HKU Faculty of Engineering The University of Hong Kong Faculty of Engineering
Success Stories of HKU

Professor Yau Kai Cheung
張佑啟 教授

O.B.E., S.B.S., Ph.D., D.Sc., D.E., D.Sc.(Hon), L.L.D.(Hon), F.R.Eng., F.R.S.C., M.C.A.S., F.H.K.Eng., F.H.K.I.E.(Hon), F.I.A.C.M. 


“Slow to anger, quick to forgive, generous, devoted, outstanding at work and at home, you have been an inspiration to innumerable students and colleagues, but none have benefited as much as us, your three sons.”
~ Ngai Fung, Ngai Tseung and Ngai Wah


A highly-acclaimed scholar with a remarkable career, a well-respected teacher and colleague, a loving father, an honourable and charitable man – Prof Y K Cheung is certainly having it all. What more could you possibly ask for? But Prof Cheung does not cease to wonder. At the age of 75, Prof Y K Cheung has been studying various nonlinear vibration problems, using the newly developed Incremental Harmonic Balance Method. He also carried out in-depth study on the behaviour of thin, moderately thick and thick plates with different support conditions. He has also shown an interest in the analysis of piezoelectric composites.

Prof Cheung is fascinated by the progress in science and technology. In his long research career, he had the good fortune of contributing to the development of new and powerful computational methods, such as the Finite Element Method, the Finite Strip Method, the Incremental Harmonic Balance Method, etc.; or to the improvement of existing techniques such as the analysis of tall buildings and box girder bridges, layered structures, composite plates, etc. He is always on the move, trying to solve new problems.


To be, or not to be...

As a gifted young man, Prof Cheung could have chosen to become a physician, a lawyer, a writer, a singer, and so on. It was fortunate for engineering that he chose to be a civil engineer and became an international expert in his field. Born in Hong Kong in 1934, Prof Cheung won scholarships to both the Medical and Arts Faculties of the University of Hong Kong. He studied medicine for one year and returned to the Mainland to study civil engineering at the South China Institute of Technology, obtaining his BSc in 1958. He went on to obtain a PhD at the University of Wales in 1964; the University subsequently awarded him a DSc for publications from 1964 to 1972. In 1982 the University of Adelaide also awarded him a higher doctorate, a DE, for publications from 1973 to 1981.

From time to time, he would be asked if he were to turn back the clock, would he have chosen a different path. His answer would invariably be a no. This can be explained by a number of factors. He was lucky in choosing the right research topic, and his publications were frequently cited; he had the good fortune of working under Prof O C Zienkiewicz who later became a good mentor and friend; finally he had a group of clever and devoted research students and research fellows who became his life-long friends.

A lifetime passion...

Prof Cheung has devoted all his life to the development and advancement of engineering. He had developed numerous avenues of research and enlightened the engineering profession with a mountain of papers and publications. In 1964, his first paper on “The Finite Element Method for Analysis of Elastic Isotropic and Orthotropic Slabs” was published in the Proceedings of the institution of Civil Engineers. The following is an extract from the book Y K Cheung Symposium, December 15, 1994, Hong Kong -

“At that time, researchers and structural engineers were greatly amazed with the simplicity and versatility of the method and generally felt that the Finite Element Method as illustrated in their paper would one day become a significant tool for structural analysis. Yet very few would have imagined that in the years to come it could have such an enormous impact and exert such a profound influence on the solution techniques in all fields of engineering and physical science as it is realized today. From 1967 onwards, Prof Y K Cheung also pioneered the finite strip method, the finite prism method and the finite layer method and thus paved the way for combining analytical and numerical approaches which has by now developed into the very popular semi-analytical method.”

In 1994, when Prof Cheung turned 60, his friends, colleagues and former graduate students held a Y K Cheung Symposium to recognize his achievements in the academic circle and his contributions to the field of computational mechanics. Some of his former graduate students subsequently reproduced all his publications on a compact disc and intended to distribute the disc free of charge to recognize his achievement. It is hoped that the materials can be used by researchers and graduate students for many years to come.



A brilliant career...

Prof Cheung began his career as an Assistant Engineer in Zhengzhou (郑州) in Henan Province (河南省).  He went on to teach and research on four continents — Europe, North America, Australia and Asia — and had undertaken many consultancy projects. He held his first Chair in Civil Engineering at the University of Calgary, Canada; he then went on to become Professor of Civil Engineering and Chairman of Department at the University of Adelaide, Australia. Because of his nostalgic attachments to his family, to Hong Kong and to the University of Hong Kong, he returned to HKU to be Professor and Head of Civil Engineering in 1977 and Pro-Vice-Chancellor from 1988 to 1998.  He was also Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor from July 1996 to 2000.  During his long and illustrious career, Prof Cheung is justly proud of having built the Civil Engineering Department up to a level when it can lay claim to being a world-class department.  During his tenure, the Department has achieved international recognition, won abundant research funding, and attracted top-notched teaching staff and students.

In addition to the achievement listed in the previous paragraphs, Prof Cheung also had the following aspirations for the Department of Civil Engineering.

  1. Most of the newly appointed staff should have three or more years of practical experience so that they can inform the students the way industry actually operates.
  2. Most of the existing students should be fluent in English and Chinese.  Students having difficulty with the languages will have to take remedial courses.
  3. All postgraduate students should be required to give presentations of their research progress and to attend Departmental seminars.
  4. A strong, multi-disciplinary unit should be established within the Department to deal with consulting projects from the Government and large companies.

"Let those teach others who themselves excel." When it comes to teaching, Prof Cheung has taught and supervised numerous undergraduate and postgraduate students, many of whom hold prominent positions as engineering scholars and are active all over Europe, America, Asia and Australia.  On the research front, Prof Cheung is internationally recognized for his distinguished research achievements in the field of computational mechanics. He started his research career in 1962, at a time when the electronic computer development was still in its infancy.  He was one of the pioneers in developing the Finite Element Method particular to plate and shell analysis.  

To date Prof Cheung has authored or co-authored ten reference texts, 390 international refereed journal papers and 128 conference papers, 30 of them being keynote or invited papers. He had participated in international committees of almost 100 international conferences and had delivered keynote or invited speeches worldwide.  As an engineering practitioner, Prof Cheung had also consulted on many international engineering projects.  He and Prof Zienkiewicz were the first to analyse a buttress dam — the Clywedog Dam in Wales — by the Finite Element Method.  Out of his unbelievably tight schedule, he has not forgotten to serve the community.  He was a Member of the Consultative Committee of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, a Hong Kong Affairs Advisor and also Member of the Selection of the Provisional Legislature and Chief Executive Officer of the SAR of Hong Kong.


And the list of his achievements goes on and on.  Among the numerous honours and awards he received, Prof Cheung was elected a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering in 1987; he was awarded the National Science Award (China) in 1990 and 1999; and he was awarded an OBE in 1995, and subsequently an SBS in 2008.  He holds Honorary Professorships at no less than 17 institutions.  He also received the most coveted accolade: he was elected as Member of the prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences in November 1999, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada; in recognition of his distinguished career as an engineering scholar, his contributions to public service and his outstanding service to the University, Prof Cheung was conferred the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa by the University of Hong Kong in 2000, and the degree of Doctor of Law, honoris causa by the University of Wales, also in 2000.  He was further awarded the first Gold Medal of HKIE, the Medal of Excellence in Engineering Education in 2000 and the APACM Congress Medal (Zienkiewicz Medal) in July 2010.

However, Prof Cheung claimed to have no secrets to the time management other than being a quick and hard worker with a supportive family and an understanding wife, and also good colleagues.

A simple life...

Notwithstanding his outstanding career and achievements, one may be taken aback by Prof Cheung’s jovial and friendly nature.  He takes joy in simple things, such as hiking and music.  He has a reasonably good bass voice, and likes to sing songs such as Old Man River, Volga Boatmen, One Day When We Were Young and a number of Chinese songs.

He lives according to the following motto:

Professor Yau Kai Cheung
張佑啟 教授

O.B.E., S.B.S., Ph.D., D.Sc., D.E., D.Sc.(Hon), L.L.D.(Hon), F.R.Eng., F.R.S.C., M.C.A.S., F.H.K.Eng., F.H.K.I.E.(Hon), F.I.A.C.M. 

Honorary Professor, The University of Hong Kong


  ©2010 Faculty of Engineering, The University of Hong Kong