New Zealand Missionaries Helped Lay the Foundations for Noted Heep Woh College

Church archives give us a glimpse of the continuing story of Christian witness locally, nationally and world-wide. Our belief that by retaining and maintaining these archival documents the gospel message continues to be told was brought home recently with a request from the Christian Church of China (CCC)Heep Woh College in Hong Kong.

Christian Church of China Heep Woh College, Hong Kong

The College is celebrating its centennial during 2012 and staff were seeking information about its early beginnings.   Its history is fascinating and confirms that the NZ Presbyterian Church’s work in Canton, South China from 1901 to 1951 continues to bear fruit today.

In a draft article for a Chinese publication in 1947 a writer notes,  ‘The School has been able to produce a distinct type of personality. Some people may say Hip Woh is too religious, but fortunately it is not too old fashioned.  It really is under the fine influence of the spirit of Christ.  Its motto is ‘To serve, not to be served’…’ 

The writer continues outlining the schools development and makes mention of the Hancock-Lowrey Foundation building which was used for the Primary Section and funded by the NZ Presbyterian Church.

Teachers at Union Normal School for Women c.1924.
Annie Hancock is standing at the right of the back row.

Annie Hancock joined the Canton Villages Mission staff in 1912.  She  was seconded onto the staff of the Union Normal School when in 1916  the various missions in Canton saw the need to have a teacher training school for women.  It absorbed the Fulton Kindergarten Normal run by the American Presbyterian Church which began in 1911. These beginning years were difficult with poor accommodation and see-sawing funding but the dedication of the first teachers provided a solid base for the School to develop.

By the end of 1920 Annie Hancock was able to report that despite closures, flooding and disturbances a further seven teachers had graduated bringing the overall total to twenty-one.

After painting a very grim picture of the school’s facilities and buildings and the poor health and levels of energy of many students all due to ‘old and mouldy buildings’, they had managed to raise sufficient funds to purchase 40 Chinese acres of land (3 acres) for new premises.

The new school at Sai Cheun, when it was eventually completed, boosted the status of the Union Normal School and it opened opportunities for training at all levels of education.  Through the energy of Annie Hancock further land and buildings were acquired where a primary school was established to enable the trainees to gain practical experience.

Although space remained an issue for the school, by 1928 a total of 207 pupils and trainees were enrolled with 14 teachers, 11 being Chinese.  This growth and recognition of the quality of schooling enabled the Board of Directors to apply to the Government for registration which had caused them some angst over the years.  In 1932 the Government’s acceptance of the initial application enabled them to proceed to the final stage which meant an enlargement of the library and a new primary classroom to meet the required standards.  Funds once again threatened the possibility of official registration.  The Alumni came to the rescue raising $20 000.  Unfortunately the rules changed and full Government registration was denied due to the religious status of the school.  This knockback did not deter them from their goal of creating a Christian Girls’ School with highest of educational standards.

Entrance to Union Normal College after the students returned to the College, 1947

The political crisis and Japanese invasion overtook the implementation of any future building plans and Union Normal eventually transferred its plant to Macau in late 1937.  Over the ensuing years to the end of the war the roll rose to 940.  By 1947 a branch of the school remained in Macau and the badly damaged buildings at Sai Cheun were repaired and the main school re-established with a new Kindergarten established inHong Kong.   The euphoria of the new liberation did not last however, and in 1950 the School was closed and in time transferred toHong Kong.

One of the last reports presented to the NZ Presbyterian Church  noted, ‘The  Home Church will rejoice to know the Union Normal School has become the foremost Christian Girls’ School in Canton…the influence spreads and Christ’s kingdom is being built in the hearts and minds of the youth of China.’


A shot of the women exiting the College, from the movie made by Lindsay Crozier, ‘From Darkness to Light – the story of Oi Wa’, 1948 .



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