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Lingnan Foundation Collection: Szto Wai, Portraits of Lingnan University 1937 - 1944

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Lingnan Foundation Collection: Szto Wai, Portraits of Lingnan University 1937-1944

Exhibition Period: (22 October - 30 November 2008)



The watercolours and sketches of the original Lingnan University campus in Guangzhou (Canton) in Guangdong Province on the Chinese Mainland were made by Szto Wai from the late 1930s through 1944 and are part of a gift of over 200 works of art from the Lingnan Foundation in America to the University. The watercolours that show the original Lingnan University campus in Guangzhou are undated but would have been made before the campus was evacuated to Hong Kong in 1938 after the Japanese occupation of Guangzhou. The watercolours and sketches of the temporary campus in Taitsuen in northern Guangdong, where the university relocated after the occupation of Hong Kong, are dated from 1942 to 1944 and can be related to scenes described in contemporary letters about the campus that Szto Wai wrote to friends.

Although many have made Lingnan what it is today, it is Dr. A. P. Happer who was instrumental in its creation. Dr. Happer, a graduate of Jefferson (now Washington and Jefferson) College, the Western Theological Seminary, and the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, came to China in 1844 and was one of the founders of the Canton Mission of the Presbyterian Church. Dr. Happer gave up his medical practice to devote himself to furthering education in China and first proposed establishing a college in China that would be modelled on Robert College in Istanbul (1863) and the American University in Beirut (1866), providing western education modelled on the American system. Instruction was to be in both English and Chinese, as Dr. Happer believed that ‘With Mandarin and English the graduates will be citizens of the world’ (Corbett 8).

Although Dr. Happer preferred to establish a school in Beijing or Shanghai, a petition by over 400 leading Chinese from Canton encouraged him to locate the school there. Like Robert College and the American University in Beirut, Lingnan was chartered by the Regents of the University of the State of New York, receiving its charter as the Christian College in China on December 13, 1893. During the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 the College relocated to Macau and then moved to a new campus in Honglok Village (Kangle) on Honam Island in Guangzhou in 1904 and became known as the Canton Christian College. The new school included both Preparatory (Middle School) and Collegiate (University) Departments but the latter took time to attract students, not graduating its first BA until 1918. A Primary Department was established in 1911 by Szto Wai.

In the 1920s, responding to increasing nationalism in China, a committee of prominent alumni, Szto Wai among them, suggested to the Trustees that the university divide the Board of Trustees into two parts, one in New York and one in Guangzhou. After legislation in China required colleges and universities to secularize, the university restructured in 1927, creating a Board of Directors and a Chinese administration in Guangzhou that would be responsible for finance and staff and an American Foundation in New York that would own and lease the land to the newly-renamed Lingnan University. Lingnan University in Guangzhou was closed in 1952 and merged into Sun Yat Sen University. It was re-established in Hong Kong by Lingnan alumni in 1967. It moved to its present site in Tuen Mun in Hong Kong’s New Territories in 1995.



Java Hall 爪哇堂

The first dormitory on the campus was completed in March 1910 and financed from funds raised from Chinese residents of Guangzhou by Chung Wing-kwong (鍾榮光) (1866-1942), a Chinese scholar who obtained a degree in the Chinese examination system at 16. He joined the Lingnan faculty in 1900 as a Chinese teacher while he also studied western subjects at the College, graduating in Szto Wai’s 1908 Class. An excellent fund raiser and a visionary, he became the first Chinese President of Lingnan University in 1927. The early Lingnan University housed both secondary and university students. Java Hall, built in 1920 was the first dormitory to house only university students. Funds for the building were secured during a fund-raising visit to Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia (Java) by Chung Wing-kwong in 1918, hence the name “Java” Hall.

The blend of east and west is evident in this study of a red brick Arts and Crafts style western building with a green tiled Chinese roof. The red brick and concrete construction provided defences against the weather and the insects and the style gave a sense of unity to the campus buildings. A total of 82 of the red brick buildings were constructed on the campus. Most still survive today.

Corner of Martin Hall 馬丁堂 looking towards Grant Hall 格蘭堂

Architect C. W. Stoughton was hired to design the new campus. Martin Hall, originally East Hall, the first building on the campus, was completed in 1906 and named for Henry Martin of Cincinnati, one of the first contributors to the University. It was the first building in Guangzhou to be built of red brick and reinforced concrete. Dr. Sun Yat-sen addressed the students and faculty of the University in the Hall on 3 May 1912, encouraging the students to use their knowledge to build a new China. Grant Hall, the administration building, was completed in 1916.


Carpentier Hall, next to Pine Garden Lake, was originally constructed in 1911 as a hospital building. It was used as the Canton Hospital Nursing School in 1934-35 and later as a faculty dormitory.

Chapel on the Hill (University Chapel)

The Chapel was built in 1936 with contributions from students, faculty and staff and was used for small religious meetings.

Our Canton Hospital

Dr. Sun Yat-sen worked at the Hospital as an orderly in 1884 before going on to medical school in Hong Kong. The Hospital was opened in 1836 but closed by strikes in 1926. It was taken over by Lingnan in 1930. The Hospital was a pioneer in medical education in China and in women’s education as well, admitting women to study with men in its medical classes as early as 1879.

Part of Nine-family Village

View from Science Building (Section of Campus)

The view looks out across the Middle School buildings to Swasey Hall (懷士堂).

Sun Yat-sen Medical College of Lingnan University 孫逸仙紀念醫學院

Lingnan had opened a medical school in 1910 in conjunction with the Christian Association of the University of Pennsylvania but conflicts with the Association’s strict religious requirements led to the closure of the school in 1914. This building was constructed by the Chinese government adjacent to the Canton Hospital in downtown Canton. The new medical school was affiliated with the Hackett Medical College for Women in Guangzhou. The Dean from 1935 to 1944 was Dr. Wong Man, who had degrees from Cambridge and London.

Java Hall 爪哇堂, Luk Yau Hall 陸佑堂

Luk Yau Hall was built in 1931 as a dormitory and named for an ancestor of the donors, Wong Yung-hong and Wong Yung-cheung. Originally a dormitory, it is now houses the Department of Electronics at Sun Yat-sen University.

Market just off campus


The College of Agriculture introduced new crops to China: the Lingnan papaya, sweet peas, and carrots among them. The College also conducted research on plant diseases and insects.

Mixed Basket Ball Game

Women have always been part of the Lingnan community, both as students and as faculty. Mrs. Happer taught English to the first Lingnan students, a school for girls was opened in 1903, and the first female students were enrolled in co-educational classes in the Middle School in 1906. Women were later admitted to the University. In 1921 Leung Tsau-ming was the first woman to receive a BA and eight of the first 48 students to receive bachelor degrees between 1919 and 1924 were women. To the right is the Xing Pavilion (惺亭), built in 1928 to honour Sze Kin-yee (Shi Jianru), Ou Lizhou and Xu Yaozhang. Shi Jianru (Sz Kin-yue) was a student at Lingnan in 1899 but left to take part in the revolution. He was executed as the leader of a failed plot to blow up the Viceroy’s palace in Guangdong in 1900. Ou Lizhou, a Lingnan faculty member, and Xu Yaozhang, a Lingnan student, were killed in the Shaji Incident, an anti-imperialist demonstration, on 23 June 1925.

Luk Yau Hall 陸佑堂

In addition to the funds Chung Wing-kwong (鍾榮光) raised in Java, he also secured additional funds in Mayasia to build an Overseas School on the Lingnan campus for the children of overseas Chinese.

Silk Culture Building

Lingnan University was famous for its agricultural studies and was instrumental in reviving silk worm culture in China. The programme began its development in 1907 when the horticulturist George Weidman Groff joined the faculty. He was supported by faculty and students from Pennsylvania State College, who built Penn State Lodge for his residence. In 1918, French and American silk dealers approached Lingnan for help in improving South China silk production. The Silk Culture Building was provided by the Silk Association of America. A dormitory and the Atwood Reeling Laboratory followed. A College of Agriculture was founded in 1921. This building later became the Union Theological School.

Part of Elementary School Buildings

The Primary School buildings, constructed between 1915 and 1930, consisted of eight buildings. Szto Wai founded a primary school shortly after he graduated and it became part of Lingnan in 1911. Writing in 1913, Dr. Andrew H. Woods described Szto Wai and his school: ‘Children love him and he them, and they develop rapidly under his care. Parents in the City came, saw, and applied’ (Corbett 52).

Engineering Hall

Called Chit Sang Hall, it was built by the Ministry of Railways in Nanking and named after the nickname of Sun Ke (Sun Fo), the son of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who was Minister of Railways from 1928 to 1931. It was completed in 1931 to house the College of Civil Engineering.

Model Village

The Model Village was composed of houses constructed for Chinese and overseas faculty and funded by tuition fees. Szto Wai lived in Village Residence No. 11.

Swasey Hall 懷士堂 (Auditorium)

Ambrose Swasey, a Cleveland industrialist whose company manufactured machine tools and telescope mountings, donated US$25,000 in 1913 for the construction of a building to house the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). It was completed in 1916 and was used as the campus auditorium. Dr. Sun Yat-sen addressed students in the Hall in 1923.

Wing Kwong Hall 榮光堂

Built in 1924 by Lingnan alumni to honour Chung Wing-kwong (鍾榮光). It now serves as the guest house for Sun Yat-sen University.

Eight-corner Pavilion 八角亭 (Campus Refreshments Center)

Built in 1919, and in some sources called the Fruit Kiosk, it was operated by the Student Youth Association and sold cooked food until 1934 when the University took it over as a refreshment stand. The finial on the roof is in the form of a cornucopia. It has since been remodeled and the green tiles replaced with blue.


Lingnan University had over 600 acres, 98 permanent buildings, twelve dormitories, and 40 residences, along with nearly 200 temporary and ancillary buildings. Half of the campus was used for farming. Ten Alumni Hall (十友堂) is portrayed in the background. Ten Alumni Hall was the home of the College of Agriculture and opened at the end of 1929.


This scene is reminiscent of the log cabins that were built in 1904 to house Canton Christian College.

Grant Hall 格蘭堂 (Administrative Building)

Mrs. John S. Kennedy of New York donated US$25,000 for the construction of the building and asked that it be named after William Henry Grant, a member of the Board of Directors who joined the Board in 1895 and played a major role in firmly establishing the young institution. Martin Hall (馬丁堂) is just to the left.

Middle School

The Middle School, originally called the Preparatory Department until 1911 when the programme was extended to five years, formed a substantial part of the Lingnan campus and mission. Szto Wai was its Principal when he painted these watercolours.

Women's Dormitory

The first women’s dormitory was Carpentier Hall. This larger dormitory was built in 1933 with funds raised in The Oranges, New Jersey.

Section of Campus

Looking down from Ma Kong towards the elementary school with Luk Yau Hall (陸佑堂) in the background.

Martin Hall 馬丁堂 now used as library

This watercolour may be by a student of Szto Wai’s. The stone lion was retrieved from a dismantled temple by Chung Wing-kwong (鍾榮光).

Grant Hall 格蘭堂

William Henry Grant was associated with Lingnan from 1895 until 1933. Independently wealthy, he had become acquainted with Lingnan during a visit to Guangzhou in 1890, where he stayed with Rev. B. C. Henry, who had worked with Dr. Happer on establishing the school. At that time the school was temporarily closed due to the illness of both Dr. and Mrs. Happer. Grant returned to visit the school again in 1897 and recommended to the Trustees in New York that the Board be reorganized and its scope broadened.


This watercolour shows the Willard Straight Memorial Science Building (史達理堂科學館). Mr. Straight was an interpreter in the Imperial Customs Service in China before returning to New York and becoming a Trustee of Lingnan. The construction was funded by Mrs. Willard Straight and the Rockefeller Foundation. Straight Hall was completed in 1928.


The painting is of Jackson Lodge (積臣屋), built in 1912 as the residence of Charles K. Edmunds, who served as President from 1908 to 1924. It later served as the home of the Western School for the children of foreign faculty.


Lingnan in Exile (1938-1944)

The following paintings and sketches are of Lingnan’s wartime site in Taitsuen, some done by Szto Wai and some by his students. When Canton was occupied by the Japanese in 1938, the students and faculty evacuated the campus and Lingnan relocated to Hong Kong. Because of the ownership of the campus by the Foundation in New York, the Canton campus was neutral territory and served as a refugee centre until the United States entered the war. After Hong Kong was occupied by the Japanese army in December of 1941, it was decided to relocate the University to Free China, i.e., within the area of China not yet occupied by the Japanese. Szto Wai, who was then Principal of the Middle School, set out to Taitsuen, a village just north of Kukong (曲江) (Shaoguan 韶關), the temporary capital of Guangdong, to rebuild Lingnan University. A selection of his letters from the time gives a verbal portrait of the campus and the times. He travelled with his colleague, Mr. Yeung Tsz-hin, two carpenters, and ‘some cooking utensils, some earthen jars, a few pairs of chopsticks, and a few personal belongings’. Surveying his paltry expedition he said, ‘Lingnan University starts again.’ (Corbett 142). Over 300 builders were eventually employed and the Middle School was able to open on 1 August, 1942.


Library (sketch)

‘On a sunny day in January 1944 I woke with the bugles in the early morning… We breathed deeply the mountain air as we stood outside the library and found positions. Once more the blare of bugles in the sudden silence that they alone could break. The slanting rays of the rising sun touched the upper half of the flag staff. The flag went up. A wandering breeze shook out the folds and every eye looked up at the symbol of our freedom…’ (Corbett 144-45)

First Dormitory (sketch)

The building to the right was the Administration Building, named Grant Hall (格蘭堂) after the administration building on the Guangzhou campus. A note on the back gives the location as Sin Yan Miu (仙人廟), the nearest rail station to Taitsuen, 29 km north of Kukong (曲江). Shortly after arriving, Szto Wai made a new design of the University seal, writing to a friend that: ‘On top of the old design – White Cloud Mountain, lichee trees, Pearl River and the road leading to the college – is the National Star, and below the old design are flowers and leaves springing up around it, indicating that beneath the National Star Lingnan University starts again like the flowers of Spring…’

Left (sketch)

‘If you stand at the top of the hill, you will see fifty or sixty buildings, some half-hidden under big camphor trees, some exposed on the mountainside, with pink walls and purple roofs. Under the sunlight it is a beautiful sight. Lingnan is now well established at Lingtaitsuen…’ (Corbett 144).

Center (sketch by a student)

In a letter written in 1942 Szto Wai writes of meeting a friend in the evening and saying “What’s this? Tubes of paint! Good ones from India and a brush too. Have you some of the paper I gave you last week? Let’s make a sketch right away. The sun is right, the colors are fresh and you have two boards. We sat together behind the little kitchen and overlooked the whole of Ling Tai Tsuen. A little foreground? Just trees or shall we put in the corner of the building there, I mean the library there? Better shorten the rice fields a little - tell a little lie - but no matter, it’s our picture. Ah, the camphor trees! Any cobalt blue in that box of ours? The sweep of the hill, the new dormitories standing clean and new, the library already mellowed with one year’s weather and the age-old camphor trees hiding the rest. Just room to draw the mountain in and balance the patches of bare earth this side. Enough pencil - now the color…” (Corbett 146).

Right (sketch by a student)

‘Still early in the morning I set off for my walk. Among the trees and up the hill along the beaten paths…as I passed [a classroom] I saw to my surprise that lectures had already begun. Six-thiry and already at work…’ (Corbett 145).

Graybill Hall (watercolour sketch)

The new buildings on the Taitsuen campus were named after buildings on the Guangzhou campus and constructed to reflect the architectural features of the original. The original Graybill Hall was named for Henry B. Graybill who was on the Lingnan faculty from 1903 to 1926. He was principal of the Lingnan Middle School and is best known to Lingnanians as the author of the English words to the school anthem. The melody of the anthem is from an 1850s ballad, Annie Lisle, written by H. S. Thompson. It became the anthem of Cornell University in 1870 and has been copied by numerous schools since, including the American University in Beirut and Washington and Jefferson College, Dr. Happer’s alma mater. The song was translated into Chinese by Ko Koon-tin.

Blackstone Lodge 黑石屋 (sketch)

The original 1914 Blackstone Lodge was built as a residence for Chung Wing-kwong (鍾榮光) who was then the College Dean. This was its reinterpretation at Taitsuen, with an attempt to suggest its distinctive turret.

One of the Dining Rooms (sketch)

Szto Wai noted on the back of this sketch that ‘originally all of our buildings were like this one.’

Agriculture College 農學院, 1944 (watercolour sketch)

The relocated College of Agriculture was at Pingshek, north of Taitsuen.

Old Middle School 舊中學 (watercolour sketch)

‘Around 2,000 students took [the entrance exams] but when college opened, we received only about 300 students – old and new, some of them from Hong Kong University. Everyone carried an oil light and the song of the red lantern came immediately to mind...’ (Corbett 144).

New Middle School 新中學 (watercolour sketch)

‘I had been called the “Mountain Chief,” which meant that I did things differently and in any artistic way I liked, without much rule or order. But now that the University was actually going and we needed a government, so Tze and others took over the business side. I was greatly relieved, but it has been a thrill to start something like this…’ (Corbett 143).

Library, Guest House, Science Hall (watercolour sketch)

‘I strolled on to the library up the hill. It was like a stock exchange of knowledge. Everything worked with silence and efficiency. Students went to and fro. The librarian came and went from the window as she found books that were sought for… It seemed that everyone had some purpose there and that purpose was important… (Corbett 145).

Swasey Hall 懷士堂 and other Buildings (watercolour sketch)

‘The University has given more than ten plays in Swasey Hall and two or three big concerts have been given. Morning service is held here every Sunday. The Student Association is raising money for a school in the village and for a club for soldiers and workmen. They are also planning some medical work for the neighborhood…’ (Corbett 144).

Lingnan from East looking from U.T.C. Campus (watercolour sketch)

The Union Theological College became affiliated with Lingnan in 1929 but maintained its own campus until after the war. It followed Lingnan to Taitsuen.

Lingnan from the North (watercolour sketch)

Just before the war ended it appeared that the Japanese would advance into the Taitsuen area. Szto Wai wrote ‘Orders came to evacuate northern Kwangtung. Mr. Yeung and I decided to stay no matter what came… I myself wanted to remain because I liked Taitsuen very much; huge camphor trees, cool weather, thirty kinds of birds, lovely wild flowers, and spreading rice fields, the whole atmosphere artistic…’ (Corbett 143). After the Japanese occupied Kukong in January 1945 the students and faculty dispersed while the University prepared to open a new campus 175 miles further north but the war ended before the autumn term began.


Szto Wai

Szto Wai graduated from Lingnan University in 1908. Described as a ‘gentle-natured, thoughtful man’ who loved to teach, and called ‘Uncle Wai’ by many, he joined the Lingnan faculty in 1910 to teach drawing and later started a primary school on the campus. The 1916 edition of the Record of Christian Work notes that he took no salary for his first year of work and that he had a reputation as an educational innovator throughout southern China. Szto Wai also established a branch of the Lingnan primary school in Kowloon and spent four months as a prisoner of bandits who ambushed the Kowloon-Canton train in 1923. In 1942, he was primarily responsible for the relocation of the University to Taitsuen, a village north of Shaoguan in northern Guangdong. Mat sheds in the village were converted into classrooms and hostels, and named after the buildings on the Guangzhou campus. He remained with the University for over 40 years, and founded other campuses of the University in Shanghai and Saigon while continuing to paint.

Photograph courtesy of Special Collections, Yale Divinity School  



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 Sun Yat-Sen University Virtual Tour

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