Tribute to a gentleman genius

The China Post news satff

For many of us who lived through the 80s and 90s, Chao Ning has always been a familiar name, whether you knew him in person or read his books which have enriched our lives.

Sadly, this iconic figure passed away early this month in Taipei at the age of 65 after losing a valiant bout with cancer. His passing was a great loss not only to his loved ones and friends, but also to society at large which has lost a great humorist and trailblazer.

Chao Ning liked to call himself by many funny nicknames, including the proverbial “Waiter Chao,” probably for his experience while studying in the United States in the 70s. His 11-year life in the United States was the subject of many of his best-selling books, among them “Stories of Chao Ning’s American Odyssey” illustrated with his unique, prize-winning cartoons. Tall and handsome, he jokingly called himself “3/8” (a Chinese slang for nuts) for his 180-cm stature, 180-lb weight and 180 IQ. But being self-effacing was also a hallmark of Chao’s humor. Besides a score of books, he was the winner of numerous awards, including the Golden Horse, Golden Bell, and Golden Goblet for his towering achievements in varies areas.

A Ph.D. in audio-visual communication, Dr. Chao left a big footprint in every field he stepped into: movie, television, academia and print media. As a great humorist, Chao was a Chinese Art Buchwald, or a modern-day Lao She, wrapping serious subjects under an amusing cover. He had his own style — independent and inimitable. The late George K.C. Yeh, a preeminent literary scholar and diplomat, was impressed by Chao’s all-around talent. “He was able to catch the core of the subject quickly with his eyes, mind, and pen,” Yeh remarked approvingly four decades ago. As a private individual, Chao Ning was a gentleman in the true meaning of the word. His seeming timidity and reticence betrayed his steeliness and eloquence. An accomplished orator, he was a much sought-after speaker at home and abroad. He could make more than 300 speeches a year, drawing large audiences like a magnet. As a celeb and public figure, he founded an anti-drunkenness cultural foundation to cure Taiwan’s unhealthy drinking culture. A devout Buddhist, he taught at Shida, Foguang University and Delin Institute. In 2003, the Ministry of Education conferred on him the Wooden Bell Award in recognition of his meritorious services. If he were a waiter, he indeed waited on us well. May he rest in peace.