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Sidney Kok Wei (Wei Que)


Updated: 2019-10-28

Legendary revolutionist and educator


The Shanghai Municipal People's Government was founded in May 1949 with Mayor Chen Yi and Vice Mayors Pan Hannian, Tseng Shan (Zeng Shan) and Kok Wei (Wei Que) in the first-tenure leadership.


Kok Wei (Wei Que) (1896-1976) [Photo selected from Brief Biographies of Modern Social Scientists in China]

Kok Wei was born in Zhuhai's Cuiwei Village, Qianshan, in 1896. He held a doctorate from the University of Chicago and was one of China's earliest Communist Party members.


Kok Wei studied at an old-style private school in Cuiwei Village. He was enrolled in Nanwu Middle School at age 9 and joined the T'ung-meng Hui (Chinese Alliance) when he was 13. The first student in the school to have his braid cut, Wei also risked having his life cut short.


Kok Wei's former residence in Cuiwei Village [Photo courtesy WeChat account: zhxiangzhou]

The Revolution of 1911 saw Kok Wei engaged in revolt and the assassination of high-rank Qing officials at age 15. He became a wanted man nationwide.


He had to flee abroad.

With numerous scholarships, Wei enrolled at the University of Glasgow in Britain and then Oberlin College in the US. Then he received his PhD degree in The University of Chicago.

Seven years later, Wei returned to China to teach English in Canton (Guangzhou). He was appointed diplomatic secretary when Dr Sun Yat-sen was elected "Extraordinary President" in 1921. He protected Dr Sun's wife, Soong Ch'ing-ling, leading her to safety when Sun was attacked on the warship Yung Feng.

Later, assigned by Dr Sun, Wei went to Hawaii for an international education conference and served as English Interpreter when Ts'ai Yüan-p'ei (Cai Yuanpei) delivered an address.


Kok Wei, standing far left, poses with Ts'ai Yüan-p'ei, sitting in front, and other attendees of the international education conference [Photo selected from Photo Album of Ts'ai Yüan-p'ei]


Chinese seamen went on strike in Hong Kong in January 1922. Kok Wei was sent to Hong Kong with Su Chao-cheng (Su Zhaozheng) to negotiate with Hong Kong-British authorities until the seamen's terms were met. Wei became a trustworthy friend of Su from then on.

Cooperation between the KMT and the CPC was initiated in January 1924. Wei joined the Communist Party upon Su's recommendation. Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong) talked with Wei when initiating The Peasant Movement Training Institute, or Peasant Training School, the next year. Encouraged by Mao Tse-tung and Kuomintang leader and financier Liao Zhongkai, Wei returned to Zhuhai to stir up a peasant movement around Cuiwei.


Financed by Ts'ai Yüan-p'ei, Wei lectured in Europe and America as a member of the China Education Improvement Society in June 1927. He met with the British prime minister in London. Supported by Ts'ai, he took the post of Shanghai education director and taught at National Central University, and Fudan, Kwang Hua, and Jinan universities.

Kok Wei remained dedicated to education in Shanghai. He launched a teachers' Summer Vacation Institute, compiled education archives with foursquare classification, adopted a school health system and promoted colloquial wording, which boosted China's development of higher education.


The Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937. Under arrangements of New 4th Army Commander Chen Yi, Wei withdrew from Shanghai to North-Anhui Anti-Japanese Base Areas and became president of the newly founded Jianghuai University.

Taking "Labor, Study and the People's Welfare" as the motto, Wei ran the school in different locations to escape the war.

After victory in the War of Resistance Against Japan, Kok Wei was assigned as chairman of the Jiangsu-Anhui Border Region People's Government. He later went to Weixian, Shandong, to initiate East China University, which has been incorporated into Shandong University, as its president.

Wei had helped turn out large numbers of talented personnel for defeating invaders and liberating the nation with his effective work.

When the People's Republic of China was founded, he was appointed vice education minister by the Central Government.


Kok Wei headed the Chinese Character Reform Board in working out the Chinese Character Simplification Scheme and the Scheme for the Chinese Phonetic Alphabet.

The central government decided to set up Huaqiao (Overseas Chinese) University in Quanzhou, Fujian, in 1960. Nominated by former student and Chinese politician Liao Chengzhi and appointed by the State Council, Wei took the post of vice president and acting president in April 1964.


Kok Wei, sitting at right center, meets with first-batch graduates [Photo courtesy Huaqiao University Archives]

Huaqiao evolved into a multi-discipline university with 11 departments and 17 programs with enrolment focusing on overseas Chinese and Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwanese students in five years.

Kok Wei died of disease in Nov 1976 at age 80 in Yichang of Hubei Province.


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