Stairway To Heaven

Stairway To Heaven

The Main Building’s Libby Wong 1stone staircase has been many things to Elizabeth Wong Chien Chi-lien – a place where she wore her first ball gown, met former governor Lord Maclehose, and once took a tumble. But most important was where the staircase led her.

“To me it was like going up the ladder to heaven, which was the Arts faculty,” she says.

Mrs Wong (BA 1959) was an English Literature major and at the time the faculty was a heaven of several gods with very human characteristics. Oxford poet Edmund Blunden was one of her tutors and she remembers him vividly.

“He was an old man at the time, at least he looked old. He must have in retrospect had the beginnings of Parkinson’s disease because his hands used to tremble – I was afraid he would drop his papers. And his eyes would be looking at the ceiling. He never looked at us.
“One day I asked him what I thought was a stupid question. I said, Professor, I’ve read so many poems, can you tell me what is poetry? He rambled. He said ‘poetry is like music, it’s like sunshine. You can’t touch it, you can’t put it in your pocket, and yet you know it is there. It’s like love, it has many forms. You hear it and it touches your heart.’

“I took notes because it was so strange to me. He didn’t say poetry is a sonnet, a ballad, a rhyming couplet, he said, I don’t really know.

“All the time he didn’t think it was stupid [to ask]. I treasure that moment because of all the things he taught me, that’s the one thing I remember.”

Mary Visick had an even bigger impact on Mrs Wong, who greatly admired the satirical writings of Joseph Addison, founder of The Spectator.

“She would say, ‘it’s not enough that you admire Addison, it’s not enough that you understand his work. If you really love his writing, you will write like him.


Stairway To Heaven

Why don’t you write me a piece pretending you are him, in his style? Criticising Hong Kong in a nice sort of way, a satirical sort of way.’

“Which I did, and she liked it. And I find that has left me with a kind of mark all my life. Because in all my writings, even when I was in government, the official papers, I used to see things that other people take for granted.”
Mrs Wong joined the civil service in 1969 and eventually became Secretary of Health and Welfare. She was known for her touches of humour such as sending poems to legislators who criticised her. In 1995 she stepped down and was elected to the Legislative Council where she stayed until 1997.

“I learned from Mary Visick. At the time I didn’t realise it was her influence but later on I said, I have this habit of looking at things from a different angle and laughing at them,” she says.

Today Mrs Wong is a Libby Wong 2novelist and teaches English drama and world literature part-time to secondary school students. She still puts her learning in practice by encouraging her students to create their own works.

“What I appreciate is that the professors didn’t tell you what you should or should not think.
They left you to think for yourself,”
she adds.

Mrs Elizabeth Libby Wong CBE ISO JP holds a BA (Hons) (1959) and DipEd (Distinction) (1960) from the University of Hong Kong. A teacher by profession, Libby taught before she joined the Hong Kong Government (1969 to 94). She retired in 1994 to go into politics. She was elected to the Hong Kong Legislative Council in 1995 with the highest number of votes. Since 1997, she has taught English and written many books on Hong Kong and the teaching of English and Poetry.