hostel for foreign students. The wooden building was spacious but mostly falling apart. Most windows were broken and the temperature at night dropped to a single digit. The very shabby hostel was run by an old lady manning a small counter at a tiny lobby of no more than 10 square meters. She was very friendly but we could not communicate in any language.
Finally came the day when I was to depart and venture out of this place. After I settled the bill, I carried all my heavy belongings and set to get out of the lobby onto the streets. I realized at once that it was snowing heavily outside. I stood at the door step and felt very miserable. Not only because of the freezing wind but also because of the trouble carrying large packs of research data and walking in the snow for at least 30 minutes before I could reach a subway station.
Kyoto is exquisitely beautiful in winter and in particular in snow. Walking in the snowy Kyoto with heavy luggage was, however, not a very recommendable activity. So I thought: well at least I was lucky to have collected such a large amount of research data to make my life so miserable walking in the snow. Anyway, I was about to brave the cold.
At this juncture, suddenly I heard the old lady behind me saying something loudly, whom I could not understand. I turned my head around and saw her walking inside quickly and disappearing. Many ideas quickly ran through my mind. Would she give me an additional bill that I needed to pay? Would she tell me that I broke the already broken windows? Would she give me a map for a shortcut to the subway station? A bicycle? A raincoat? An umbrella? Or what? I was curious, if not anxious, to know what was going to happen.
Five minutes later the old lady returned. She did carry something in her hands. It was not a bill, map, bicycle, raincoat or umbrella. What was placed in the hands of this poor and miserable student was a cup of hot milk.
This is the end of my second story, a story of respect and communication even without a shared language.
The Statue of Matteo Ricci and 1639 Macau map
Now let’s look at the last story for tonight, which I call the story of Macau. There are many facets of the story of Macau. Each one of us must have come to know it and feel it in a very different manner and through various channels. I believe that tonight I am the one who knows the least about Macau. Every single one of you must know Macau more than I do. But as a historian, I see Macau in my own way. The story of Macau I would like to share with you is about one of the tourist landmarks in Macau today and the protagonist of this great landmark– the Statue of Matteo Ricci.
My intention is not to present the history of Matteo Ricci in Macau or China. Rather, all I want to talk about is the meaning of Macau to this greatest missionary to China of all time who was here from August 7, 1582 to September 1, 1583.
Since you all must be familiar with the story of Matteo Ricci, I would just want to make three observations underlying his successful experience with the encounter of East and West.
Firstly, Matteo Ricci was exemplary in his strong desire to communicate with Chinese people in Chinese language and with deep understanding of Chinese civilization. He was eventually fully recognized and accepted by his Chinese elite counterparts as one of them.
Secondly, Matteo Ricci made amazing effort to acquire the ability to communicate effectively with the Chinese elite. He became a genuine member of literati in Chinese classics in a short time. Ricci was talented in language learning and had solid classical education in Europe before he came to Macau. Still just within one year since his arrival in Macau he was able to lay down a solid foundation of this difficult foreign language and moved on to other parts of Ming China and further advanced his Chinese proficiency. Macau was the very place where he first encountered Chinese language and culture. Our city, Macau, can no doubt claim credit for producing one of the most successful and influential Chinese language learners of all time.
Finally, Matteo Ricci got a first impression of Chinese civilization in Macau. He was deeply impressed and in many private letters to his missionary peers in Europe and Asia he expressed his admiration and respect for Chinese civilization. For example, while still in Macau where he was diligently studying Chinese language and civilization, he wrote in a letter dated February 13, 1583, commenting that “of the grandeur of China, it is for certain that nothing in the world is greater.”
In short, the story of Macau as a place of cross-cultural communication with respect, sincerity and civility can be traced back to the 16th century, more than four and a half centuries ago. It is three hundred years before the British and other European powers opened Hong Kong and other treaty ports in China in the 19th century. The Macau story represents a far more respectful and peaceful pattern of the East-West encounter than the ones characterized by violence and disrespect in the last two centuries.
The Macau story is therefore unique and exemplary in cross-cultural respect, civility and communication.
To conclude, I am now changing to the Cantonese channel.
Respect for meaningful life
Respect for communication
Respect as the story of Macau