MU Connect issue 7 (page 10 to 11)

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Chair Professor of Humanities fosters humanistic values through informal education

At the beginning of this academic year, the School of Arts and Social Sciences launched a film screening series called Film and Life, showing classics from different periods and regions, from Three Colours: Blue, The Battle of Algiers and Drift to Running on Karma, on campus. The post-screening talks have often featured big names in the industry, including renowned directors Wai Ka-fai and Anthony Chen, as well as many notable film critics, drawing enthusiastic students to pack the screening halls. Surely, it took an organiser of high standing to bring in these important guests. She is Prof. Eva Man Kit-wah, who joined the School as Chair Professor of Humanities in March 2023.

Socratic teaching

Prof. Man lights up at the mention of the Film and Life Series. “The students are all very eager to learn and ask questions. Some of them wouldn't want to leave,” she says. “We had six sessions scheduled for each term, and they asked for more. I asked them to move the Dean with their attendance.” Throughout her four decades in education, Prof. Man has built strong bonds with her students, whom she enjoys interacting with, and has developed her own teaching philosophy. “True education must be based on interpersonal relationships. I believe teachers and students should interact on equal footing. Rather than teaching them, I'd rather say our role is to inspire our students,” she enunciates. “If they trust you, they'll discuss real issues with you. I found it rather easy to enter into deep conversations with my students perhaps because I taught philosophy.” Her favourite format of lessons is seminars, in which she can engage students in a Socratic dialogue.

Joining HKMU as a Chair Professor means taking a step back from frontline teaching, but Prof. Man is happy to continue implementing her educational philosophy in informal classes. The Film and Life Series was born out of an invitation by Dean Prof. Charles Kwong Chi-leung, who, hoping to tap into her resources as the as the former Director of an Academy of Film and a scholar in philosophy, asked her to conceive a programme integrating her two fields of expertise. “Many classic films are excellent teaching materials. They depict authentic life situations and experiences that make them societies in miniature,” expresses Prof. Man.

Building ties and strengthening HKMU's “equilibrium”

As Chair Professor, Prof. Man has been charged with two major roles: directing special projects and supporting the enhancement of the University's research work. In terms of research, she continues to work on aesthetics, with her current main project investigating whether the Confucian aesthetic tradition is preserved in the speeches on art and literature by Chairman Mao Zedong and President Xi Jinping. While she welcomes young researchers to discuss their research projects with her, she has no intention of imposing her academic discipline on HKMU at all. “When we join a community, we must not upset its existing culture. It's important to respect its current equilibrium,” she explains. She deems herself a “connector”, expanding the University's ties based on its established foundation. She is helping the University organise a large-scale international conference, for which renowned speakers will be invited to explore issues related to the Chinese diaspora. She also plans to invite well-known film directors to join the School's Artists-in-Residence programme. In response to the Dean's expectation of more philosophy-related activities, she is looking at promoting debate and TED talks at the University to stimulate thinking and discussion.  

In addition to offering practical, professional programmes, HKMU also emphasises whole-person development. This is in sync with Prof. Man's philosophy. “The idea of university must go beyond vocational training, or it'll be no different from a vocational training institute,” says Prof. Man. “In fact, we shouldn't be too utilitarian even for applied subjects. While we must provide students with adequate professional training, we must also allow them enough room to change.” She adds that many successful directors did not make a name until almost a decade in the industry, and she has witnessed humanities students end up being CEOs in the financial sector. In the diverse 21st century, general education is particularly important in helping students develop an open mind, so that they can find their ways towards a meaningful career and life.

Social applications of the humanities

HKMU is positioned as an applied-oriented university in both teaching and research, and it has filed an application for becoming a university of applied sciences. In Prof. Man's opinion, while humanities subjects may not be valuable in the sense of being directly applicable, they raise thought-provoking questions that are important for all professions. “For example, the values advocated by the social sciences and the concept of humanistic care form the fundamentals of the caring industries. Healthcare workers must first develop empathy for their clients in order to show them support.” She continues, “Likewise, existential issues explored in philosophy, such as how we face illnesses as well as life and death, are relevant to everyone. As life expectancy increases, society must consider how it regards its senior members. Will we see elderly people as simply a waste of social resources as represented in The Ballad of Narayama? How do we enable senior citizens to live contently and continue to make a contribution?” To open up the Film and Life series to all HKMU students, she suggested holding the screenings on Friday evenings as a non-credit-bearing activity. The series is now in its second season. The upcoming ones will explore the themes of ethnic minorities and ageing.  

Prof. Man sees room for creativity in addressing social issues such as ageing. By way of an example, she says, “apart from the healthcare and welfare sectors, I especially appreciate organisations running senior theatre. Older actors perform very differently to younger ones!” As a researcher in aesthetics, she is keen to raise social awareness of the emotional well-being of the elderly at an academic level by advocating geriatric aesthetics and presenting senior citizens as objects of aesthetic appreciation. She also hopes to promote third age education and performing arts for older adults.