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Ex-CNA head remembered for outspokenness, mastery of language

2018/03/05 17:50:57

Joe Chien-chao Hung (洪健昭/CNA file photo)

Taipei, March. 5 (CNA) The family of Joe Chien-chao Hung (洪健昭), a renowned journalist and former two-term chairman of CNA, announced his passing of heart and lung disease Feb. 20 at the age of 86.

A funeral will be held at the Taipei Municipal Second Funeral Parlor at 2 p.m. March 6, according to his family.

Hung is best remembered for his outspokenness, as well as his excellent language skills who, besides Mandarin, spoke fluent English and Japanese, according to those who have worked with him.

A graduate of National Taiwan University's (NTU's) Department of Foreign Languages and Literature in 1954, Hung earned his master's degree in journalism in Southern Illinois University in 1965 and his Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. in 1981 after serving in Taiwan's military for five years.

A tall and athletic man, he was not only a man of letters but also an athlete who served for a time as deputy captain of NTU's rugby team.

During his military service, Hung served as a translator/liaison officer for the Army with U.S. military stationed in Taiwan.

After his discharge from military service, Hung worked for United Press International (UPI) in the late 1960s and early 1970s and The China Post, an English daily in Taiwan.

In 1971, he joined CNA and subsequently served as the state news agency's correspondent in Jordan (1974-1977), Washington, D.C. (1977-1980), Houston (1980-1983), Tokyo (1983-1987), and London (1987-89) before serving as the agency's president (1990-1992) and chairman (1992-1993 and again from 2009 to 2011).

He also spent time in the ROC diplomatic corps, serving as Taiwan's representative to Italy from 1993 to 2000.


CNA file photo

Hung's friends and co-workers knew him as biligual English-Japanese. He spoke both languages so well that he once served as former President Lee Teng-hui's (李登輝) Japanese language interpreter.

Because of his strong linguistic skills and his deep understanding of Taiwan's history, he was chosen by the government to translate a collection of 21 short stories by early 20th-century Taiwanese writer/poet Lai He (賴和) into English in 2010.

Hung himself often said he wrote in those languages better than in Mandarin.

His excellent command of the languages was due to his upbringing before World War II in Japanese-ruled Taiwan.

Born in 1932 in Tamsui, near Taipei, Hung once said that his mother tongue is Japanese, which he used daily before his sophomore year in junior high in 1945, when Japan surrendered.

Almost all of his classmates in high school and later in NTU spoke Japanese. He also spoke Japanese to his wife until their first child was born. Since then, they started to communicate in Taiwanese. Hung's wife died three years ago.

During his tenure as CNA president, he helped to transform the agency's publication system by making use of the cutting edge technology of that time -- computers.

Under his guidance, in November 1990, CNA began transmitting stories via a computer network -- the first news organization in Taiwan to do so.

Stephen S.F. Chen (陳錫蕃), a retired diplomat and close friend of Hung, remembers him as a man of erudition and straightforwardness who loved to make friends.

Chen and Hung worked together for a time at the National Policy Foundation, a Kuomintang (KMT) think tank, where Chen said "we respected each other and had a good time as colleagues."

Andrea Lee (李新穎), head of the foreign ministry's Department of International Cooperation and Economic Affairs, who served under Hung during the latter's tenure as the nation's top envoy to Italy, praised Hung as a great senior official who had full trust toward his subordinates.


Andrea Lee (李新穎)

It was also during Hung's tenure that he facilitated a historic meeting between Taiwan's then-Foreign Minister Frederick Chien (錢復) and a ministerial-level official in Italy in 1994, despite the lack of official diplomatic ties, according to Lee.

The unprecedented meeting ultimately led to both countries sealing an aviation deal to allow Taiwanese airliners to operate in Italy and Italy's opening a representative office in Taiwan, Lee said.

Hung is also remembered as a sincere and extremely talented person with vast knowledge in different fields.

Lee recalled that he once prepared a five-minute Italian -language address for Hung for his inauguration as representative to Italy. It only took Hung a few weeks to master the pronunciation of Italian, which he had never studied before.

"He managed to make the speech in Italian perfectly and many Italians at the scene thought he could speak the language," he said. "I have nothing but full respect and admiration toward him."

A stickler for language and passionate about journalism, Hung was unafraid to voice his opinion or criticize those in power, both in his writing but especially in casual conversations with friends and colleagues.

For instance, the Taiwan government reacted strongly in 2011 after the Philippines deported 14 Taiwanese fraud suspects to China in February of that year, based on the Philippines' "one-China policy."

Then-CNA Chairman Hung, however, said in an article published in CNA NewsWorld monthly magazine on March, 2011 that Manila's decision was not unreasonable because the alleged criminal activities of these fraud suspects happened in China, not in Taiwan or in the Philippines.

This rhetoric drew heavy criticism from then-opposition lawmakers who accused Hung, as head of the national news agency, of failing to uphold the government's stance and dignity in the case.

Hung, however, insisted that as a journalist, "I only wish to point out the truth."

Beyond his journalism and teaching jobs, which also included training translators, Hung wrote "A New History of Taiwan" that was published in 2011.

Only a month before his death, Hung accepted an invitation from CNA this January to film a short clip to celebrate its upcoming 94th birthday due to his deep affection for the national news agency.

In the 40-plus second clip, Hung says that being a CNA correspondent means that one has to cover all beats by himself or herself and thus needs to spend a lot of time learning about many things.

"The job (of being a reporter) is unlike any other job in which one does exactly the same thing every single day. Every day you have new challenges," he said.

He also issued a reminder that it is a journalist's role to inform readers about the latest news and information in languages they can understand.

The clip has since become the last video footage capturing the essence of the life of the seasoned journalist.

(By Joseph Yeh)
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