The watercolours and sketches of the original Lingnan University campus in Guangzhou (Canton) in Guangdong Province on the Chinese Mainland were made by Szto Wai from the late 1930s through 1944 and are part of a gift of over 200 works of art from the Lingnan Foundation in America to the University. The watercolours that show the original Lingnan University campus in Guangzhou are undated but would have been made before the campus was evacuated to Hong Kong in 1938 after the Japanese occupation of Guangzhou. The watercolours and sketches of the temporary campus in Taitsuen in northern Guangdong, where the university relocated after the occupation of Hong Kong, are dated from 1942 to 1944 and can be related to scenes described in contemporary letters about the campus that Szto Wai wrote to friends.
Although many have made Lingnan what it is today, it is Dr. A. P. Happer who was instrumental in its creation. Dr. Happer, a graduate of Jefferson (now Washington and Jefferson) College, the Western Theological Seminary, and the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, came to China in 1844 and was one of the founders of the Canton Mission of the Presbyterian Church. Dr. Happer gave up his medical practice to devote himself to furthering education in China and first proposed establishing a college in China that would be modelled on Robert College in Istanbul (1863) and the American University in Beirut (1866), providing western education modelled on the American system. Instruction was to be in both English and Chinese, as Dr. Happer believed that ‘With Mandarin and English the graduates will be citizens of the world’ (Corbett 8). Although Dr. Happer preferred to establish a school in Beijing or Shanghai, a petition by over 400 leading Chinese from Canton encouraged him to locate the school there. Like Robert College and the American University in Beirut, Lingnan was chartered by the Regents of the University of the State of New York, receiving its charter as the Christian College in China on December 13, 1893. During the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 the College relocated to Macau and then moved to a new campus in Honglok Village (Kangle) on Honam Island in Guangzhou in 1904 and became known as the Canton Christian College. The new school included both Preparatory (Middle School) and Collegiate (University) Departments but the latter took time to attract students, not graduating its first BA until 1918. A Primary Department was established in 1911 by Szto Wai. In the 1920s, responding to increasing nationalism in China, a committee of prominent alumni, Szto Wai among them, suggested to the Trustees that the university divide the Board of Trustees into two parts, one in New York and one in Guangzhou. After legislation in China required colleges and universities to secularize, the university restructured in 1927, creating a Board of Directors and a Chinese administration in Guangzhou that would be responsible for finance and staff and an American Foundation in New York that would own and lease the land to the newly-renamed Lingnan University. Lingnan University in Guangzhou was closed in 1952 and merged into Sun Yat Sen University. It was re-established in Hong Kong by Lingnan alumni in 1967. It moved to its present site in Tuen Mun in Hong Kong’s New Territories in 1995.