Hong Kong, 1925; 1997; 2019 — Splendeat Sapientiae Lumen ex Oriente

Hong Kong Apostasy


In this chapter in our ‘The Best China’ series devoted to the 2019 Anti-Extradition Bill Protest Movement — or the Hong Kong Uprising — we return to the poetry of P.K. Leung 梁秉鈞 by way of a paean to the city composed by Cecil Clementi, governor of the crown colony of Hong Kong, in 1925. We conclude with the original Hong Kong University anthem written by Clementi which, as John Minford notes, ends with the words:

Splendeat Sapientiae Lumen ex Oriente

May the Light of Wisdom Shine from the East!

We would also note that P.K.’s poem will be included in Selected Poems of P. K. Leung, one of a series of six books by leading Hong Kong writers edited by John Minford.

Geremie R. Barmé
Editor, China Heritage
18 September 2019


Further Reading:

‘Hong Kong 1925’

A Poem by Cecil Clementi
Governor of Hong Kong


A Response by
Leung Ping-kwan in 1997

Sir Cecil Clementi (金文泰; Kam Man Tai, 1975-1947), great-grandson of the composer Muzio Clementi, was Governor of Hong Kong from 1925 to 1930. Trained at Magdalen College Oxford in Greek and Latin languages and literatures, he became fluent in both Cantonese and Mandarin, and during his tenure as Governor greatly encouraged the fledgling department of Chinese Studies at Hong Kong University. (He had earlier in 1912 written the words for the University’s anthem, in Latin, ending with the words ‘Splendeat Sapientiae Lumen ex Oriente’ — ‘May the Light of Wisdom Shine from the East!’).

When serving as a junior colonial civil servant in the New Territories, Clementi had produced a fine verse translation of the collection Cantonese Love Songs 粵謳, originally written in Canton in 1828 by Chiû Tsz-yung (招子庸, 1786-1847). His translation was published by the Clarendon Press in 1904. They also published, in 1911, his translation of the third-century Latin classic, the Pervigilium Veneris.

Clementi was mocked for his use of Cantonese by the mean-spirited Leftist writer Lu Xun, after a visit to Hong Kong in 1927. Typically, P.K. Leung had a more subtle and nuanced appreciation of this remarkable man. In 1997, in the impending shadow of the infamous Handover ceremony, I drew his attention to this extraordinary effusion, this full-blown Kiplingesque Ode to ‘England in Cathay’. P.K. immediately decided to write a reply, in the time-honoured Chinese tradition of one poet ‘echoing’ another’s words and rhymes, or 和詩. I tried to capture something of this irony in my translation. Fun was had by all. We recited the various connected poems at a public reading held in the LockCha Teahouse 樂茶軒 after the 2012 Hong Kong Translation Symposium.

John Minford
18 September 2019


Famed for his paintings of brachyura, Chiû Tsz-yung, who compiled Cantonese Love Songs, was also known as ‘Crab Master Chiu’ 招朗蟹. Detail of Chiû’s ‘Painting of a Hundred Crabs’ 百蟹圖


Hong Kong 1925

Cecil Clementi


Lamp-bestarr’d and with the star-shine gleaming
From her midnight canopy or dreaming,
Mirror’d in her fragrant, fair lagoon:
All her streets ablaze with sheen and shimmer;
All her fire-fly shipping-lights a-glimmer,
Fitting, flashing, curving past Kowloon.

Oh, to see her thus! Her hill-recesses
Bright with household glow that cheers and blesses
Weary men and guides them home to rest:
And the criss-cross strings of lights ascending
Round the Peak, a-sparkle, circling, ending
Where the roadways touch the mountain crest.

Ending? No! For human aspiration
Passes here to starry consummation,
Mountain-roads into the Milky Way.
Earth is strewn with Danae’s golden dower.
Grandly here the Master Builder’s power
Crowns the work of England in Cathay!

Government House, Hong Kong
1 November 1925


Mourning The Loss, 1997

In Response to Cecil Clementi

P.K. Leung


I gaze from the foot of the mountain
And espy
Not a single fire-fly
Steaming by,
Not a single star
Gleaming in the sky;
No fairy lights on an earthly paradise
But a Special Economic Zone
Lit up in a blaze of Japanese neon
Dazzling the eye.
See how hard I have to try
To squeeze myself into your foreign rhyme!
For years I’ve had to stammer like this
In your borrowed tongue!
So what do I feel now? Indifference?
Or a strange nostalgia?
Now that you’re going — gone…

Images flit past,
A-sparkle and a-flash!
Another older rhapsody, an older rhetoric,
Takes the measure of us now,
Trusses us up in its strong calligraphy of tradition,
Condescends to dribble upon us a drop of scholar’s ink
And here we are — doubly cultural waifs —
No match for your aspirations.
Hearing your fulsome eulogy
In utter seriousness, without a snigger,
We watch silently by the deathbed.

An ending? No!
A passing, a surviving, a tossing and a turning;
Will the merchants and the soldiers
Dance together for joy,
Or will they mock the starry consummation?
The old commerce of words will surely continue a-pace;
Everyone has grown accustomed to moving
Within the old, stiff format.
And there they lie —
You misty isle, you haze-wrapped waters of Albion,
While the towering peaks of our New Cathay
Bear down upon us,
Crushing, burying the pearl!
An ending? Perhaps?

Summer 1997


── 和金文泰香港詩





Hong Kong University Anthem

The University Anthem was first performed at the Opening Ceremony of the University held on Monday, 11 March 1912, in front of the then newly completed Main Building. It was performed by the Choir of the St John’s Cathedral, the Chorus of the Philharmonic Society, and the full Military Band of the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry.

The music was composed by Denman Fuller and the Latin verses by Cecil Clementi. The anthem was used at formal University occasions until the 1930s, but after the war it was largely forgotten, preserved in the archives as an historical curiosity that could be seen but seldom heard.

To celebrate the University’s centenary, this 100-year-old anthem has been revived. The music has been reconstructed from the original parts, re-orchestrated and recorded, bringing an old tradition back to life for a new century.

Daniel K.L. Chua

Department of Music
Hong Kong University