New Asia College was founded in 1949 at a time of extreme adversity by Mr. Ch’ien Mu and other scholars from mainland China. Their objective was to establish an educational institution which combines the essence of the scholarship of the Song and Ming academies and the tutorial system of Western universities. With humanism as its basis, the College also aimed to facilitate cultural exchanges between East and West and to promote peace and well-being of the human race.
New Asia College began as the Asia Evening College of Arts and Commerce. When it was officially opened on 10 October 1949, it did not have a permanent campus, and three classrooms were rented for evening classes at Wah Nam Middle School on Wai Ching Street in Kowloon. The President was Mr .Ch’ien Mu. The courses, taught in three-hour evening sessions, were compulsory for all students, including “General History of China” taught by Mr.Ch’ien Mu, “Introduction to Philosophy” by Mr. Tang Chun-i, “Economics” by Mr. Tchang Pi-kai, and “Politics” by Mr. Tsui Shu-chin. Apart from the classrooms on Wai Ching Street, another flat was rented to accommodate Mr. Ch’ien and the students.
Asia Evening College of Arts and Commerce operated for only half a year when it lost the financial support from Mr. Liu Shang-yi, who tendered his resignation. Fortunately, with the assistance from Mr. Wang Yueh-feng, the College managed to register as a day school with the Education Department, restructured, and changed its name to New Asia College in March 1950. The College then rented the second and the third floors of nos. 61, 63, 65 Kweilin Street in Sham Shui Po as the school premise. The second floor served as offices and dormitories for the staff and students, and the third floor were used as classrooms. Mr. Ch’ien remained as the College President, with Mr. Tang as Registrar, and Mr. Tchang as Comptroller. Under these difficult circumstances New Asia College was born. At the beginning it had six departments, namely Economics, Business, Agriculture, Language and History, Philosophy and Education, and Journalism and Sociology. After the first academic year, the Department of Agriculture was closed down as it was unable to set up an affiliated farm, and the Department of Journalism and Sociology followed suit due to space limitations. Besides their administrative duties, Mr. Ch’ien, Mr. Tang, and Mr. Tchang also took up concurrent posts as Department Chairs of Language and History, Philosophy and Education, and Economics respectively, while Mr. Yang Ju-mei headed the Department of Business.
In its early years, New Asia College was blessed with a teaching team of renowned scholars, including Mr. Ou Tsuin-chen, former Secretary of Higher Education for the Ministry of Education of the Republic of China and student of the famous American philosopher and educator John Dewey, Mr. Yang Ju-mei, who was a household name in Chinese financial circles, calligrapher Tseng K’o-tuan, historian Tso Shun-sheng, oracle bone expert Tung Tso-pin, litterateur Hsia Tsi-an, sinologists Jao Tsung-i and Lo Hsiang-lin and others. The teachers were offered only a modest salary, equivalent to that of a level-2 teacher in a Hong Kong government primary school, and their pay often fell in arrears. Most of the students had fled from the mainland and could not afford to pay tuition fees. Besides regular students, there were also probationary students and auditors. Many students suffered from malnutrition and became sick. At the time the College also took on the responsibility of looking after the students. It offered reduced or free tuition to them and even looked for doctors to care for them when they became sick. The College did not hire any workers, and some students were offered subsidies and free room and board for doing some caretaking work. Many students had to sleep on the roof in the open air. Despite a shortage of resources, the ambition and passion of the College founders never faltered. The New Asia Spirit “Starved is my flesh, Forged is my soul” was laid down in the College anthem back in those days, and was fully reflected in the efforts by the students and teachers at that time. In addition to regular courses, the College also hosted public cultural seminars every Sunday evening. More than 155 seminars were held in four years, all of which were fully packed with enthusiastic audiences. The seminars featured, in addition to the three College founders, a number of prominent professors as speakers, such as Tung Tso-pin, Hsia Tsi-an, Tso Shun-sheng, Frederick Sequier Drake, Jao Tsung-i and many visiting scholars from the West. It was through these seminars that the College of modest beginnings gradually acquired its reputation and prestige.
1950–1953 were the most difficult years for the College. A few months after the first semester started, Mr. Wang Yueh-feng’s business suffered tremendous losses and he could no longer support the College, which soon became financially challenged as tuition fees represented only 20% of the budget. The College adopted what Mr. Tchang Pi-kai described as the spirit of the legendary Wu Xun, who supported education through begging on the street. To raise funds, Mr. Ch’ien went to Taiwan while the teachers agreed to suspend their pay. In the winter of 1950, Mr. Ch’ien met with Chiang Kai-shek, then President of the Republic of China, in Taipei, and he promised to donate a monthly stipend of HK$3,000 to the College from the operating budget of his presidential office. Mr. Tchang and Mr. Tang frequently wrote in local newspapers and donated their royalty payments; Mr. Tchang even pawned his wife’s jewelry to help with the College’s finances.
The New Asia Board of Governors was incorporated on 7 July 1952. Mr. Vermier Y. Chiu, a barrister, was the chairman and legal advisor. In the same year, the Hong Kong Government stipulated that all private schools must register as a “limited company” with the Commerce and Industry Department. However, all the New Asia College staff objected to business registration, as they considered that the College’s goal was education, not financial gain. Mr. Chiu fought for exemption and succeeded after a year of negotiation with the Government—the College was duly recognized as an educational enterprise and a nonprofit private school.
Since 1952, the College’s educational ideals started to gain support, and sponsorship began to roll in from different sources. The Yale-in-China Association was the most important patron in the early days. In 1953, it sent Dr. Harry R. Rudin to Hong Kong as its representative. As he fervently embraced the College’s educational goals, the Yale-in-China Association and the College began their cooperation in 1954. The College also received supports from other educational institutions and foundations, notably the Asia Foundation, the Harvard-Yenching Institute, the Rockefeller Foundation, the British Council and the Mencius Foundation. With all these supports coming in, the College set up the Institute of Advanced Chinese Studies on Prince Edward Road in the autumn of 1953 and started to build up its library collection. In the following year, the College rented another premise on Grampian Road in Kowloon City in addition to the Kweilin Street flats. Thanks to the support of the Ford Foundation, a new campus was built on Farm Road. The first phase was finished in September 1956, and this development turned a new page in the history of the College. The second phase, wholly sponsored by the Yale-in-China Association, was completed in November 1960. With the completion of the second phase, a new Faculty of Science was established. The third phase, financed by the Hong Kong Government, was finished in April 1963, and it equipped the College with its first auditorium.
In 1959, the College accepted a proposal from the Hong Kong Government to become a post-secondary institution. It also started receiving government subsidies and participated in the Joint Certificate of Education Examination. In 1963, The Chinese University of Hong Kong was founded. Together with Chung Chi College and United College, New Asia College became one of the constituent colleges ofThe Chinese University of Hong Kong and moved to its present campus in Shatin in 1973.
Since moving to Shatin, New Asia College has been carrying on its tradition of organizing academic and cultural activities every year to promote cultural development, including the Ch’ien Mu Lecture in History and Culture, the Yu Ying-Shih Lecture in History, the Hui Yeung Shing Exchange Programme in Fine Arts, the United Asia Finance Visiting Scholars Programme, and the New Asia S. Y. Chung Visiting Fellows Programme.
The first College publication New Asia College Journal was published in June 1952, and in May 1958, it was replaced by the biweekly New Asia Life, which then became a monthly in 1973. New Asia Life, a mirror of life at the College, has over fifty years of history, featuring important speeches, articles by teachers and students, reports on school events and the activities of college members. In addition to New Asia Life, nineteen issues of New Asia College Academic Annual were published between 1959 and 1977; it was renamed New Asia College Academic Bulletin in 1978. Other College publications include the monograph series of Ch’ien Mu Lectures in History and Culture and books on various subjects.
Extracurricular activities are organized by the Student Union and other student societies. The College subsidizes the activities and the student societies run by them, they include the New Asia College Chinese Music Society (founded in 1963) and the New Asia College Martial Arts Society (founded in 1979). The number of students has increased from 42 in 1949 to the present 3,000, which is a good indication of the development of New Asia College over the past decades.