Bishop Ronald Owen Hall was the longest serving, the most influential, and perhaps the most controversial bishop in the Hong Kong Anglican Church. His episcopacy, from 1932 to 1966, covered the most tumultuous period in the history of China.
After the May 30th incident when British officers killed Chinese students during a protest in 1925, Bishop Hall was invited to work in Shanghai on the difficult mission to improve relations between the British and Chinese. He developed such a strong affinity with the Chinese people and Chinese culture that he adopted a Chinese name he wished to be remembered by: Ho Ming Hua—one who spreads the light of the Gospel in China.
In 1926 when he visited the tomb of Confucius, he was so overwhelmed by its harmony and beauty that he did something that would have shocked his fellow Anglicans at the time. He bowed three times in front of it. Few Europeans, especially those with an illustrious clergy lineage, would ever show such a sign of respect to a Chinese sage. He came to believe that God, who must have inspired the Chinese to build such a wonderful structure to commemorate a learned scholar, had always been in China—a pivotal belief for his future ministry in China.
In 1936, Bishop Hall asked a Chinese bishop to baptise his own son in Hong Kong - a British colonial outpost - making the political and theological statement that Chinese and British Christians are equal in the sight of God.
At a time when communism was branded as a godless and evil ideology in the West, Bishop Hall recognized the spirit of personal sacrifice and dedication to the welfare of Chinese people in the early communist movements in China. He was recognised by both Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai-Shek during the Second Sino-Japanese War for his work with Gong He, raising huge amount of funds internationally for its support. He felt a Christian kinship with the Communists, and predicted as early as 1938 that Communism would take over China. He rejoiced at the founding of the People''s Republic of China in 1949 at a time when Communism was feared in the West, believing that Communism could provide the Chinese people with better lives after centuries of poverty and misery. He helped establish a number of workers’ children''s schools in Hong Kong, and earned the nickname, “the Pink or Red Bishop”.
His ordination of the first female priest, the Revd Li Tim Oi, caused a great furore at the time and almost split the Anglican Communion. Many did not know that this radical step cost him his chance to return to England as a bishop, and also cost him personally, separating him from his family for many years and exacting a toll on his marriage.
Bishop Hall was pre-eminently a social activist who advocated low cost public housing to accommodate the massive number of refugees in post-war Hong Kong and created a number of imaginative social welfare agencies that looked after the needs of the underprivileged, especially orphans, juvenile delinquents and children of workers. A visionary in education, he helped expand primary and secondary school places for the refugees and the growing population in Hong Kong, and also pioneered a form of modern secondary education that emphasized training young people in trades rather than academic work. He was instrumental in the founding of the Chung Chi College and had also played an important role in the establishment of the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Many in Hong Kong believed that his work contributed to the eventual economic take-off of Hong Kong in the 1970s.
He foresaw that Hong Kong would return to China in the not too distant future, contrary to many others who said this would never happen. When so many in Hong Kong were rushing to learn English after World War II, he advocated the value of preserving Chinese language, history and culture. He understood the importance of having an indigenous church that could withstand drastic political changes in China and Hong Kong.
Bishop Hall drew people to him through his love, spirituality, leadership and charisma. Most people who had had contact with him or worked with him felt loved by him, and were inspired to do their very best. He fully utilized his privileged position as the Anglican bishop in a British colony to serve the people locally.
The year 2012 was the 80th anniversary of Bishop Hall''s enthronement as Bishop of Hong Kong and Macau. Some members of the University and College Fellowship were deeply influenced by Bishop Hall and continue to cherish fond memories of him. They will always remember him and honour him.
Moira Chan-Yeung, Professor Emeritus of Medicine, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C. Canada; Professor of Medicine (Hon), the University of Hong Kong.