The Practical Prophet: Bishop Ronald O. Hall of Hong Kong and His Legacies

By Kater, John L. | Anglican and Episcopal History, March 2017 | Go to article overview

The Practical Prophet: Bishop Ronald O. Hall of Hong Kong and His Legacies


Kater, John L., Anglican and Episcopal History


The Practical Prophet: Bishop Ronald O. Hall of Hong Kong and His Legacies. By Moira M. W. Chan-Yeung. (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2015, P. xx, 247. $55.00.)

Moira Chan-Yeung has told the story of Bishop Ronald O. Hall in a highly readable fashion, and it is a story well worth telling. Her biography is the most recent publication in a series of historical studies of Anglican Christianity in China, co-published by Hong Kong University Press and the Hong Kong Sheng Rung Hui (HKSKH, Anglican Church of Hong Kong). Hall, the son of a Tractarian parish priest in Newcasde, England, first visited China in 1922 as a delegate to the contentious W orld Student Christian Federation Conference in Beijing and the National Christian Conference in Shanghai, which came at a time when many Chinese were already hostile to the imperialistic overtones of much Christian mission. Hall's immediate response to his first visit to China was to criticize the arrogance of assumptions, often echoed by Christian missionaries, that Western culture was more advanced than that of other parts of the world. In 1925, Hall spent nearly a year in China as a staff member of the YMCA with the specific mandate to improve relations between Britain and China following the May 30 incident, in which the police of the International Settlement in Shanghai, under British command, killed a number of people protesting the death of a Chinese laborer by a Japanese foreman. Upon his return he published a book, China and Britain, in which he pleaded for a relationship of collaboration and mutuality rather than the colonial model that prevailed. Like many clergy of his generation, Hall's vocation to the priesthood followed service as a British officer in the First World War. He served as a parish priest in Newcastle-upon-Tyne but in 1932 was appointed as the Bishop of the diocese of South China of the Anglican Church of China, an anomalous post since it also included service as Bishop of Victoria, the Church of England's diocese in Hong Kong. Hall remained in this position until his retirement and return to England in 1966.

In her preface, Chan-Yeung, who describes herself as "a grandmother in retirement from my work as a physicianresearcher in academic medicine in Canada and Hong Kong" (xv), explains how she became fascinated with the project of exploring and writing about a bishop she had never met. While a brief biography was published by his friend David Patón, this work offers far more detail, drawing as it does upon personal letters, papers and sermons in the possession of the Hall family and in the archives of Chung Chi Divinity School in Hong Kong, the Anglican Church of Hong Kong (Hong Kong Sheng Kung I lui, HKSKH) the Church Missionary Society, the Hong Kong Public Records Office, and the National Archives and the Lambeth Palace Library in London. Her meticulous research has resulted in a biography which conveys not only a sense of the significance of Hall's thirty-plus year tenure in Hong Kong, but the nature of the faith that undergirded his ministry and a rich portrait of the private, human side of a man whose entire adult life was lived in public.

The decades of Hall's episcopate encompass a dizzying amount of drama and change. His early years were spent in the shadow of Japanese designs on China which culminated in its invasion in 1937 and its seizing of Hong Kong in 1941 (Hall was away from the city at the time). Then came the aftermath of the war, when China was wracked by civil war that ended with the establishment of the People's Republic of China and the influx of large numbers of refugees from the Mainland, the dissolution of the relationship between the diocese of Hong Kong and the Anglican Church of China, and the subsequent Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution, both of which had dramatic consequences for China and therefore for Hong Kong, even though it remained a British colony until nearly the end of the twentieth century. …

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