Old Diplomats Never Die, They Just Fade Away
Bevin Chu – 朱柄文
December 21, 2003
In Memory of Tsing-kang Chu – 朱晉康
Former Minister from the Republic of China to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
My father began courting my mother when he was a poor college student still in his early twenties. She was a nursing student not yet out of her teens. His shoes were so worn the soles flapped when he walked. He repaired them with string. The year was 1939. The place was Kunmin, in wartorn China.
Despite his near penniless status, whenever he invited my mother out, he would call a rickshaw. He never haggled over the fare. Whatever the driver asked for, my father paid. My mother never forgot his explanation why: “I’m poor, but I won’t always be poor, I have a chance at a university education. He isn’t as privileged. He’ll be poor all his life.”
“That’s when I knew,” my mother said, “he couldn’t be a bad man.”
My father never forgot those years of hardship. As a professional diplomat he knew exactly how he had to dress to represent his country with dignity. Underneath however, he remained a humble student. The powerful world figures my father encountered or dealt with, including American presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, and Saudi Arabia’s King Fahd, would have been amused to see the hole-ridden, moth-eaten cotton undershirts he wore beneath his impeccably tailored, charcoal gray, British wool power suits.
My father was not motivated by money. If he had been, he probably wouldn’t have spent the final months of his life in a cramped third class hospital room, with only one meter separating him from the patient on his right, and one meter separating him from the patient on his left.
My father was a career diplomat. But for him diplomacy was not a career, it was a mission. What motivated him was not the modest sum the Ministry of Foreign Affairs paid him once a month, but the values General Douglas MacArthur affirmed in his farewell speech at West Point: Duty, Honor, Country. My father was far too modest to ever characterize his lifetime of dedication in such exalted terms, but his record speaks for itself. When he took the diplomatic service entrance exam in the temporary capital of Chungking during WWII, he scored at the top of his class. Perhaps that is not surprising. He was a descendant of the illustrious Neo-Confucian scholar Chu Hsi (Zhu Xi).
In 1949, when the Chinese mainland fell to Mao Tse-tung’s communists, my father was a lowly consul at the Chinese Consulate General in Vancouver, Canada. As Chiang Kai-shek transferred the national capital from Nanking to Taipei, funds from the home office dried up. One by one, consulate personnel left their posts. Not my father. Each day he packed a sandwich in his briefcase and took a bus to the office. For seven long months, he kept the office open while my mother kept her husband and a three year old baby alive on castoff chicken giblets and pig intestines purchased for pennies in Chinatown.
In the decades that followed, he invariably received an A rating at every embassy or consulate to which he was posted. My mother long ago lost count of the young lives saved, the damaging incidents averted, and the international respect won as a result of his decisiveness and initiative: the suicidal exchange student he dissuaded from leaping to his death; the gun-wielding merchant seaman he disarmed and hustled back to Taiwan with airfare advanced out of his own pocket; the wealthy and influential Texas oil tycoons, cattle barons, and Saudi royal family members whose glowing opinion of the Republic of China reflected their profound respect for him as a man.
T. K. Chu lived the exemplary life of a traditional Chinese scholar official. If he regretted anything in his life, it would be that he never made ambassador. Good soldier that he was, he never complained, but my mother knew it wounded him deeply.
On March 10, 2003, my father walked into Veterans General Hospital in Shilin. A few hours later, this soft-spoken, self-effacing gentleman who helped shepherd the Chinese nation through a half-century of tumultuous change, who helped make Sun Yat-sen’s dream of a modern and prosperous China a reality, walked out with a diagnosis of “high grade glioma,” a brain tumor. In September 2003, my mother and I wheeled him into Renai Hospital in Taipei. By then he could no longer speak or move most of his body. At 1:45 pm on Sunday December 21, 2003, my father took his final breath.
Duty, honor, country. Like MacArthur, my father conducted himself with honor. Like MacArthur, he served his country. Tsing-kang Chu is an old diplomat. And like MacArthur, an old soldier, he will never die. He will just fade away, an old diplomat who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.