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Hong Kong Outstanding Students' Association - Youth Summit 2005

Outstanding Students’ Association - Youth Summit 2005
2 April 2005

Speech by Professor Arthur K C Li

Secretary for Education and Manpower



Idealism & Youth


Mr Donald Sham, Mr Joseph Lee, Mr Anderson Tsang, ladies and gentlemen, 




First of all, it gives me great pleasure to be here with you this morning.  I suppose this opening remark is appropriate for all occasions.  After all, I can’t imagine a speaker telling his audience that it is not a pleasure to be with them!


To avoid clichés and platitudes, let me first justify why I find it a pleasure to be here.  It is certainly not because I like listening to my own voice, or have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning.  Nor is it because I cannot find another platform to express my views.  It is rather because today’s occasion offers me the opportunity to interact with intelligent young people like you, who are open to new ideas and who may therefore be made to think a little bit deeper or a little bit differently, so much so that some difference can be effected in their lives.  Is this not exactly what education is about?





Before I address any audience, I usually try to find out a little bit more about them.  This is important because you must gauge the interests your listeners.  There is no point discussing curriculum reforms with old age pensioners, or manpower needs with primary school children.  So I admit I did try to size you up before I came here.


I was told that you are all outstanding students, who have excelled in your academic pursuits and extra curricular activities.  Obviously you are all very smart, very intelligent and intellectually very capable.  But is this sufficient description of who you really are?  You all look different and no doubt have different names.  How would you describe yourselves individually and as a group?


Ethnically you are Chinese.  Your DNA can certainly testify to that.  But I bet you are very different from the 1.3 billion Chinese that live on the Mainland.  You certainly do not lead the same kind of life, or share the same outlook, or have the same concerns.  Many of you may not even know what your counterparts on the Mainland are like.  Indeed you are a different kind of Chinese, a rather unique species, and a very small minority in that sense.


Perhaps rather than describing yourselves as Chinese, some would prefer to tell me that you are a “Hongkonger”. But what is a Hongkonger? What does a Hongkonger represent?  If this Hongkonger has no national identity, and does not represent any special quality or trait that is cherished by residents of this city, or that distinguishes them from inhabitants of other cities, you are merely telling me where you live instead of who you really are.  If that is the case, why not call yourself a Kowloon person or a Shamshuipo person, or a Meifoo person?  If your sense of belonging is not related to a country but a mere city, you should at least be able to tell what exactly gives you your sense of collective identity.  If you call yourself a Hongkonger, people will expect you to have some knowledge about Hong Kong ’s cultural heritage and the characteristics of its citizens.


When other people look at you as a group, they will definitely say you are Chinese. If you agree, you must be able to tell what it means to be Chinese, and whether you are proud to be one.  Likewise if you prefer to be described as a Hongkonger, you must be able to tell what it means to be a Hongkonger, and the fine difference between a Hongkonger and a Chinese. Can you come up with a ready answer?





If we move away from ethnicity for the time being and pose another question, asking you to tell me what you think you represent, I wonder what your response will be.


You will certainly be correct to claim that you are the outstanding young people of Hong Kong .  But what does that really mean?  Does it mean you are the young elite, the future leaders of Hong Kong ?.


Well, Hong Kong is an international business and financial centre where creation of wealth takes prime place.  In other words, you may represent those who in future will make a lot of money, who will rule over Hong Kong , and who will be considered as successful.


Money, fame and power equals success.  Is this what you think you represent, or will represent?


It will indeed be a shame if you really believe in such a formula.  Not only will you be disappointed, but you may also be very unhappy.  Let me explain.


If acquiring money is an end in itself, it should then be done as quickly as possible.  The logic is that the faster you make money, the more successful you are.  This could be achieved through gambling, legally or illegally, through drug trafficking, or other illicit and unscrupulous activities.  But would you really be happy with yourself?  Would you like a success that is built on other people’s miseries?  After all, what is the point of success if it makes you unhappy?


Let’s turn to fame.  Lots of people are famous, like our celebrity rock stars and movie stars.  Yet they are also some of the most stressed and depressed people in the population.  Imagine constantly having to judge your own worth through the eyes of strangers, putting your most private moments under public scrutiny.  Fame certainly does not guarantee happiness or a sense of success.


Finally power.  It is usually held that politicians and government officials are powerful because they can influence our lives.  Yet when you look at them on television, when you see them in the Legislative Council Chamber and even when you meet them in person, happiness is perhaps the last adjective you would use to describe them.  Angry, frustrated, bad-tempered, arrogant, smug, insecure; the list goes on but it does not include being happy.


You may recall that at the start of my talk I said it was my pleasure to be here, which means I am pleased to be here.  However, I have said nothing about being happy, even though you are all very nice.  What will truly make me happy is for you to think deeply what your values are in life when you go away today. I hope very much that you will ponder on what is really important to you, not just your parents, your family, or your boyfriend or girlfriend, for they are all mortal.  They can die.  They can leave you.  They can make you sad.  There should be some other values that are important to you and that are long lasting.  Do think hard and draw up your own list.



Philosophical Approach


Finally, I would like to tackle a more philosophical question about you.  I have asked you who you are and what you represent, but an equally important question is why you are here.


I don’t mean why you are sitting in this lecture theatre today but why you are here in this world, in Hong Kong at this particular time.  Unless you believe you are just a freak of nature or a dot in the continuum of time, your very existence must have a purpose.  If so, what is your purpose, your own particular purpose, in life?


I have asked a lot of questions this morning.  It would be unfair of me if I do not attempt to help you to answer them.


First and foremost, to all my questions there are no model answers.  Each of you is an individual in your own right and is very different to the person sitting next to you.  So for each person, the answer must be unique.  Nonetheless there is a pattern according to which you can seek your answers.


Who are you?  Well, you must first get to know yourself before you can answer that.  After all, no one knows you better than yourself, no one else knows better what makes you tick, or what motivates and excites you (other than your sweetheart perhaps!)  Question yourself why you do certain things or react in a particular way.  Some of the answers may lie in nature, that is your genes; some may lie in nurture, that is your upbringing, your social and economic background, your education, your immediate environment.  They all shape how you think and feel.  Try to imagine too a series of concentric circles with yourself as the centre.  The innermost circle is your family; next comes a close circle of friends, relatives, classmates, colleagues; next comes your city, which is Hong Kong; next your country, which is China; then your continent, which is Asia; then your planet, which is planet Earth.  From there you can conjecture the whole universe, and perhaps your relationship with God.


Try to examine how much you know and feel about each circle and how much influence each circle has upon you.  Ask yourself where your true affiliation lies and why.  Understand who you really are by relating yourself to the people in each circle; find out who you would want to interact with most, and who least.


Some of you will find yourselves more religious than the others, some more patriotic.  Some of you will find yourselves very filial sons and daughters, others very loyal friends.  Some are more dedicated to serving the local community, the poor and the sick.  Some are more inclined to identify yourselves with universal brotherhood, the human species as a whole.  Through such an exercise, you will come to know your true leanings and priorities, your own strengths and weaknesses, your true self.  Ultimately you will become more sure of yourself, and more able to depend on yourself, particularly in times of trial and adversity.


My next question posed to you was what do you represent? 


Hopefully we all want to represent good things rather than evil things, unless of course, we are perverts!  Yet there are many good things in the world.  Where and how would you start?


One simple way to look at this question is to see if you really want someone exactly like yourself to be your close friend.  Someone who is dependable, honest, loyal and selfless, who may even make sacrifices for you.  Someone who is a good listener, sympathetic and can give you good advice.  Someone who is fun to be with, which usually means an optimist who looks at the bright side of everything.  Someone who has principles and ideals that you can share.  Someone who is intelligent and perhaps even outstanding.  Did I say intelligent and outstanding?  Well, that someone can be you.  The question is do you want to be your own friend and live up to those standards.


My last question was why you are here.  Rather than seek the answer in the philosophical or religious arena, I simply believe that each generation must rebel against the older generation because it is only through change that we achieve progress.  You are here to raise doubts about existing systems, to challenge established practices, and to make people like me think hard.  Your duty is to learn from the mistakes of your forebears, not to condemn them but to correct them.  You should strive to see the world not the way it is but the way it should be.  You should hold on to your ideals; you should dare to dream dreams.  All too often, as we get older, we are said to have grown wiser because we know our own limitations and we begin to compromise, to be flexible and to be pragmatic.  Thus we begin to lose sight of the idealism of our youth, which is to make the world a better place.  Far too often, we wake up too early from our dreams.  Young people constantly remind the older generation of their own ideals.  It is also vitally important that young people like you should come up with your own ideals, ideals such as justice for all, compassion for the less fortunate, equal opportunities with level playing fields in all areas, a better environment, or national rejuvenation so that our culture can continue to flourish.  If our young people today do not have any ideals or personal convictions, then there will really be no progress and no future.


In other words, ladies and gentlemen, our future for better or worse is in your hands.  It is my firm believe that our future is bright.  We are in capable hands and you must not disappoint us.


Finally if you have been asleep during this talk, it is perfectly alright.  After all, I don’t really want you to wake up too early from your dreams. 


Thank you.

Last revision date: 02 April 2005
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