Eileen Chang at the University of Hong Kong:
An Online Presentation of Images and Documents from the Archives
Introduced by Nicole Huang
Curated by Prof Nicole Huang, Dr Florian Knothe and Kenneth Shing-Kwan Chan
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...
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.