Wisdom and Virtue in Burma
Aung San Suu Kyi
One of my favorite dicta is that
people should not be categorized as good or evil, wise or stupid. It
would be much more sensible to divide them simply into learners and
non-learners. In between the two extremes would be a broad spectrum
graded on the degree to which individuals are capable of correct
assessment and understanding of the learning material at their disposal.
Here, of course, I’m giving a very broad definition to learning. It
would involve much more than what could be acquired from any one
institution or from any one formal teacher. It would mean a process of
gaining such knowledge and experience as would help us to cope with the
challenges that life throws at us and to find ways of enhancing our own
existence as well as that of as great a portion as possible of all the
other occupants of our planet.
To put it another way, the highest form of learning would be that which
makes us caring and responsible citizens of this world and equips us
with the intellectual means necessary to translate our concerns into
Surely, such a view of learning is in harmony with the idea of education
as conceived in the motto of Hong Kong University—Wisdom and Virtue.
One hundred years of furnishing the world with young people who have
been provided with the capacity to think independently, to express those
thoughts cogently and to use them for the betterment of our world is an
achievement of which this university can be justly proud. The hopes of
its founding fathers have been more than realized.
At the foundation-laying ceremony, Sir Frederick Lugard hoped that the
graduates of the University of Hong Kong would exert an influence which
would be immeasurable in the future among the 400 millions of China’s
population. Little could he have envisaged such an institution as this
one of today, internationally renowned and one that attracts students
from all over the world, which will one day exert an ever-widening
influence on the future of more than just one country.
As I contemplate the achievements of Hong Kong University, I am filled
with deep admiration and also, it has to be admitted, with wistfulness.
Whenever I consider the educational progress that has been made in other
countries, I think with sadness of the deplorable state of education in
There was a time when educational standards and institutions in Burma
were viewed with respect and envy by many countries in Asia and
elsewhere. Rangoon University, 10 years younger than Hong Kong
University, is the outcome of the amalgam of Rangoon College and Judson
College, the Baptist college. The university rapidly became the breeding
ground, not only of bright young intellectuals, but of dedicated
nationalists determined to free their country from colonial rule.
Even as academic standards grew robustly and gained the recognition of
long-established institutions in the Western world so did the patriotic
fervor of the students gain new momentum. Rangoon University became the
vanguard of movements demanding equality and justice, and eventually,
these movements were supported and joined by students from Mandalay
University and from schools all over the country.
The close link between political movements and universities became an
established tradition in Burma. When the country fell under military
rule, students were among the first protesters calling for the
restoration of democratic rights. As authoritarian rule tightened its
grip on the country, the position of universities as institutions aimed
at fostering freedom of thought, expression and association was steadily
Yet, after more than two decades of totalitarian governance, it was
again the students of Rangoon University who led the movement to free
the country from military administration. This was the famous public
uprising of 1988.
Now, more than 20 years later, the aims of democracy and human rights
for which many students sacrificed liberty and life have not yet been
realized. In the meantime, the standard of education at all levels has
fallen, and Burma is a country crying out for the potential of its
people, especially its young people, to be realized.
I might mention here that many leaders of the 1988 student movement
still remain in prison today, serving unbelievably long sentences.
Education should be available to all, not just to a privileged few.
Education should foster values that will promote human dignity and guide
human progress in a positive direction. Education should be a true
learning process, not a machine for churning out meek, obedient people
incapable of reasoning why justice and liberty should not be the
birthright of all human beings.
I congratulate the University of Hong Kong on its achievements on the
human front as well as on its solid academic credentials, which have
made it one of the most respected institutions in Asia. I look forward
to a closer cooperation with both the faculty of the university as well
as with the student body.
I am confident that the day will come when we in Burma will be able to
enjoy the fruits of real education and to share them with the rest of
the world. This will be the day when wisdom and virtue will triumph.
* Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her articulate
struggle for human rights and democracy in Burma. For 15 of the past 21
years, she lived under house arrest until being released last November a
week after the military government held what are widely considered to be
grossly undemocratic elections to install a nominally civilian
government still controlled by the military.