PO TING Ip 葉葆定
BRIDGING MIT AND LINGNAN
By York Lo
Po Ting Ip 葉葆定 (1908-2008), Mandarin pinyi Ye Baoding, also known as "Pete" at MIT, was native of Huiyang in Guangdong province. He was the son of IP Kui (葉舉, 1881-1934), an important military figure in Guangdong in the 1920s, who together with his boss, the military governor CHEN Jiongming, first worked with and then against Sun Yat-sen (in fact, IP Kui was the commander in charge of storming Sun’s presidential palace in Canton in 1922). Po Ting Ip was born in Canton on July 10, 1908, and studied at the Diocesan Boys’ School (DBS) in Hong Kong from 1923 to 1929 when the school moved from Bonham Road in HK Island to Mongkok in Kowloon. He was joined in Hong Kong by his father who fled to the colony after he lost to the KMT’s Northern Expedition forces in 1925. His father strongly encouraged him to pursue a career in the private sector instead of following his footsteps into the military or politics, so after his graduation from DBS, he came to America to study mechanical engineering at MIT. While he was at MIT, he served as the manager of the Chinese Students’ Club in 1932, working with President Shih-Heng Chen and Secretary Arthur Moy-Orne. He also switched his major to civil engineering and was a member of MIT's Civil Engineering Society. Upon his graduation in 1934 with a BS in civil engineering, Ip returned to Canton where he worked as a civil engineer.
Ip’s long ties to Lingnan University began when he married Wai-Tsuen Lei (李蕙荃) on Lingnan campus in Canton in 1934. Wai-tsuen, whom he first met in Boston at a fundraiser for China flood relief, was one of the first graduates of Lingnan University in 1928, which just changed its name from Canton Christian College the year before. She and her sister Wai-Hing Lei (李蕙馨) had both studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and taught music at Lingnan. In 1940, they wrote a book which was published in Boston entitled Chop Suey – A Mixture of the Chinese Language, Customs and Culture with LIN Shih-Nge and Gladys Smith to benefit the China Aid program. Wai-Hing’s husband, the renowned Chinese philosophy professor Wing-Tsit Chan (陳榮捷, 1901-1994), was the Dean of Faculty at Lingnan from 1929 to 1936, hence it did not take long before Ip himself was recruited to join the faculty of Lingnan to teach civil engineering.
After World War II, Ip and his wife moved to Hong Kong where he established Hongkong Woodworks & Decorator Ltd (香港造木有限公司), which made wooden furniture and was involved in wood-related construction work. HK Woodworks was a member of the HK Building Contractors’ Association in the 1950s and 60s, an industry group which his MIT classmate and friend Chik-Ho Lam served on the council of. He also started another industrial concern, Chi Keung Manufacturing Co, Ltd. (志強工業製造有限公司), which was incorporated in 1955 and dissolved in 1980 after 25 years of operations.
In addition to his industrial ventures, Ip accumulated substantial wealth through investments in stocks and properties. In fact, he remained an active stock investor in his 90s and he even wrote a 39 page book called Alternics – A Method to Study Stock Price Movement in 1973.
In 1983, the 75-year-old Ip decided to wind down his businesses in Hong Kong and moved to Vancouver with his wife to join their daughter Jean. Instead of slowing down, Ip not only kept busy by tending to his investments but actually took on a highly ambitious international philanthropic cause - to link up his alma mater MIT with his wife’s alma mater Lingnan. After the People’s Republic was formed in 1949, the private Lingnan University was merged into the state run Sun Yat-sen University (hereafter refer to as SYSU) in Guangzhou in 1953. Although Lingnan College was established in Hong Kong in 1967, a number of pre-1949 Lingnan alumni in HK and abroad were keen on re-establishing Lingnan in Guangzhou and thanks to their efforts, Lingnan (University) College was established at SYSU as a school of economics and management in 1988 to train students for the new market economy in China. Ip first became involved when he made his first donation to the Lingnan (University) College Trustees Scholarship at SYSU in 1991. When he learned from Lingnan Chairman James Wu that the school was interested to develop an MBA program, he volunteered to connect the school with the Sloan School of Management at MIT. Thanks to his personal involvement in negotiations and his generous donation of US$2.5 million, the International MBA program at Lingnan was launched in partnership with MIT Sloan in 1998. The next year, he also helped established the China Executive MBA program at Lingnan in association with the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota (where his daughter received her BA in 1965).
When the MBA program needed a home, Ip donated HK$12 million (equivalent of US$1.5 million) for the construction of Ip Po-Ting Hall and when the program outgrew the Hall, he contributed another US$500,000 for the construction of a new MBA building. As honorary chairman and professor of Lingnan (University) College, Ip visited the school multiple times and his wife also donated her life savings as a piano teacher to the construction of faculty housing at Lingnan. In November 2006, the 98-year-old Ip visited Lingnan for the last time to lay the foundation stone for the new MBA building. He earmarked US$1.7 million from his estate to Lingnan, making his total contributions to the school to over HK$70 million (equivalent of US$9 million). His philanthropy went beyond Lingnan as he also contributed generously to schools and a library in his native Huiyang, and in Vancouver, he established scholarships at the University of British Columbia and University of Victoria and made annual contributions to the Victoria General Hospital and Cancer Society. Despite of his multi-millionaire status, Ip lived an extremely frugal life – preferring clothes from discount stores, meager accommodations, cheap meals, and flying economy class, and visitors to his Vancouver home from Lingnan were shocked to find worn-out sofa chairs which he was reluctant to replace. Whatever he made and saved, he contributed most of it to charities, particularly in the cause of advancing education.
Staying active and maintaining a youthful and cheerful outlook definitely contributed to Ip’s longevity in addition to his rigorous exercise routine which involved rising at 4am every morning to practice yoga, which he did for decades starting in 1960. He seldom visited the doctor and even wrote a book on Preventive Medicine later in his life. On January 25, 2008, he passed away peacefully at the Victoria General Hospital in Vancouver at the age of 99.
Fung, Yee-wang and Chan-Yeung, Moira, To Serve and to Lead: History of the Diocesan Boys' School in Hong Kong, Hong Kong University Press, 2009
Handbook of Chinese Students in the USA, 1932
MIT Technique 1934.
Biographical entry in HK Album, 1967
Obituary of Ip Po-ting, Vancouver Sun, Jan 29, 2008
Lingnan’s dedicated webpage to Ip Po-ting http://www.lingnan.net/ybd/