Eileen Chang at the University of Hong Kong:
An Online Presentation of Images and Documents from the Archives
Introduced by Nicole Huang
Curated by Nicole Huang, Florian Knothe and Kenneth Chan
Figures 1-3, Eileen Chang’s HKU student registration and transcripts (HKU Archives)
圖 1-3, 張愛玲香港大學學籍紀錄和成績單（香港大學檔案館藏）
Eileen Chang arrived at HKU in August 1939 and left without completing her degree in May 1942 during the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, when classes had been interrupted by the war since December 1941. Her wartime experience had lasting impact on her, indeed as she wrote in “From the Ashes,” that it “cut too close to the bone, affecting me in an altogether drastic fashion” (Written on Water, p. 39). Although the Battle of Hong Kong badly damaged the HKU campus, it is not true that “the university documents and records were completely burned, leaving no trace at all” (“The Way I Look at Su Qing”). In fact, her student record has survived, well preserved in the HKU Archives, which contains her registration form as well as pages of her transcript that reflect her grades in the first two years (Figures 1-3). The courses she took included English, History, Chinese (Literature & Translation), Logic, and Psychology, and she scored better in English and History than in the others. Her class attendance was near perfect, in stark contrast to her meagre participation in extracurricular activities. In the photograph on her student registration, she wears a dark cheongsam and a dark cardigan, round glasses, and a hesitant smile, pretty much still a high school girl from St. Mary’s Hall in Shanghai (Figure 4).
Figure 4, Eileen Chang ID photo, extracted from her student registration (HKU Archives)
圖 4, 張愛玲香港大學學籍紀錄上的證件照（香港大學檔案館藏）
The HKU Archives hold other important documents that bear an Eileen Chang connection. Files of her teachers, especially the two that influenced her the most—Norman H. France, Reader in History, and Hsu Ti-shan, Professor of Chinese—are yet to be fully studied. A highlight in our archival search is the discovery of group portraits of teachers and students of the Faculty of Arts, taken annually in front of the Main Building (Figures 5, 6). In each of these portraits, Chang can be seen in the third row, among other female students. The 1941 portrait was taken only a few months before the outbreak of war, when Eileen Chang was already a third-year student, and Prof. Hsu Ti-shan had just passed away in August. If juxtaposed with her own portrait from her college years, wearing the same pair of glasses, long hair, thin face, it is no surprise that she describes herself from those years as “an ugly duckling turning into an ugly little egret,” having not yet escaped “the awkward age” (Figure 7).
Figure 5, Faculty of Arts group portrait, Fall 1940 (HKU Archives)
圖 5, 香港大學文學院師生1940年秋季在本部大樓前的大合照（香港大學檔案館藏）
Figure 6, Faculty of Arts group portrait, Fall 1941 (HKU Archives)
圖 6, 香港大學文學院師生1941年秋季在本部大樓前的大合照（香港大學檔案館藏）
Figure 7, Portrait of Chang as a college student (© Roland Soong and Elaine Soong through Crown Culture Corporation)
圖 7, 大學時代的張愛玲 ©宋以朗、宋元琳 經皇冠文化集團授權
Figure 8, Minutes of the Arts Faculty Board meeting, report on Eileen Chang selected to win a Ho Fook scholarship, 22 May 1941 (HKU Archives)
圖 8, 1941年5月香港大學文學院議會獎勵張愛玲何福獎學金的紀錄（香港大學檔案館藏）
9, Minutes of the HKU Senate meeting, to approve Chang’s Ho Fook scholarship, 26 May 1941 (HKU Archives)
圖 9, 1941年5月香港大學校級參議會通過張愛玲所獲何福獎學金的紀錄（香港大學檔案館藏）
Eileen Chang received two scholarships toward the end of her second year of undergraduate studies at HKU. One was a Ho Fook Scholarship, in the amount of £25. Minutes of the Arts Faculty Board meeting on 22 May 1941 indicate that the decision was made by the Board “on the evidence of the examination results” (Figure 8). This was then approved on the University level, at the Senate meeting on 26 May 1941 (Figure 9).
This evidence from the archives corroborates Chang’s own account. She reminiscences in her essay “From the Mouths of Babes”: “After I went to Hong Kong for college, I was awarded two scholarships, and because I had saved my mother a substantial sum of money thereby, I decided that I could finally indulge myself by having a few outfits made precisely to my specifications. And ever since then, I’ve been immersed in clothes and fashion.” (Written on Water, p. 6)
For two and a half years, Eileen Chang resided in a women’s hostel called Our Lady’s Hall, run by the sisters of the French Convent School. Peter Cunich in A History of The University of Hong Kong describes in great detail how HKU had adopted the hall tradition since the founding of the University in 1911. While the three main halls on campus were all built for male students, the University did not establish any female dormitory until the 1930s when the number of female students had considerably grown. The administration decided to select an off-campus site for a female dormitory and eventually accepted a proposal made by Mother St. Xavier from the French Convent School, who acquired a large house on Po Shan Road in Mid-Levels behind the HKU campus (Figure 10). Mother St. Xavier not only secured the right to use the building, but also expanded it and bought additional land for students’ outdoor recreation (Figure 11). In March 1939, the French Convent School officially gifted the dormitory, named Our Lady’s Hall, to HKU. When Eileen Chang moved in with 12 other students that Fall, the once private residence had been converted into a women’s hostel, with a garden in the front and a larger fenced yard in the back.
Documentation of Our Lady’s Hall is scarce, but the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres, which founded the French Convent School (now the St. Paul’s Convent School in Causeway Bay), have preserved a school magazine from 1940 that contains an old image of the building and a caption that states: “Ideal Situation: Approved place of residence for University Students. Under the management of the Sisters of St. Paul de Chartres” (Figure 12). An essay in the same magazine proudly describes the beautiful site:
…Our garden, though humble in size, is as good a piece of earth as any in this jewel of an island. The white splendour of arum lilies, the heavy fragrance of gardenias, the dainty frivolity of sweet-peas, and splashes of colour supplied by dahlias and petunias and golden cosmos… imagine all this gaiety strangely placed in a misty height, on the hilly slope, thrown against a background of blue tropical sky, solemn and boundless. There lay the fascination of our garden…
The war soon broke out. As the building’s position high up on the hill marked it as an easy target in air raids, the Sisters had no choice but to evacuate all residents. By 1945, Our Lady’s Hall had ceased to be a women’s hostel and was returned to private use.
Figure 10, Letter from Mother St Xavier to Vice Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong about purchasing a house on Po Shan Road to serve as a women’s hostel, 24 January 1939 (HKU Archives)
圖 10, 哈維爾修女關於設立聖母堂女生宿舍致香港大學校長的信，1939年1月（香港大學檔案館藏）
Figure 11, Letter from Mother St Xavier to Registrar of the University of Hong Kong about the impending opening of Our Lady’s Hall, 4 July 1939 (HKU Archives)
圖 11, 哈維爾修女關於聖母堂女生宿舍修繕完工致香港大學教務長的信，1939年7月（香港大學檔案館藏）
Figure 12, Our Lady’s Hall (HKU Archives)
圖 12, 聖母堂的影像，原載法國修院學校的校刊，1940年（香港大學檔案館藏）
Figure 13, Our Lady’s Hall (Courtesy of the Alec Cooper family)
圖 13, 私人收藏中的聖母堂影像，1930年代
Figure 14, Our Lady’s Hall, aerial and vicinity shot (Courtesy of Gwulo.com)
圖 14, 私人收藏中的西半山景象，最高一層寶珊道上的聖母堂清晰可見，1962年
Before Mother St. Xavier acquired the house and converted it into a hostel, the building on Po Shan Road was called Hopefield and there lived the family of a British doctor, whose descendants have provided us with the best image of what would become Our Lady’s Hall (Figure 13).
There are more photos like this in private hands, and another example is this aerial and vicinity shot of Mid-Levels West, taken in 1962, which clearly shows the scenery and footpaths uphill from campus to Our Lady’s Hall, not much different from the 1940s (Figure 14). The bottom left is a section of the HKU campus. The University Drive winds up, at the end of which is the HKU president’s residence, built in 1951. Many of the buildings above the University Drive used to be the university’s Senior Staff Quarters, including Professor Hsu Ti-shan’s apartment on Robinson Road. The uppermost row of houses in the photo is on Po Shan Road, where the second building on the right is what was once Our Lady’s Hall.
The former Our Lady’s Hall was not destroyed by war as some claimed. It resumed its private status and witnessed the life of several expatriate families, until it was demolished in 1970 when a 20-story apartment building, named Hamilton Court, was built on the same site, still bearing the same street address.
Figure 15, Koraishia Mohideen’s student registration with photo (HKU Archives)
Figure 16, Professor Gordon King’s recommendation letter for Koraishia Mohideen (“HKU Archives)
Figure 17, Portrait of Yan Ying, 1940s Shanghai (© Roland Soong and Elaine Soong through Crown Culture Corporation)
圖17, 炎櫻肖像，上海，1940年代 ©宋以朗、宋元琳 經皇冠文化集團授權
When Eileen Chang studied at HKU, her classmates were mostly overseas Chinese, but there were also Indians and multiracials. In “From the Ashes,” she mentions students from Malaysia, Vietnam, and other Southeast Asian countries. There are frequent references to her best friend from that period, Fatima Mohideen (Yan Ying), a girl of Sri Lankan and Tianjin descent and enrolled in the medical school at HKU. Fatima had a younger sister, Koraishia, and a brother, Rafeek, both of whom attended HKU and graduated in 1952 and 1953 from the medical school and the engineering school, respectively.
Fatima’s student record is unfortunately missing, probably destroyed during the war. But among the documents in her sister Koraishia’s file, there is a letter in support of Koraishia’s enrollment, dated 14 May 1946, by Gordon King, a professor in the medical school, who recalls his former student Fatima as someone that he knows “quite well.” This is perhaps the only place in the survived documents at the HKU Archives that mentions Eileen Chang’s best friend of her college years in a personal way. Like Eileen Chang, Fatima’s college education was interrupted by the war. She later completed her degree at St John’s University in Shanghai, but her sister and brother carried on the Mohideen family’s HKU tradition, and Koraishia later specialized in obstetrics/gynecology and lived in Toronto, Canada until her death in 1993. Koraishia was five years younger than Fatima. The sisters had a great resemblance (Figures 15, 16, 17).
In April 1945, an advertisement placed in the Miscellany Monthly speaks of a fashion design shop run by the Mohideen Sisters and Eileen Chang. There was no sign that this business ever took off, but Chang did speak of Fatima’s young sister in a short essay: “In real life there really is a person called Yan Ying. Recently she and her younger sister wanted to start a fashion business. Well, it was not much a business, just a small shop to sell some design ideas for coats, cheongsams, jackets, and western suits. I also bought some shares. Hearing that her younger sister was also involved, I immediately said: what could your sister do?” Koraishia at the time was in her last year of high school, set to attend the HKU medical school a year later.
Figure 18, The Fung Ping Shan Library, exterior, upon completion in 1932 (HKU Archives)
Figure 19, The Fung Ping Shan Library, lower-level shelves, 1938 (HKU Archives)
We feature the Fung Ping Shan Library in this exhibit as the time Eileen Chang spent in this historic building must have been a highlight of her college years. Now part of the University Museum and Art Gallery and a declared monument and iconic landmark on campus, the Fung Ping Shan Building was opened in 1932 as the Chinese library of HKU, holding many rare and precious books at the time (Figures 18, 19). During the Battle of Hong Kong in December 1941, when the University was constantly under danger of shelling and many buildings, such as Ricci Hall and the Main Building, were hit and badly damaged, the Fung Ping Shan Building was used as an air defense station and later a relief hospital. Many university students were involved in defense and relief work, and Eileen Chang was no exception, but she was lucky to be placed in the library, where she was free to browse and read books with a happiness like that of “a child in a cake shop” (The Book of Change, p. 183). She describes her renewed interest in Ming-Qing fiction in her 1944 essay “From the Ashes”::
I finished reading A Gallery of the Bureaucracy during an artillery barrage. I had read it once when I was little, before I was able to appreciate its virtues, and had always wanted to read it again. As I read, I worried whether I would be allowed to finish the book. The print was minuscule, and the light poor, but if a bomb were to fall, what would I need my eyes for, anyway? “When there’s no skin,” the saying goes, “where do you put the hair?” (Written on Water, pp. 44-45)
Later, in her 1968 essay “Remembering Hu Shih,” she once again recounts this unique experience, this time recounting a different title from the early Qing:
Being an air defence member in wartime Hong Kong, stationed at the Fung Ping Shan Library, I discovered a copy of Marriage as Retribution, Awakening the World and immediately came to be in my element, burying my head in the book for days on end. There were antiaircraft guns set up on the roof, so the library became a bombing target; but while the bombs kept falling and coming closer and closer in numbing explosions, my only thought was: at least let me read it through to the end.
Figure 20, Group portrait of the China Defense League, 1938 (HKU Archives)
Figure 21, Department of Chinese group portrait, Fall 1941 (HKU School of Chinese collection)
Figure 22, Norman France, extracted from the 1941 group portrait, seated between Professor Chen Yinke and Rev. Casey (HKU School of Chinese collection)
Figure 23, Registrar’s letter to the Dean of Arts, 30 January 1941 (HKU Archives)
Figure 24, Hilda Selwyn Clarke’s letter to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, 6 August 1941 (HKU Archives)
Norman H. France was Eileen Chang’s favorite teacher at HKU. Among the gallery of figures depicted in Chang’s essay “From the Ashes,” France stands out as striking and endearing. He returns in Chang’s later novels, as Mr. Andrews in Little Reunions and as Mr. Gerald H. Blaisdell in The Book of Change. France was the only full-time HKU staff member killed during the war, by friendly fire—whose “purposeless death” Chang calls a “waste of humanity.” He is depicted as sinicized, “open-minded and magnanimous,” with “a childishly ruddy face, porcelain blue eyes, and a prominent round chin,” whose “hair had already begun to thin.” (Figures 20, 21, 22). Disapproving of “material civilization” and “England’s colonial policies,” it was characteristic of him to have built himself an electricity-free house, “with three bungalows well off the beaten track,” one of which for “raising hogs,” and to have had “a beat-up old automobile” used only by a houseboy for grocery shopping (Written on Water, pp. 43-44). It is then not entirely surprising that we would encounter a document in his file that tells of an incident where he was bitten by his own donkey (Figure 23).
Born in Hong Kong, Norman France spent the early part of his childhood in the colony and studied and worked mostly at Cambridge University before he was appointed Reader in History at HKU in 1931. He introduced Asian history into the curriculum for the first time and he was well loved by his students like Eileen Chang, who “derived a sense of being close to history from him, as well as a cogent worldview” (“From the Ashes,” p. 43).
France’s activities also stretched far beyond the university. It is worth mentioning that he was Co-treasurer of the China Defense League (now China Welfare Institute) when Soong Ching-ling (aka Madame Sun Yat-sen) and others founded it in Hong Kong in 1938, to organize relief and aid for those fighting the Japanese. Figure 20 includes all key members of the Central Committee of the China Defense League, including, from left to right, Israel Epstein, Deng Wenzhao, Liao Mengxing, Soong Ching Ling, Hilda Selwyn Clarke, Norman France, and Liao Chengzhi. Later, when France served in the Hong Kong Volunteer Defence Corps, he took time off in the summer of 1941 to accompany Red Cross supplies for the Chinese Industrial Co-operatives in the Paochi area (in Shannxi), via Guangxi, Guizhou, Chongqing, and Sichuan. Hilda Selwyn Clarke’s letter to the Vice Chancellor of HKU on behalf of France explains the rather dangerous work he undertook as summer activities (Figure 24). France was killed near a military garrison at Stanley in Hong Kong on December 20, 1941 and was buried at Stanley Military Cemetery.
Figure 25, Faculty of Arts group portrait, Fall 1938 (HKU Archives)
Figure 26 Professor Hsu Ti-shan, extracted from the 1938 group portrait (HKU Archives)
圖26, 許地山教授， 1938年秋季合照局部（香港大學檔案館藏）
Hsu Ti-shan was a towering figure in Hong Kong higher education and cultural scene. Eileen Chang likely took two years of Chinese Literature and Translation courses with him. Many have speculated that Professor Yan Ziye in Chang’s short story “Jasmine Tea” is based on Hsu Ti-shan, fictionally depicted as a man “who’d gone through hardship, but still had known some small measure of happiness,” and whose long Chinese gown emits “debonair elegance.” Hsu in real life did have a distinctive style. In a group portrait taken in Fall 1938, he is seated to the far right on the first row, instantly recognizable with his long gown and bearded look (Figures 25, 26).
Hsu previously taught at Yenching University before accepting the offer as Professor of Chinese at HKU in 1935, upon the recommendation of Hu Shih (Figures 27, 28). During his tenure at HKU, Hsu undertook a restructuring of the Chinese department, designing a new curriculum to include a broader range of genres and subjects across the humanities. Hsu’s emphasis on later Chinese literature, that is, Ming-Qing vernacular narratives and literature of the twentieth century, helped shape the literary, cultural, and intellectual outlook of Eileen Chang. Chang’s insistence on reading A Gallery of the Bureaucracy and Marriage as Retribution, Awakening the World inside the Fung Ping Shan Library during an artillery barrage can be traced to this changed view of Chinese literary landscape. The most notable connection between the teacher and the student, however, is their shared interest in women’s clothing, accessories, and design. Eileen Chang’s essay “Chinese Life and Fashions” can be seen as a continuation of Hsu’s study on the history of Chinese women’s clothes (Figure 31, 32). Their sketches of clothes are remarkably similar in style, which in Hsu Ti-shan’s case indicate the confluence of Western and Eastern traditions of illustrated manuscripts, seen also in the pages from his unfinished manuscript on Chinese ornaments and vessels (Figures 29, 30). This style of juxtaposed texts and drawings calls for further research.
Figure 27-28, Hu Shih’s letter to the Vice Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong, recommending Hsu Ti-shan for the position of Professor of Chinese (HKU Archives)
Figure 29-30, Hsu Ti-Shan, notes on Chinese ornaments and vessels, pages from an unpublished manuscript (HKU Archives)
Figure 31-32, Hsu Ti-Shan, “Three Hundred Years of Women’s Clothes,” manuscript pages (HKU Archives)
This online exhibition pays tribute to Eileen Chang (1920-1995), a major twentieth-century writer and one of the most illustrious alumni in the history of the University of Hong Kong, on the occasion of the centennial celebration of her birth. With this collection of images and documents selected largely from the HKU Archives, we hope to identify new material and help generate fresh scholarship in the burgeoning global Eileen Chang studies. By piecing together a narrative that highlights the beginning of an extraordinary literary career, we celebrate Chang’s connection with HKU as an important chapter in the history of both the Faculty of Arts and the larger university community...