James Wong Chang-ling 王長齡
FROM NAVAL ARCHITECT TO EPISCOPAL BISHOP AND EDUCATOR
By York Lo
THE PIOUS ENGINEER
James Wong (1900-1970), Mandarin pinyin Wang Changling (Class of 1924, Naval Architecture) was born in Yungching prefecture in Hebei province. Wong was exposed to Christianity at an early age as his mother’s side of the family were converted to Christianity before the Boxer Uprising. The priest in Yungching at the time was the influential English missionary Roland Allen, an early advocate of churches being self-supported and self-governed by the indigenous population. Wong received his early education at the Episcopal Church-sponsored Boone Memorial School (predecessor of Central China Normal University) in Wuchang. Allegedly he had contemplated studying theology to become a priest, but Francis Lushington Norris, the Anglican Bishop of North China at the time actually encouraged the scientifically gifted Wong to pursue engineering. As a Boxer Indemnity scholar, Wong studied at Tsinghua before coming to MIT to study naval architecture and marine engineering. Outside of his studies, Wong was a bible reader at a local Episcopal Church.
After graduating in 1924 with a B.S. in Naval Architecture, Wong first worked for Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation and General Electric Corporation (UK). He then joined the large British shipping firm of Alfred Holt & Co. (operating as the Blue Funnel Line), for whom he worked in Belfast, Liverpool, Australia, and Hong Kong until his retirement in 1956. Most of his career as a naval architect was spent in Hong Kong where he became the first Chinese Superintending Engineer of the Blue Funnel Line and was in charge of Holt’s Wharf, a large shipping terminal in the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront near the Kowloon-Canton railway terminus (since re-developed as the New World Centre complex). In 1953-54, Wong served as president of the Engineering Society of Hong Kong (renamed HK Institution of Engineers in 1975), the first Chinese to do so since the Society’s founding in 1947. Two of his three sons also became engineers.
Outside of his engineering work in Hong Kong, the pious Wong spent most of his time serving the Sheng Kung Hui (Chinese name of the Anglican/Episcopal Church in Hong Kong). Upon his arrival in Hong Kong in the early 1930s, he became a member of the St. Peter’s Club which operated the St. Peter’s Church. When the HK government claimed the site of St. Peter’s Church to build the Sai Ying Pun Police Station in 1933, Wong was a member of the Building Committee to erect Christ Church (基督堂) in Kowloon Tong where it still stands today.
Very shortly after the completion of Christ Church, the Sino-Japanese War began and many Chinese Christians from mainland cities such as Shanghai moved to Hong Kong. Since many of these newcomers did not speak English or Cantonese, Wong organized a Sunday service in Mandarin at Christ Church after the English service was over. To deal with the shortage of clergymen, the Sheng Kung Hui passed a special canon in 1938 which allowed volunteers from secular vocations to be ordained as part of the clergy, and Wong was first made a deacon in 1938 and then a priest in 1940. After the War, the Mandarin congregation at Christ Church evolved into the Church of the Good Shepherd (牧愛堂) in Hunghom which opened in 1955 and Wong was the first priest-in-charge.
BISHOP AND FOUNDER OF SCHOOLS AND UNIVERSITIES
In 1956, Wong retired from his secular career and began his full-time religious career. The post-war population boom in Hong Kong created significant demand for educational services and the Sheng Kung Hui under the leadership of Bishop Ronald Hall stepped up to fill the void. In 1946, Wong helped the Church to start the Hong Kong Sea School in Stanley to prepare children of poor families and orphans for careers as sailors, and he served as the school’s founding chairman. In 1957, the Church-sponsored Chung Chi College (formed in 1951 as a continuation of the Christian colleges on the mainland) joined force with two other tertiary education institutions in HK -- New Asia College and United College -- to form the Chinese Colleges Joint Council, to which Wong was appointed Executive Secretary. At the Joint Council, Wong played a crucial role in laying the foundation for the eventual merger of the three schools in 1963 to form the Chinese University of Hong Kong, the second university in the colony. Wong continued to move up the clergy ladder and in February 1960, he was consecrated as the Assistant Bishop of Borneo. In 1962, he was promoted to Bishop, becoming the first Bishop in the Anglican Communion to come out of the background of the voluntary priesthood.
In January 1965, Wong was elected the first Chinese Bishop of Taiwan at the St. Louis General Convention. As the head of the 2000-member church on the island, his jurisdiction included 11 parishes and missions, 11 clergymen and three women workers. Later the same year, he was also elected Chairman of the House of Bishops of the Council of Churches of Southeast Asia, the highest ranking position of the Anglican Episcopal Church in Southeast Asia.
In Taiwan, Wong was active in building schools for the Church, which included St. Paul’s Kindergarten in Kaohsiung, St. John’s Kindergarten in Taipei, the Good Shepherd Kindergarten in Shilin, the St. Michael Home in Tainan and St. Peter’s Student Center in Chiayi. His most ambitious project, however, was the re-establishment of St. John’s University in Taiwan, which was sponsored by a number of active alumni of the original Shanghai St. John’s and its sister school St. Mary’s, including many senior government officials and business leaders in Taiwan. In 1967, the Ministry of Education authorized the school to open as a five-year junior college of industry under the Chinese name of 新埔工業專科學校 after its location in Hsin-pu and the English name St. John’s & St. Mary’s Institute of Technology. Wong as its founding chairman is officially recognized as the school’s founder, while SJU Shanghai alum Vivian Yen of Yulon Motors was its first president. However, the financial and work-related stress during the formative years of the college proved to be too much for Wong and after performing Easter service in Kaohsiung, he suffered a heart attack and collapsed in March 1970. He was hospitalized for a month and unfortunately never recovered and passed away on April 27, 1970 at the age of 70. His funeral at St. John’s Cathedral in Taipei was attended by 300 dignitaries including Presidential Chief of Staff Chang Chun, US Ambassador Walter McConaughy, and Catholic Cardinal Paul Yu Pin. He was survived by his Cantonese wife and their 3 sons and 1 daughter.
In 1972, the first class graduated from St. John’s in Taiwan and Wong was buried in the new School Chapel which was named after him. The school continues to grow to this day and was formally renamed St. John’s University in 2005. During his lifetime, Wong received honorary doctorates from Trinity College in Toronto and Virginia Theological Seminary.
Chan-Yeung, Moira, The Practical Prophet: Bishop Ronald O. Hall of Hong Kong and His Legacies, HKU Press, 2015.
Fragrant Stream, 1959 October