Vale Dr Vincent H.C. Cheng: CUHK farewells former Council chairman and Hong Kong mourns the loss of one of its finest sons

Dr Vincent H.C. Cheng, distinguished alumnus, former Council chairman of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) and distinguished banker, passed away on 28 August at the age of 74.

Dr Cheng’s contributions to CUHK as an alumnus, and as Chair of the University’s governing body are immense and he leaves an extraordinary legacy which will shape CUHK’s trajectory for decades to come.

Dr Cheng will perhaps be best remembered as the first Chinese chairman of HSBC’s Asia-Pacific arm, but it was arguably his life outside of the corporate world where he is one of Hong Kong’s unsung heroes, with these achievements often playing second fiddle to his high-flying career in banking and finance. Some of his deeds were seldom mentioned after he became an eminent leader in the banking sector.

The plight of the underprivileged was always on the mind of Dr Cheng when he was a student who majored in economics in New Asia College, a member of the CUHK. In 1971, he joined a group of university students and activists in fighting for the rights of blind workers who worked in a factory in To Kwan Wan, which was run by the Hong Kong Society for the Blind.

Reunion of New Asia College ’73 graduates (November 2003) (second from right, second row)

A secret report compiled by the colonial secretariat of the Hong Kong government in May 1972, identified Dr Cheng, who was a third-year student of New Asia College, as one of the “leading personalities of security interests” among student activists at the time.

“He (Dr Cheng) is an extreme radical student deeply involved in student and social reform activities. He had dealings with blind workers,” the report said.

In 1973, Dr Cheng, whose parents were fruit hawkers, graduated from the University with a Bachelor of Social Science degree and subsequently obtained a Master of Philosophy in economics from the University of Auckland in New Zealand.

He joined the HSBC’s Group Finances Department in 1978, and he never looked back. He then progressively rose through the ranks serving as chief economist, senior manager for Economic and Strategic Research, chief financial officer, and general manager.

In 1995, at the age of 47, he made history when he became the first Chinese to be appointed an executive director of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited (HSBC). From 1989 to 1991, he was seconded to the Hong Kong government’s Central Policy Unit where he provided policy advice at what was a pivotal moment for the city prior to China’s resumption of the exercise of sovereignty in 1997. In 2005, he became the first Chinese chairman of HSBC, the British bank’s Asia-Pacific arm.

Dr Cheng, who maintained close links with his alma mater, served as a member of the CUHK Council and of New Asia College’s Board of Trustees. In 2009, he became the first alumnus to become chairman of the University Council.

“Take pride in tradition of civic responsibility”

In a 2016 interview for a CUHK publication to mark the end of his term as Council chairman, Dr Cheng, dubbed “Cheng Taipan” because of his leading position in HSBC, clearly showed his passion for the spirit of the University’s mission. He said “we should take pride in the tradition of civic responsibility espoused by so many generations of CUHK students,” reminding students that his own time as a student leader saw him maintain “a cordial relationship with professors whose point of view differed from mine,” and that mutual respect was “crucial”.

Approving the appointment of Professor Joseph Sung (right) as the seventh Vice-Chancellor of CUHK, succeeding Professor Lawrence Lau (left) (November 2009)

His career saw him make a distinguished contribution to public life, serving as a member of the Legislative Council (1991–1995), member of the Executive Council (1995-1997), and a Hong Kong Affairs Adviser to the People’s Republic of China (1994-1997). He was chairman of the Hong Kong’s Process Review Panel for the Securities and Futures Commission, and the city’s Standing Committee on Directorate Salaries and Conditions of Service. 

He was also chairman of the Hong Kong Institute of Bankers, vice-chairman of the China Banking Association, and chairman of the executive committee of the Community Chest. He was also a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the Advisory Committee of the Hong Kong Government Land Fund, the Long Term Housing Strategy Advisory Committee, the Standing Committee on Judicial Salaries and Conditions of Service, the Independent Commission on Remuneration for Members of the Executive Council and the Legislature.

Professor Rocky S. Tuan, CUHK’s Vice-Chancellor and President, said, “Dr Vincent Cheng’s contributions to CUHK spanned decades. As an alumnus, and later chairman of the University Council, he committed much of his life to ensuring his alma mater was at the forefront of excellence of higher education in Hong Kong.”

“Dr Cheng leaves an enormous legacy which is widely felt across the University today. Dr Cheng presided over the expansion of CUHK’s college system, and oversaw the establishment of CUHK (Shenzhen). He was critical to the creation of the CUHK Medical Centre, and led the initial working group’s representations to government where he championed a unique private teaching hospital to deliver to the people of Hong Kong choice in healthcare treatment and solutions. The entire CUHK community owes Dr Cheng an enormous debt of gratitude for his service, his vision, and his dedication to our mission. On behalf of all members of the University, I offer our deepest condolences to Dr Cheng’s family and we salute his contributions to CUHK.”

Presenting Professor Sir and Mrs Charles Kao with a souvenir (February 2010)

Presenting Professor Sir and Mrs Charles Kao with a souvenir (February 2010)

In a statement on 29 August, Chief Executive John Lee expressed sorrow over the passing of Dr Vincent Cheng. “Dr Cheng was an esteemed banker. Over the years, he had been promoting the steady development of Hong Kong’s banking industry, commanding high respect of the sector. Dr Cheng had also been very committed to serving the community. Not only had he served in various government statutory and advisory bodies, but also he had been dedicated to charitable causes and made considerable contributions to Hong Kong in wide-ranging aspects, including culture and sports, heritage preservation, and social and community services.”

Dr Cheng is survived by his wife, Mariana, two daughters, and five grandchildren.

CUHK’s press release on the passing of Dr Vincent Cheng:

https://www.cpr.cuhk.edu.hk/en/press/mourning-dr-vincent-h-c-cheng/

By Gary Cheung

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