Wu, Yee-sun

Degree conferred: Doctor of Letters (D.Litt.)

Orator: Rowan, Donald F.

to be Doctor of Letters

The man whom we honour today is a man of outstanding personal distinction, high worth, and great achievements. More than fifty years ago he founded the Wing Lung Bank, a bank which today has more than seven billion dollars in assets, more than a thousand employees, and many branches. Yee-sun Wu is thus a wealthy man, but his riches must be counted not only in gold, for, perhaps, his most precious riches are the loving respect and deep veneration with which he is held by his family, and by all who have come to know this remarkable man. Still others revere and honour him as an artist of consummate skill, extraordinary patience, and penetrating vision, who, in mastering the high art of Penjing, has mastered himself. He is the world’s greatest authority on the Lignan School of Penjing, and the creator of some of the world’s finest examples of this enduring and demanding art. His grandfather was a founder of the Lignan School, and both he and Yee-sun Wu’s father were teachers of the young man who followed so brilliantly in their pioneering footsteps, a man who today has more than discharged his debt to them by becoming a great teacher himself, and a man whose deepest wish is to share his knowledge and enjoyment of these wondrous creations with as many people as possible.

The Latin language with which we dignify this festive occasion speaks to us of the roots of Western civilization and culture in the Rome of two thousand years ago. We use it today to reach out to an eastern culture and civilization which was ancient when Rome had its beginnings. Thousand of years ago in China man was cultivating landscape gardens, living in harmony with “great creating Nature,” working as one with the forces of life to fashion a place of perfection where he could escape from the “Web of the Earth’s Dust,” a magic and metaphysical garden with “Heaven, Earth and Man in Harmony.” The art of Penjing is the art of creating a garden in little, the art of seeing a “World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower.” These perfect trees are products of loving patience, dedicated skill, and great knowledge, and in themselves symbolize man’s noble and special gift of working with Nature to achieve something more than Nature, a place of the spirit into which man’s spirit can escape, a heaven on earth…
Annihilating all that’s made
To a green though in a green shade.
In making Yee-sun Wu a Doctor of our University today, we seek to make him one of our very own, and in doing so we honour him; but we also seek to honour other alumni of our University, the loyal graduates who live in Hong Kong and who have built and fostered the strong and enduring ties that bind us closely together in spirit and aspirations, although we live and work thousands of miles apart. The enduring strength of the University lies in the strength of the many men and women who are its sons and daughters.

We are also reminded that the original meaning of the word “Doctor” is found in its Latin root, which means “to teach,” and those of us who carry this high title welcome into our company a noble teacher. To teach is to share, to give of one’s knowledge and self so that others many “know.” Yee-sun Wu is a man of great generosity whose life has been marked by his gifts to others, and by his recognition that education is the process by which the learning, knowledge, and wisdom of an older generation are passed on to its children. The world is blessed in such a man as he, but we in Canada are particularly fortunate, for Yee-sun Wu has long been one with us in spirit. He has written:
Most of my children and their spouses
received and completed their higher education
in Canada. In the past, when I was
in better health, I would travel to Canada
and the United States every year, and Canada
may be regarded as my second home country.

Canada has been immensely enriched by his esteem and his wisdom. Our own University has been honoured with his generosity, and his gift of nearly fifty of his potted trees to the Montreal Botanical Garden has made Montreal the home of the finest collection of Penjing and Bonsai outside of Asia. His wish to share his love for, and his unmatched knowledge of “potted plants” was reflected in 1969 by the publishing of his book, Man Lung Garden Artistic Pot Plants. Ten thousand copies of this book were sent free to the “leading libraries, universities, bonsai clubs and societies, and other lovers of the art throughout the world.” A second, revised and enlarged, edition of this definitive work is now available to the many who seek it on payment of a donation, large or small, to the “Wu Yee-sun Education Fund” established at the “Hong Kong Baptist College.” In the linking of his respect for education and his love for “penjing” the greatness of this man is epitomized.

We of the Western world have much to learn from China and her culture, not least, perhaps, that small can be beautiful. In the sweet perfection of his art the nobility of this man shines with great clarity:
In small proportions we just beauty see,
And in short measures life may perfect be.
In closing, I should like to try to express my admiration for this gifted and generous man in his own language. Although my accent and pronunciation may be false, my thoughts and feelings are true.
Kiao sou tien gon.
God must have worked with the hands of the
man who can create such a wonder.

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