1904  — 1978

Luo Xianglin

Lo Hsiang-lin , 羅香林

Well-known historian and educator in Hong Kong in 20th century. He was also a famous church leader of Hong Kong Tsung Tsin Mission, and an Elder of Tsung Kyam Church.

Short Biography

Professor Lo Hsiang-lin, alias Yuän-i (Yuan-yi , 元一) and I-t’ang (Yi-tang, 乙堂), was born in Ning Hsin (Ningxin) Town, Hsing Ning (Xingning) County, Kwangtung (Guangdong) Province (廣東興寧寧新鎮), of Hakka decent. His father, Lo Shih-yang (Luo Shiyang羅師揚), alias Yu-shan (You-shan, 幼山), Hsi-shan (Xishan) Old Man (希山老人), had contributed a lot to his home county in starting new schools and in involvement in government. According to the “Genealogy of the Lo Clan of Hsing Ning East Gate (興寧東門羅氏族譜) compiled by him, his son Hsiang-lin was born on the eleventh day of the ninth month of the 30th year of Emperor Kuang Hsü (Guangxu, 光緒, i.e. 1904) . The last name of Professor Lo’s mother was Téng (Deng, 鄧), and he had four brothers and two sisters. All his schooling up to high school took place in his home town. Then in the summer of 1924, he went to Shanghai for further studies. In the Fall of 1926, he was enrolled at the Tsing Hua University (清華大學) in Peking (Beijing), majoring in history and social anthropology. Upon graduation from Tsing Hua University in 1930, he entered its graduate school (清華大學研究院) as well as Yenching University’s Research Institute of Ancient Chinese culture (燕京大學國學研究院). In January 1932, he was commissioned by the Yenching Research Institute to study the ethnic groups of East Kwangtung. In October of the same year, he accepted the offer from the National Sun Yat-sen University to be the secretary of the president of the University as well as an editor of the Kwangtung General Annals Institute (廣東通志館纂修).

Subsequent to the good reception of his book Introduction to the Study of Hakka (客家研究導論) published at the end of 1933, during the following Spring he became Associate Professor at Sun Yat-sen University, teaching the study of local chronicles (方志). In the Fall of the same year, he became a lecturer in the History Department of National Central University (中央大學) in Nanking (Nanjing) as well as a member of the Central Government’s Committee on the Preservation of Antiques (中央古物保管委員會 ). In March 1935, he married Miss Chu (Zhu)Tan (朱倓), daughter of Professor Chu Hsi-tsu (Zhu Xizu, 朱希祖) in Nanking. He also taught part-time at the Shanghai Chi Nan (Jinan) University (暨南大學). In August 1936, he answered a call from the mayor of Canton (Guangzhou) to be the director of the Municipal Sun Yat-sen Library (中山圖書館). At the same time, he taught at the Sun Yat-sen University as an associate professor. In the Fall of 1938, with the Japanese army pressing southwards, Professor Lo and his wife packed and shipped to Kwang Si (Guangxi) province the rare books and important monographs of the Sun Yat-Sen Library. Later on, following the order of the Kwangtung Provincial Government to temporarily loan the collection for use by the Provincial College of Arts and Science, Professor Lo was relieved of his involvement with the Sun Yat-sen Library. In the Spring of 1939, with the relocation of the Sun Yat-sen University to Ch‘êng Chiang (Chengjiang, 澂江) in Yün Nan (Yuannan, 雲南), Professor Lo also went there to teach in the History Department. In August of the following year, the University moved to the northern part of Kwangtung. In the Winter of 1941, Professor Lo answered a call to work for the National Central Government as well as teaching at the Central Political Science University (中央政治大學) in Chungking (Chongqing, 重慶). After the close of the Sino-Japanese war in 1945, he was commissioned to be a committee member of the Kwangtung provincial government and the President of the Provincial College of Arts and Science (文理學院). In September 1947, he resigned from all positions related to the government and concentrated on teaching at Sun Yat-sen University.

In July 1949, Professor Lo resigned from his professorship at Sun Yat-sen University and moved the whole family to Hong Kong. At first, he taught in private post-secondary schools; later on he was hired as a lecturer of the University of Hong Kong in September 1952. In 1964, he became the head of the Chinese Department of the University as well as Director of the Institute of Oriental Studies (which was later changed to Centre of Asiatic studies). In the following year, he was made Chair Professor of the Chinese Department of the University. In 1968, upon his retirement, he was made Professor Emeritus of the University. In the same year, he was invited by Chu Hai (Zhu Hai) College (珠海書院) to be the director of a new Research Institute of Chinese Literature and History (文史硏究所). He devoted himself whole-heartedly to the new job and developed various academic programs.

At the beginning of May 1977, his wife Tan suffered a stroke, resulting in hemiparesis. In the middle of April the ensuing year, Professor Lo lapsed into a coma because of liver cirrhosis. He passed away in Kowloon Baptist Hospital on April 20. He was survived by his wife (Tan), three sons (Wen [文], Wu [武], Hong [康]) and one daughter (Yue [瑜]).

His conversion to Christianity

Professor Lo’s given name “Hsiang-lin” (香林) came from Buddhist Parināma literature (回向文), and connotes deliverance from suffering and salvation of all sentient beings. It is obvious that his father was inclined towards Buddhism and was buried with Chinese traditional funeral rites. This being the case, what caused Professor Lo, his wife, his third son Hong and daughter Yue to openly profess to be Christians and be baptized on January 28th, 1951 in Fanling Tsung Kyam Church?

According to the recollection of his son Hong, Professor Lo earlier had mentioned that when the ship he was on nearly capsized at sea near Shanghai, he was greatly impressed that his fellow passengers knelt down and prayed. Furthermore, etched in his memory was the recollection that when he was alone in Canton, he was unharmed in his residence while all his neighbors on the same street suffered casualties as two buildings across the street were targeted by huge Japanese bombs. (He was alone because he had earlier escorted his expectant wife to his home town Hsing Ning and then came back to Canton to take care of matters related to the Sun Yat-sen Library). His conclusion at that time was: “I was spared; perhaps God was protecting me providentially.” Likewise, his wife commented, after they were bombarded by machine guns and bombs in Kuei Ping (Guiping, Guangxi, 廣西桂平), that “[i]f not for the protection by God, we would all have been reduced to ashes”.

Of course, even if Professor Lo believed that there was divine protection over him, such a belief may not necessarily lead him to embrace Christianity. Other causes were certainly at work, one of which was perhaps his respect for foreign missionaries. In the book Introduction to the Study of Hakka (客家硏究導論) published in December 1933, he commended the article “The Origin of Hakka and Its Migration” (客家源流與遷移), written by George Campbell and translated into Chinese by Chung Lu-ch‘i (Zhong Lu-qi , 鍾魯齊), as well as the French-Hakka Dictionary (客法辭典)and English-Hakka Dictionary (客英辭典) compiled by missionaries Charles Rey and D. Maciver respectively. In a later work The Origin of Hakka published in December 1952, he specifically mentioned that George Campbell had been spreading Christianity among the Hakka people for many years and that Campbell’s observations were true and accurate.

Furthermore, in his book Introduction to the Study of Hakka, Professor Lo emphasized the impact of Christianity on Chinese thinking and customs. For example, in his discussion on the third cause of the Taiping Revolution, he singled out in particular “the introduction of Western religion’s ideas of freedom and equality”. He also clearly stated the Christian connections of Hung Hsiu-ch‘üan (Hong Xiu-quan, 洪秀全) and Yang Hsiu-ch‘ing (Yang Xiu-qing, 楊秀清). In addition, he briefly summarized the long-term effect of the Taiping Revolution as follows: “Without the Taiping Movement, there might not have been the birth of the Republic of China.”

Professor Lo’s goodwill towards Christianity and Christians needed to be reconciled with his deep understanding of, and insights on, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. On a long bus journey to Ch‘êng Chiang (Chengjiang, 澂江) to resume his professorial duties at the Sun Yat-sen University, he mulled over in his mind the Buddhist concept of “breaking obsession” (破執). He reasoned with himself that “this concept entails being obsessed with breaking obsessions; and using an obsession to break obsessions would result in endless obsessions”. It seemed that at that time, he had not found the ultimate answer to the enigma of life.

In July 1949, Professor Lo and his whole family moved to Hong Kong. In winter that year, he led his family to visit Tao Fong Shan (Dao Feng Shan) Christian Centre (道風山基督教叢林) in Shatin. On an inscription across the lecture hall, he saw the Song of Tao Fong (Logos Wind) (道風歌) with the following words:

“Tao Fong, Tao Fong, eternal life in you dwelling; You fill the universe, to all things life giving. Blow, Tao Fong, blow away human filth and vanity. Blow, Tao Fong, blow so that every lotus flower would bloom, To usher in a world of ‘Universal Community’ (大同).”

By the side hanged a long couplet:

“Mighty is Tao Fong, blowing through Europe, America, Asia, and Australia, to nurture all beings to right understanding.
Christ is the light, shining upon Buddhism, Islam, Confucianism, and Taoism, to remove biased views and witness to true reality (Tathata, 真如).”

On that day, Professor Lo was impressed by the wonderful wording and meaning of the Tao Fong Song of the Centre established to convert Buddhists to Christ. Apparently he already perceived that human sin needed the intervention of God (Tao Fong) and that Christianity could preside over all faiths and usher in a universal community. In December that year, the whole family moved to Luen Wo Market, Fanling (粉嶺聯和墟). After settling down, as was his custom, he began visiting the Hakka-speaking Tsung Kyam Church (崇謙堂) in neighboring Tsung Kyam Tong Village (崇謙堂村), and became acquainted with Rev. Man Fook-Sun (Wan Fu-xin, 萬福新牧師) there. In the following Spring, he started going to the church for worship services. In due course, he understood the true meaning of the gospel. On January 28 of 1951, he was baptized by Rev. Man and became a member of the Tsung Kyam church.

Ministry and Witness outside the family after believing in Christ

1. Ministry with Tsung Tsin Mission (Chong Zhen Church)

After receiving baptism, Professor and Mrs. Lo would go back on time to the Fanling Tsung Kyam Church for worship every Sunday and on festivals, irrespective of the weather and wherever they resided.

Since 1954, Professor Lo served as a trustee and vice-chairman of the Trustees Board. In October, 1955 he was elected as an elder of the church and, together with three other elders and the pastor, shouldered pastoral responsibilities. In March, 1957, he was elected supervisor of the Kindergarten of the church.

In addition, for a while Professor Lo was the head of the education department of the entire Hong Kong Tsung Tsin Mission (崇真會), with the charge to promote education and help the younger generation. In April 1970, he became the vice president of the Tsung Tsin Mission. In December of 1977, he was appointed its president. In March 1974, he did the title calligraphy of the publication A Brief History of the Hong Kong Tsung Tsin Mission (基督教香港祟真會史略 ) as well as penning the preface and the article titled “A Short History of Fanling Tsung Kyam Church” (粉嶺崇謙堂簡史).

2. Involvement in Churches at large

During his tenure as Vice President of the Tsung Tsin Mission, he represented the denomination on a voluntary basis to attend planning meetings of the “Hong Kong Christian Council” (香港基督教協進會) and also at the Divinity School of Chung Chi College (崇基神學院). In addition, he was actively involved in the education work of the Lutheran denomination in planning the establishment of the Lutheran College in Hong Kong (信義宗書院). He also did the calligraphy for the foundation stone of the Hong Kong Rhenish Church.

Furthermore, from October 5 through October 8, 1973, Professor Lo attended the World Christian Assembly in Taipei (全球基督徒大會). During his talk in the evening of October 8, he underscored the contributions of several generations of the Wang family of Dongguan (東莞) towards the promotion of religion and culture in Hong Kong, mentioning in particular that Dr. Wang Chung-hui (Wang Chong-hui, 王寵惠), the famous Minister of Foreign Affairs grew up in a Christian family.

3. Witness outside the church

After he became a Christian, he did not cut off his loyalty and love towards the Chinese nation, together with its history, culture, people, clans, and especially the Hakka people. This is clearly evidenced by the 127 individuals and 54 organizations that formed the funeral-organizing committee; the latter roughly fall into the following categories: educational and cultural entities, local associations, clan organizations and churches. His good witness among the various organizations could be gleaned from the list.

As is well known, Professor Lo did not repudiate other religions. Yet in his speech and conduct he clearly expressed his Christian beliefs. For example, in his elegiac tribute to Mr. Wu T‘ieh Ch‘êng (Wu Tie-cheng, 吳鐵城) in November 1953, he explicitly quoted Apostle Paul’s words (II Timothy 4:6-8). In the classical-style poem presented to Professor Francis Drake at his retirement, Professor Lo described him as “faithfully serving Shang-ti (上帝), teaching and preaching … throughout his years in China, combining the best of East and West, conjoining Confucianism with Christianity…”

Academically, Professor Lo had published more than 60 monographs and approximately 300 articles, including discussions on the history of various religions (such as Confucianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, and Chin Kong Religion [Zhen Kong Jiao, 真空教]). Yet, after his conversion to Christianity, his writings were infused with Christian elements, to magnify contributions made by Christians. The following examples may illustrate the point. Prior to his conversion, Professor Lo was already known for his research on the history of T’ang Dynasty and modern history. Thus his publications included the internationally renowned book Nestorianism in the T’ang and Yuan Dynasties (唐元二代之景教) and his two famous books on Dr. Sun Yat-sen (on the origin of the Sun family and on his student days at Hong Kong Medical College). After his move to Hong Kong, Professor Lo’s publications in the 60’s touched upon Dr. Sun’s relationship with Christianity and the church. In his book The Role of Hong Kong in the Cultural Exchange between East and West (香港與中西文化之交流), he clarified how the Western missionary James Legge was able to translate Chinese classics into English with the help of his assistant Wang T‘ao (Wang Tao, 王韜 ), how Wang T‘ao promoted Western ideas as a means for strengthening China (洋務自強), and how Yung Hung (Rong Hong, 容閎) who had received Christian education promoted his plan for improving education in China, etc. Professor Lo also did not forget preserving the cultural heritage of his home county. In the ten-volumed Collected Works of Former Sages of Hsing-ning County (興寧先賢叢書 ) , he included a piece by a minister of the Basel Mission, Pastor Chang Chi-tsu (Zhang Ji-zu, 張基祖 ) on “Proverbs and Maxims in Rhyme” (諺語格言韻编 ). In Chapter 8 of the book History of Chinese People (中國民族史), after describing the origin of primitive Chinese religion, Taoism, Buddhism, and Islam, he described accurately the origin of Christianity as well as its tenets of faith, its introduction to China, and its development. He concluded by saying, “With love at its core, Christianity has the potential to spread to all the peoples of this world … Christianity will certainly advance further in China…” In his book A Study of Chinese Genealogies (中國族譜研究), he devoted a special chapter discussing the contribution of various clans to the spread of Lutheran and Congregational denominations as well as their relationship with the development of Chinese culture, based on the genealogical accounts of six different last names in five locations of Kwantung.

Apart from academic writings, Professor Lo’s teaching and guidance had left an indelible example and impact on his students. Among his Christian students, later on some became teachers at universities, others were high school principals, and some were pastors as well as researchers in history.

In addition to helping the younger generation and corresponding with scholars worldwide, in the early 1950’s, Professor Lo together with other friends obtained funding from an American church and established a relief fund to help refugee Chinese scholars who were formerly teachers of post-secondary colleges in China.

As previously mentioned, Professor Lo also loved his clansmen dearly. In the mid 1960’s, the Hong Kong Lo (Luo) Clan Association planned to build a Yu Chang (Yu-zhang) Lo Clan Ancestral Shrine (memorial hall, 豫章羅氏宗祠) and asked Professor Lo to draft a short article for the purpose of fundraising. In 1971, the Shrine was built in Pat Heung, Wang Toi Shan, New Territories (新界八鄉橫台山), with a memorial stone stele bearing an inscription written by Professor Lo. This Shrine provided the usual setup of ancestral tablets (神主牌 ) with names of ancestors inscribed on them, so that descendants of the Lo clan may use traditional rites with incense burning to pay homage to their ancestors . In addition, a side hall (宗教堂, religious hall), decorated with a huge cross and a flower vase on a table, was reserved for Christians to remember and pay respect to their ancestors. On May 9 1972, during the opening ceremony of the Memorial Hall, Professor Lo officiated at the ribbon-cutting of its Religious Hall, as an honorary trustee of the clan association. Later on, Professor Lo’s name and the names of his children were inscribed in this hall as well. This arrangement exemplified Professor Lo’s efforts to contextualize Christianity in a Chinese setting.

Ministry and witness to family

After the death of Professor Lo, Li Huang (李璜), a historian who had been his colleague at the Chu Hai Research Institute for almost ten years, remarked that “[i]n one word, Professor Lo was a chun-tzu (jun-zi, 君子, gentleman).” The Lo family agreed with this assessment whole-heartedly.

Professor Lo showed his filial love towards his father by compiling the Chronicle of Lo Shi-yang’s Life (羅師楊年譜) and by publishing the Collected Works of Hsi-shan (希山叢書). He showed his great respect toward his father-in-law by compiling the Collected Literary Works of Chu Hsi-tsu (朱希祖文集). His love towards his wife never changed after more than forty years of marriage, as they treated each other with mutual respect Thus he extolled her virtues and she told her daughter that he was a good husband. During the time when Mrs. Lo suffered from hemiplegia, he would personally oversee her care even though there was a domestic helper. When he was hospitalized because of ankle edema, he cried while he was asking about the condition of his wife at home. (The only other time when he cried before his daughter was on hearing the death of his fourth older brother back in their home town).

In general, Mrs. Lo was responsible for the oversight of most of the household chores as well as the care and supervision of their children while the cultivation of their faith depended on their participation in church activities. But in matters regarding the choice of schools and fields of study, Professor Lo would express his opinion and would sometimes accompany them to the school(s), but he would not force his views on them. Sometimes he would allow his children to participate in his work or research, such as acting as his part-time secretary to translate documents or letters. After their graduation from University, all three sons were given the opportunity to accompany him to academic meetings in various places. Apart from his love for his children, he also took care of two grand-nephews who came to Hong Kong from his town Hsing-ning. Meanwhile Mrs. Lo sent on a regular basis money, rice, sugar, cooking oil, clothing, and medicine to relatives in mainland China, during the years of severe hardship there so that they might survive.

In addition, Professor Lo often taught others during casual conversation. Thus when family members gathered around the dinner table, he would pass on his knowledge and influence through telling jokes, stories and facts. Annually during Chinese New Year, his children would help their parents entertain an ongoing stream of visitors—students, relatives and friends. During such times, Professor Lo was always engaging and pleasant.

It seemed that Professor Lo never used Bible verses to teach his children. Yet his faith was genuine. Apart from participation in worship services, he and Mrs. Lo would lead their children in family worship at the end of the year to count God’s blessings. He prayed before every meal and before his afternoon siesta. He told his family that during the time when he was Professor of the Chinese Department of the University of Hong Kong, a position that required him to handle taxing and tedious business, he frequently prayed before making decisions, so as to leave his burdens with God.

In mid April 1978, while Professor Lo was in a coma in the hospital, Rev. Tong Shiu Ling (Tang Zhao-ling湯兆靈牧師) came to read Bible verses to him loudly in the Hakka dialect. When the reading came to “even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me,” he nodded his head and made a noise in his throat, as if to show his consent or thankfulness. In the last moments of his earthly life, while his third son Hong and daughter Yue were praying with tears in their eyes, a hymn “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” came to Yue’s mind. As they sang this hymn, they witnessed the end of their father’s journey on earth as a Christian, ready to be received into the bosom of the Lord.

More than 1200 people gathered at 2:00 PM on April 29, 1978 at the funeral service for Professor Lo Hsiang-lin (Luo Xianglin, 羅香林) held at Waterloo Road Truth Lutheran Church (信義會真理堂) in Hong Kong. Among the many banners bearing elegiac couplets that filled the sanctuary, one elegiac screen stood out in the front bearing four Chinese characters “績學貽徽” (‘Ji Xue Yi Hui’ —- Learned and Exemplary ) written by the then president of Taiwan, Mr. Yen Chia-kan (Yan Jia-gan,嚴家淦總統). During the service, Dr. Yung Chi Tung (Rong Qi-dong, 容啟東), permanent honorary president of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, read the biography. All these pointed to the high esteem held by numerous people towards Professor Lo and his many contributions. The other items on the program were mostly conducted by members of the Hong Kong Tsung Tsin (Chong Zhen) Mission . Moreover, following the funeral service, internment after a Christian ceremony was held at the cemetery of the Fanling Tsung Kyam (Chong Qian) Church (崇謙堂墳場) .

The following words, written about a year after the death of Professor Lo by his third son, represented the sentiment of the whole family: “He has left behind an example on how to conduct oneself in society, do scholarly research, love the family, and be faithful to God, an example that will forever be remembered by his children, grandchildren, and children-in-law. We cannot say that he was a perfect man, yet we know he had used all his strength to love his God, country, family, friends and students in his life.”

Author: Esther Yue Lo Ng, Daughter of Lo Hsiang-lin. She was professor of Christian Witness Theological Seminary. She is still teaching at CWTS as a visiting professor.


Translators: James Lo and Esther Yue Lo Ng


  • Please see the Chinese version of this article.

About the Author

Esther Yue Lo Ng

Daughter of Luo Xianglin (Lo Hsiang-lin). She was professor of Christian Witness Theological Seminary. She is still teaching at CWTS as a visiting professor.