Out and about

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 April, 2011, 12:00am


Guangzhou's Sun Yat-sen University has been a noted local feature for more than a century - but not under that name. The sprawling riverfront campus, located at Honam, on the southern side of the Pearl River, was founded as the Canton Christian College and renamed Lingnan University. Absorbed into Chung Shan University in 1953, it was subsequently renamed Sun Yat-sen University, after the Cantonese revolutionary and founder of modern China.

Lingnan means 'south of the ranges'. The term, first used for the university in 1903, also refers to a particularly beautiful southern Chinese school of painting, which emphasises nature and movement.

Original and more recent buildings constructed in a variety of architectural styles are scattered around the most attractive university campus in southern China. The grounds are magnificent and successfully incorporate century-old buildings, mature trees, superb lawns and expansive grounds that extend down to the riverfront. A massive yet graceful pailou, or ceremonial arch, is a noted feature on the Pearl River frontage. A pavilion in the middle of the lawns, roofed in blue Chinese tiles, houses an antique bronze bell.

Money from Hong Kong supporters and overseas Cantonese was key in the university's establishment; Australian-Chinese businessman Ma Ying-piu, a founder of Sincere Department store, paid for the infirmary in 1918.

In the 1930s, the institution engaged in a far-sighted but short-lived student-exchange programme with similar institutions in the United States. The Dragon Smiles, by Edmund W. Meisenhelder, is a detailed, charmingly written account of exchange-student life at Lingnan just before the Japanese invasion.

Following the Japanese capture of Guangzhou, in late 1938, students and faculty members decamped to the safety of the British colony and used Hong Kong University's facilities at night. After Hong Kong was occupied, in 1941, many Lingnan students made their way to Free China and a core of a new institution was established at Meixian, the Hakka stronghold in the interior of Guangdong.

A nucleus of the Lingnan faculty and staff moved back to Hong Kong after the People's Republic was founded, and a college (later upgraded to university status) was established here. But to those who studied at the earlier institution, there remains only one Lingnan University - and it is emphatically not in Hong Kong.

Access to the campus is easy; Sun Yat-sen University has its own station on the Guangzhou Metro system and passenger ferries regularly cross the Pearl River from the terminal on the Bund.