Saturday, March 19, 2016

What I Learnt from Brian Evans

I met Brian in 1986 when I went to the University of Alberta as a Killam postdoctoral scholar. Before I left Ottawa Arthur Menzies gave me some fairly firm instructions that I was to visit his friend James Barrington, who just moved to a nursing home in Edmonton, and that I should report back to Arthur how he was doing there.

Mr Barrington had been Burma's representative to the UN and Ambassador to Canada prior to taking up a teaching job in Brian's History Department in 1965. Brian volunteered to take me to see him.  We went by bus, Brian's preferred mode of transport.  Turns out Brian visited Jim Barrington regularly to pass on his copy of the Far Eastern Economic Review.  That was typical of Brian.  He did so many kind things on the quiet.

After that Brian and I became good friends. We often met for tea in the Hub Mall twice a day morning and afternoon. Although he was the Associate Vice President of the University at the time he always seem to have time to be my mentor (and Victor Radujko had the same privileged access to Brian). In years following Brian came to stay with me in Ottawa and Beijing and St. Catharines and I got to lodge in his palace on 81st Avenue on several occasions. And we travelled together all over China and Macau and several times in Korea and a couple of times to his sister's place in Sylvan Lake. Some of the happiest memories of my life are of times spent traveling in the very good company of Brian Evans.

On February 11 of this year I flew into Thailand only to find an email waiting for me from Pat Prestwich indicating that Brian’s condition had become critical and asking me to come to Edmonton as soon as I could. I was numb with the shock of it. 

That evening in Bangkok at midnight, fighting jet lag, everybody else in the house asleep, I was able to speak with Brian in hospital at 10am Edmonton time for one last time. I told him over the phone that he had been the single greatest single influence on me personally and as an academic. With a weak but ever gracious voice, Brian thanked me for introducing him to so many good Chinese friends over the years.

And that was true.  I invited Brian to join the Royal Society of Canada - Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Democracy project in 1992, Indeed the last time I saw Brian was when we traveled together with the colleagues from CASS as part of the Chinese delegation to a conference in Seoul. To the Chinese colleagues he wasn't a “Canadian friend.” His Chinese friends grew to love him as just Brian for himself and there was no barrier of race or nationality between them.  News of Brian’s death hit very hard in China. The messages to me from Brian's Chinese friends about it have been so emotional I haven't even been able to bring myself to translate them into English yet.

About 15 years ago Brian decided to bring the ashes of his late wife Margot Burwash to China to scatter some of them in Beijing. So Brian and I and Chen Qineng and Liu Guangtai and Wang Benxu furtively wandered all over the Altar of the Sun Park near my staff quarters in Beijing looking for a suitable place to illegally deposit Margot's earthly remains. Eventually Brian found a suitable glade of shrubbery and Wang Benxu led us all in the ritual nine bows in the direction of the bush that Brian with considerable aplomb had thrown them into.  

Subsequent I went back to the Park trying to find where we had scattered those ashes but I never could find the place again. 

Pat wants to bring some of Brian's ashes back to China, an idea I fully support.  Chen Qineng thinks he might be able to find the place by referring to some of the photographs we took that afternoon in the Park all those years ago.

My guess is that we will traipse around the Altar of the Sun Park for quite some time until the spirit of Brian tells us to just scatter his ashes somewhere else and head to the teahouse for refreshment.

After all, Brian had a great sense of humour and a profound appreciation of the absurd upside of life.

I think of Brian often and have to keep reminding myself that he's gone.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Canada Not Among 12 Nations Making Joint Statement on China's "Deteriorating Human Rights Record" to UN Human Rights Council

"In a strongly worded statement delivered to the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva, US ambassador Keith Harper expressed concern about the 'unexplained recent disappearances and apparent coerced returns of Chinese and foreign citizens from outside mainland China,' saying they called into question China’s commitment to its “one country, two systems” principle for Hong Kong.

The comments drew an angry response from Fu Cong, the Chinese deputy permanent representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva, who called the US out for conducting 'large-scale extra-territorial eavesdropping” and using drones to “attack other countries’ innocent civilians'.

Referring to “recent reports of abductions”, the American ambassador said on Thursday: 'These extraterritorial actions are unacceptable, out of step with the expectations of the international community, and a challenge to the rules-based international order. The actions involving individuals in Hong Kong represent a violation of the high degree of autonomy promised Hong Kong under its Basic Law.'

He also expressed concern about China’s 'deteriorating human rights record', pointing to the arrests and ongoing detention of rights activists, civil society leaders and lawyers. The ambassador delivered the statement on behalf of the US, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and the UK."

(Phila Siu, “China Slams US Drone Strikes on ‘innocent Civilians’ as United Nations Showdown over Missing Booksellers Escalates into Slanging Match,” South China Morning Post (March 11, 2016), accessed March 14, 2016,