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Historical Figures - ZHONG Rongguang

Last updated :2012-11-10

ZHONG Rongguang, president of the Lingnan College

ZHONG Rongguang (Also named ZHONG Xingke, 1869-1942), a distinguished educationalist, is the first Chinese president of the Lingnan College, one of the predecessors of Sun Yat-sen University. He spent most of his life dedicating to the development of modern education at the Lingnan College, thus referred to as the father of the Lingnan College. He made two major contributions to the development of the Lingnan College: the first was to make the College independent of the American missionary organization, which was a milestone in the historical development of modern education in China, the second was to raise funding from all walks of life both at home and abroad, which made the College the vanguard of indigenous education in our country.

I. The Founding of the Lingnan College

The predecessor of the Lingnan College is ‘Gezhi Shuyuan’, a school founded by foreign missionaries. Mr. Zhong was invited to be the director of Chinese Language in the school in 1899. In July 1900, the school moved to Macao, thereafter renamed as the Lingnan School. In 1904, the school moved back to Kangle village in Guangzhou, where a new campus was built. Mr. Zhong moved his whole family to a temporary wooden house on the campus. Since then, he dedicated most of his energy to the education at the Lingnan College.

In the 1920s, there was a movement of indigenous education in China. Witnessing the foreign invasions in Chinese history, Mr. Zhong was especially enthusiastic about the idea. He said, “How could our students be properly educated by foreigners? How could we hand over the jurisdiction of our homeland to other countries?” His idea was highly praised by all walks of life both at home and abroad. In 1908, he was appointed as the Teaching Director of the school. At that time, he suggested that Chinese education should be provided by indigenous Chinese and we should not totally depend on the donation of foreigners to develop our education. In 1924, Mr. Zhong went to the American continent to raise funding for the Lingnan Agricultural College. In his public speech in Chicago, he also advocated his idea of indigenous education. In June 1926, the Lingnan School held a welcome-back party for Mr. Zhong, who returned from his two-year journey of fund-raising in the American continent. On this occasion, he made another speech to express his ideas. He said, “The reason why I went abroad to raise funding is that we would like to administer the Lingnan Agricultural College by our own resources. Up until now, education in China is still not in its full fledge. So, we have to depend on some foreign resources. However, this is only a measure of expediency. In the long run, we should provide education by our own resources. Indigenous education can be developed in three phases: the first is that indigenous Chinese participates in the administration; the second is that indigenous Chinese held some important administrative duties, with funding partly provided by Chinese; the third is that the education is totally independent of foreign resources.” He suggested that the Lingnan School could be taken back from foreign administration gradually from the Lingnan Agricultural College to the Division of Education and the Division of Business.

Due to his strenuous efforts, in January 1927, the Board of Directors of the Lingnan School came into being. The board appointed him as president of the Lingnan School, Yinglin Li as vice president of the Lingnan School. On 1st August 1927, the newly-organized Board of Directors took back the administration from the old board of directors. At the same time, the school was renamed as the Private Lingnan College, which was the first college taken back from the administration of foreign missionaries. For Mr. Zhong, his dream of many years had come true.

II. The Ten-year College Administration of ZHONG Rongguang

During his ten-year presidency of the Lingnan College, ZHONG Rongguang put his educational ideas into practice, which made the College developing to a great extent. One of the important contributions he made was to offer more courses in a variety of disciplines. The Lingnan College used to have only one division - the Division of Arts and Sciences. During his presidency, Mr. Zhong added 5 more divisions in the area of agriculture, engineering, business, medicine and theology, which made the College one of the most comprehensive colleges in the southern China. Moreover, campus construction also developed substantially during his presidency. In October 1928, the Science Building was built and put into use. In December 1929, the Agriculture Building was also built and put into use, and thereafter the Division of Agriculture established. At the same time, the Building of the Division of Civil Engineering began to be constructed. The completion of the projects of all these buildings signaled that the Lingnan College had developed to a great extent.

ZHONG Rongguang strived to put his educational ideas into practice. He emphasized to study for the sake of application, and he also emphasized that education should base upon social reality in China. The College offered more than 400 courses, most of which accommodate for the need of society.

Given the circumstances in the country, Mr. Zhong put his emphasis on such areas as agriculture, business and medicine, although he himself specializes in palaeography. He believed that agriculture is the most important industry in China and education in this area should be greatly developed. He started to establish the Lingnan Agricultural College. This idea was soon accepted by Duxiu Chen, the director of the Office of Education in Guangdong province, and supported by Mr. Sun Yat-sen and Zhongkai Liao, the then Treasurer of the Military Government. The College educated a cadre of agricultural specialists and professors, and they made great contributions in the Southern China, e.g., improving rice seeds, promoting fine breeds and strains of fruit and vegetables and processing farm products. When the College was taken back from the administration of foreign missionaries, he started to offer diploma courses in agriculture, where students can learn more practical knowledge and put them into practice.

In the area of business education, Mr. Zhong extended the Department of Business Administration to the Division of Business Administration, and he also founded the Business Professional School in Guangzhou, which proved to be very popular. A lot of students came from business families, and they are more than happy to receive education in the area of business administration in order to run their own family business. 

He also developed medical education. Since 1928, he started to take over the administration of Boji Hospital which was founded in 1826. Based on the hospital, in 1936, he founded Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Medical College. The College was made of three departments: Department of Anatomy (including histology and embryology), Department of Physics (including biochemistry), Department of Bacteriology (including parasitology and pathology), Department of Pharmacology and Department of Public Health.

Mr. Zhong was well versed in the learning of both Chinese and western cultures. Manifested in his educational ideas, he put great emphasis on academic exchanges with foreign countries. When he was the Director of the Office of Education in Guangdong province, Mr. Zhong encouraged female students to go abroad for further studies. Moreover, he implemented a program of exchange students with overseas universities, which strengthened the contacts among students in the Lingnan College and from other countries such as the United States, thus strengthening the cultural exchange between China and other countries.

Mr. Zhong had very good personal friendship with Dr. Sun Yat-sen. They were both members of the Xingzhong League, a revolutionary organization. No doubt his educational ideas and college administration had a strong inclination towards revolution and patriotism. He told his students that they should not forget patriotism during their study although the most important task of a student is to study. He invited Dr. Sun Yat-sen to give a speech to encourage the students at the Lingnan College to be ambitious in their career. He suggested the students to undertake serious scientific research in order to serve the people in China. Dr. Sun Yat-sen had very high expectation toward the Lingnan College, and he gave a lot of support to the development of the College. When he was appointed as the Director of the Office of Education in Guangdong province, Mr. Zhong made a lot of efforts to reform the teaching content by establishing the Committee of Textbooks for Primary and Secondary Schools. He also pleaded the local parliament of Guangdong province to allocate the fund of 200,000 yen to select more than 100 students to study in foreign countries such as Germany, US and Japan. Given the high rate of illiteracy in China, he put great emphasis on social education by building libraries of all sizes. He also organized groups of speakers to publicize new culture and scientific knowledge by various means such as photographs, slides, dramas, newspapers and popular books.

III. Fund-raising Activities for the Lingnan College

In the early of the 20th century, the most formidable task of indigenous education in China was fund-raising. ZHONG Rongguang seemed to have exceptional ability in this job. When he was appointed as the Teaching Director of the Lingnan College, he started to raise funding from parents of its students in order to build students’ dormitories and purchase more books and equipments. In 1909, he went to a lot of countries to call on overseas Chinese to send their children back to China to receive indigenous education. His idea of educational patriotism was widely accepted by overseas Chinese people, and he raised substantial amount of money from countries such as Singapore, Vietnam and the United States. In 1917, Mr. Zhong was appointed as vice president of the Lingnan College. Again, he went to the United States to call on overseas Chinese to send their children back to China for further education and donate money for the College. Confronting with the financial difficulties of the College, he asked for the support of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and Qingnan Zhu (the then Governor of Guangdong province). In the fall of 1918, he went to countries such as Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam to raise funding in order to build boarding houses for overseas Chinese students. In the same year, the College started to offer courses for more than 100 overseas Chinese students, which was the first of this kind in China. Due to Mr. Zhong’s efforts, in a couple of years, the College constructed 4 boarding houses and several other buildings such as Zhang Bishi Hall, Zhao Wa Hall, Jia Geng Hall, Ma Yingbiao Reception Hall and the Nursing Building of Mrs. Ma Yingbiao. From 1924-1936, he together with Jiwu Chen, visited Central and Southern American to raise funding for the College. Fortunately, they received donation from the Rockefeller Corporation with the sum of 2316,000 US dollars. As Mr. Zhong said, the Lingnan College was formally established at that time. Because of his efforts, the Lingnan College had one of the finest college campuses in Guangdong province. What is more, it was one of the first colleges which were founded by indigenous Chinese.

IV. Dedication to the Education at the Lingnan College

ZHONG Rongguang was born in the county of Xiangshan (now Zhongshan) on 7th September 1866. He passed the imperial examination both at the county and the provincial level in his early life. He joined several revolutionary organizations such as the Xingzhong League and the United League of China. He also founded some revolutionary newspapers to advocate patriotic thoughts. He dedicated most of his life in the educational venture, especially the Lingnan College. He died in Hong Kong on 7th January 1942.

It was claimed that Mr. Zhong was one of the most famous educationalists in the early of the 20th century. His background was quite similar to that of Yuanpei Cai, the president of Peking University. They both passed the imperial examinations, and they also started to learn foreign languages and natural sciences in their middle age. What is more, they both took part in the democratic revolution led by Dr. Sun Yat-sen.

About his own life, Mr. ZHONG once said, “I have joined the revolution, I have taken on administrative duties, I have gone overseas for further studies. However, the most important thing that I have done in my life is to dedicate all my energy to the education at the Lingnan College.” Just because of his dedication, he made great achievements in Chinese educational history, and he is always remembered by all of us.