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Thursday, 18 November 2004
Page: 153


Senator TCHEN (6:48 PM) —Tonight I rise to speak on a matter of personal closeness to me—the life and time of Mr Tchen Hou-jou, who passed away on Sunday, 14 November, in Melbourne. Mr Tchen Hou-jou was Chinese by birth and Australian by adoption—for him, both proud and fortunate attributes. He was a man of peace by nature and a resourceful and fearless fighter for justice and fairness by conviction. He was, by the heritage of his culture, a meritocrat whereby one is judged by one's achievements but, by persuasion, a democrat whereby one is valued regardless of one's station.

He was born in 1912, in the first year of the new Republic of China, established after the abdication of the Manchurian Ching Dynasty emperor of the old Chinese Empire and following the successful republic revolution on 10 October 1911, in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. So he was born into a time of uncertainty and instability which, unfortunately for him and his generation, progressed—if that process could be called progress—through a long period, lasting practically all his life, of constant and destructive upheavals in China and in the world. The 20th century had been a time of relentless and great change, including two destructive great wars, innumerable lesser wars, a great depression, many and varied recessions—including some that were good for us—and societal changes beyond imagination during the first decade of that century. But with fortitude and a fair measure of good fortune, Mr Tchen was able to make it through to spend his last years enjoying a measurable degree of security and tranquillity in one of the few places in the world that could provide it, in Australia.

Mr Tchen was born in Yizheng county in the historic Yangzhou, a city in decline from its former glories as a premier commercial and cultural centre on the northern bank of the Yangtze River at the junction of the Grand Canal, but nevertheless a city of some importance. His family history traced back 14 generations to the mid-17th century, when it settled in Yangzhou in the aftermath of the Manchurian conquest of China.

Earlier generations of the Tchen family were merchants, but after nine generations the family was of sufficient substance to convert to scholar class, that peculiarly Chinese Confucian concept that held public service to be the highest form of aspiration and that the privilege of holding public offices should be achieved through public examinations and retained through meritorious service. Successes at public service examinations at the highest level followed, and the next three generations all achieved high offices, together with a high reputation of incorruptibility and fairness in conduct. Mr Tchen's name, Hou-jou, meaning `of substantive scholarship', reflects the family values and expectation.

The next two generations of the Tchen family, Mr Tchen's father and grandfather, had little opportunity to contribute to the community, like their forebears did, due to the gradual breaking down of Chinese society compounded by the external threat of European imperialism to China. But the family tradition ran strong and, at age 14, Mr Tchen Hou-jou left his ancestral home in rural Yangzhou, never to return, and went to Shanghai, where he matriculated and attended the famous Jesuit-run Aurora University, called Zhendan—meaning `the thunder of dawning' in Chinese—and graduated with a law degree at age 19.

He was appointed a local examining magistrate in Anhui Province, upstream on the Yangtze from Nanjing, then China's national capital. In those days, the Chinese legal system followed the European model, and the examining magistrate had something of a combined role of public prosecutor, public defender and judge for the preliminary hearings—not an easy task to fulfil, especially for a 19-year-old. Not much is known about Mr Tchen's performance as a junior examining magistrate, except that he was neither assassinated nor jailed in the course of his work, so he probably did reasonably well.

After a few years at court, Mr Tchen joined the staff of Mr Ding Chun Gao, a descendant of another scholarly family famous for incorruptibility and fairness as public officials, who then headed a central government commission to establish a national taxation system in those provinces under the control of the Chinese national government. This was a perilous task, as the national government's ability to influence events in most of the areas nominally under its control was nothing more than that—nominal—and the local warlords were understandably unfriendly. It was not a task for the faint-hearted nor the foolhardy, but Mr Tchen did well enough to become Mr Ding's chief of and often only staff.

In 1938 Mr Tchen married Mr Ding's daughter, Mohsien. They were together for 41 years, until Mrs Tchen passed away in 1989. They had five children—four sons and one daughter. Mr Tchen joined the Chinese diplomatic service in 1940 in Chongqing, the then temporary national capital of China. In 1942 he was posted to Iran, to the Chinese embassy in Teheran, as a junior diplomatic officer. Here he achieved the unusual distinction of successfully complaining against the ambassador for inappropriate use of embassy funds. The ambassador was relieved of his duties and Mr Tchen was rewarded, in due course, by being sent to the small port city of Haiphong in North Vietnam as probationary vice-consul in 1947.

As in many South-East Asian cities, Haiphong had a sizeable Chinese population, and Mr Tchen became a popular consular representative for the Chinese government even though that government was itself less than popular. He was in Haiphong for seven years, eventually becoming a substantive vice-consul. In 1954, following the ceasefire agreement between the French colonial government and the communist Vietmin government in Geneva, Vietnam was partitioned into north and south and a large proportion of Haiphong's population, especially the ethnic Chinese, were evacuated to the south. Mr Tchen played a large role in managing the evacuation before returning to Taiwan, where the government of the Republic of China had moved in 1949. Mr Tchen served in the Chinese foreign affairs ministry from 1954 to 1957, when he was posted to Tahiti, French Polynesia, as consul-general. He was again successful in his post as an advocate of the sizeable Chinese population in Tahiti. Notably, he successfully persuaded the French Polynesian government to abolish a discriminatory poll tax applicable only to the Chinese population.

In 1960 Mr Tchen was posted to the Chinese embassy in Senegal, where he was charge d'affaires. There he began his career as a diplomatic officer instead of a consular officer. He was engaged in a constant struggle between the two governments purporting to represent the whole of China—the Republic of China government in Taiwan and the People's Republic of China government in Beijing. It was a constant struggle for foreign recognition and a seat at the United Nations. In 1964 the Senegal government recognised the Beijing government, whereupon Mr Tchen was sent to Vietnam as deputy ambassador in Saigon, where he spent two years. The four-year term spent in Senegal was actually longer than most people were able to serve and demonstrates his ability to develop personal relationships with the government in that place.

In 1966, he was sent to the Republic of Dahomey, now called Benin, again in West Africa, where he stayed until 1973, maintaining recognition of the ROC nationalist Chinese government throughout this period. In 1973, Dahomey recognised the PRC government as the government of China, and Mr Tchen returned to Taiwan where he became a ministerial counsellor at the foreign ministry there. In 1975 he retired and came to live in Australia. He developed his English, learned to play bowls, became a pillar of his bowling club and was known popularly as Harold to all his friends. He also developed an admiration for our Prime Minister as a leader of international status.

Mr Tchen died last Sunday following complications from myelodysplasia—an acute form of anemia. My father was laid to rest alongside my mother in Springvale Cemetery on Wednesday. I would like to take this opportunity to record my thanks to Professor Yen Ling Lim and his colleagues at Epworth Hospital and also to the Melbourne Chinese Christian Church of Glen Iris for their fellowship. I thank the Senate for its courtesy to me.


The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Watson)—Thank you very much for that very moving tribute to your father.