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Christopher Hunter: A Man of Conviction and Faith

By Patrick Dransfeld

Christopher Hunter – publisher, journalist, scholar of Chinese, father of Jessica and son of Gillian and Frederic – passed away at the age of 57 at home in Berkhamsted, England on 21 November 2021. Chris, who lived in Hong Kong from 1987 to 2016, had been suffering from multiple sclerosis for over 25 years and donated his body for research in the hope of providing relief for future sufferers.  

Everybody who met Chris remembers him. He was an active and vocal participant in many social activities. Chris was an early member of the Community Church of Hong Kong and a regular worshipper. The Chinese and Hong Kong legal community owes Chris a great deal as he was a key figure in the development and propagation of Chinese law through his work as editor of China Law & Practice in the 1990s, his work for the Financial Times in Nanjing in the 2000s and as co-founder and director of Vantage Asia Publishing. The magazine China Business Law Journal that Chris founded and edited continues to thrive.    

Some of the tributes which have been paid to Chris are reproduced here: 

“Chris Hunter was a unique individual: thoughtful, incisive and unafraid to offer a trenchant opinion, I was very fortunate to benefit from his tremendous knowledge of Chinese law, language and culture. As a colleague at Asia Law & Practice in the mid-1990s, he was loyal, industrious and committed. Beneath his quirky sense of humour, there was often a serious and sometimes valuable message. A man of conviction and faith, what he occasionally lacked in tact he more than made up for with his integrity and honesty. He will be much missed.”   

—Dominic Carman, former Managing Director of Asia Law & Practice 

“The world is a smaller place without Chris Hunter. I first met Chris at a Student Christian Movement debate in Leeds during the spring of 1983. I recall that he took great delight in sharing biting wit during a particularly heated debate. Our working relationship began with Euromoney’s Asia Law & Practice where we collaborated on several publications: I think my best time in publishing was working with Chris on “The China Patient” (1999) and “Life and Death of a Dotcom in China” (2005). When I left Euromoney, Chris gave me a DVD of the Bill Murray comedy ‘The Man Who Knew Nothing.’  I am still puzzling about that.”  

—Patrick Dransfield, Leeds University Alumni and colleague at Asia Law & Practice

“Chris was a boss, mentor and most of all, a friend. My first taste of his unorthodox approach to life came when he interviewed me for a job at Asia Law & Practice. “What would you think if I fired you?” was one of the first questions he asked. Somehow, I got the job, managed not to get fired, and Chris became my mentor in the world of legal publishing. A combination of my fledgling sales skills and his amateur interest in sales psychology gave rise to some unconventional sales techniques. A memorable example was when Chris attempted to use reverse psychology to sell a sponsored article to one of Asia’s top restructuring lawyers by telling him he was not up to the job of writing it. 

Ten years later, I sought Chris’ mentorship again when I started my own venture – Vantage Asia – in which Chris subsequently became a partner. His presence gave me the confidence to strike out on my own, while his intellect, analytical mind and talent for finding faults in just about everything made him a fantastic sounding board for ideas. His quirky sense of humour and boisterous laugh eased the pain of getting a new business up and running. We all miss him immensely.” 

—James Burden, Director, Vantage Asia 

Chris joined the Financial Times in 1999 with a brief to improve relationships at an FT venture in Nanjing. Chris’ business acumen, knowledge of Chinese culture and language, unflustered approach and determination delivered results. We held one-to-one meetings with principals from our Chinese partner in Beijing – with Chris translating – and the direct approach meant we could dispense with some middle-men, saving money and ensuring clearer communication. Chris then tackled on-the-ground issues in Nanjing, improving relationships with the onsite management, local staff and the handful of young Westerners the FT had contracted. His key victory was persuading the partner to provide better accommodation for the Westerners.  

Chris analysed the 40-person operation that FT was running. He helped develop and then execute our strategy of positive engagement, with the goal of exiting the project when the contract came up for renewal. He managed this skilfully with the partnership ceasing without rancour in 2001. Chris left the FT to pursue other ventures shortly afterwards.  

Over four years Chris’ time in Nanjing was sometimes challenging as MS began to impact him. He identified a skilled number-two to be the key local liaison in Nanjing and reduced the frequency and length of his trips. He also made trips to FT’s London HQ and our divisional office in the New Forest.  

I remember his good humour in dealing with often prickly negotiations and the trouble he went to in building personal relationships in Nanjing. His karaoke rendition of a famous (I’m told) love duet with a senior female official in Nanjing still lives in my mind and won massed applause from the audience. It was clear the staff, locals and Westerners, admired and respected him.  

Chris developed my interest in Chinese history by taking me to sites in Nanjing – the wall and city gates, Yangtze bridge and nearby Sun Yet Sen mausoleum – and in Shanghai and Beijing. He was a cheerful and well-informed guide and always keen to cover elements that UK history ignores.  

—Adrian Clarke, Former Director of FT Electronic Publishing 

“Rest in peace, Chris. You were a very sharp mind let down prematurely by an uncooperative body. I have much to thank you for and hope you now enjoy your freedom from physical constraints!” 

—Michael Fosh  

A memorial service will be held for Chris Hunter in Hong Kong at 6pm on 20 January. The service will be held in the Community Church of Hong Kong (1/F, J+ Building, 35-45B Bonham Strand, Sheung Wan). This will be followed by a memorial dinner at the FCC. (Further details from Tom Cohen: [email protected] ) 

Photo of Christopher Hunter courtesy of James Burden, Director, Vantage Media.  

Remembering Carlos Tejada: Deputy Asia Editor for The New York Times

By Austin Ramzy and Dan Strumpf

Carlos Tejada, an editor for The New York Times who mentored generations of journalists in Asia and helped guide coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and China’s oppression of ethnic minorities, died of a heart attack on 18 December 2021 in Seoul. He was 49.

Tejada became the Times’ deputy Asia editor in 2020 and helped lead the transfer of much of the paper’s Asia operations from Hong Kong to Seoul last year. He previously served as Asia news editor, China news editor and deputy Hong Kong bureau chief for the Wall Street Journal.

Colleagues at both newspapers remember him as a gifted editor who elevated stories with seeming ease and faced the burdens of the job with joy and humour. He held reporters to high standards, coaxing out their best work through both scrutiny and compassion. He made long sentences short and vague ideas clear.

Yuan Li, a business columnist for the Times who also worked with the late editor at the Journal, said Tejada was always willing to help Chinese journalists like herself who wanted to write in English.

“In our 17 years of working together at the Journal then at the Times, he had never laughed at my English,” she says. “As my editor, he just patiently corrected the numerous grammatical mistakes I made, made my sentences comprehensible and my columns shine.”

Josh Chin, deputy China bureau chief at the Journal and a longtime colleague of Tejada, said he was “like a Jedi master of newspaper editing.”

“He could always mind-trick you into doing a story his way, which was usually the right way,” Chin says. “He constantly devoted energy to reporters and their stories in a way that seems unfathomable, and that can only be explained by the fact that he believed with so much infectious conviction in the goodness and value of old-school journalism done properly.”

Tejada also helped nurture young reporters and editors outside his own newsrooms. “The best stories are about conflict,” or where “the stated intent or purpose goes horribly awry,” he told a writing seminar at the FCC’s journalism conference in 2017.

He edited early stories on China’s response to the coronavirus pandemic cited in the Times’ 2021 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. In addition, he contributed to coverage of Beijing’s crackdown on predominately Muslim minority groups that was a Pulitzer finalist in 2020.

After the Times decided to move much of its editing operations in Asia from Hong Kong due to difficulty obtaining visas and the uncertainty created by the National Security Law, Tejada helped spearhead the establishment of a new regional hub in Seoul last year.

Carlos Tejada
Nov. 4th, 2021, Seoul, South Korea: Carlos Tejada, a New York Times editor
in Asia Headquarters in Seoul during a company dinner.
Credit: Chang W. Lee/The New York Times

Tejada grew up in Arizona, the son of an immigrant from El Salvador and an English teacher from New Hampshire (his parents met when his father took his mother’s ESL class). The family lived for a time in a salvaged mobile home. 

“There were javelina [a pig-like hooved animal] in the creosote [a desert shrub] and scorpions in the kitchen sink, but no telephones and no neighbours,” he said of that point in his childhood. “It was more fun than it sounds.”

He joined the Wall Street Journal as a spot news reporter in Dallas, Texas, before moving to New York to work as an editor.

He served as the Journal’s deputy bureau chief and Asia news editor in Hong Kong, then moved in 2011 to Beijing, where he was the paper’s China news editor. He returned to Hong Kong in 2016 when he became the Times’ Asia business editor.

Tejada met his wife, Nora, at the University of Kansas, where he studied journalism. They had a son, Marco, and a daughter, Gianna.

Remembering Jonathan Mirsky

By Stephen Vines

Jonathan Mirsky was never a conventional journalist, nor conventional anything else. He died in London in September at the age of 88. 

For many years he was among the best known China watchers in the hacking business and won the British Press Awards International Reporter of the Year title in 1989 for his Tiananmen massacre coverage in The Observer

In Beijing he was “rewarded” with a savage beating at the hands of the police while covering the protests.

He later moved to The Times and was based in Hong Kong from 1993 to 1998. Towards the end, Mirsky fell out with the paper’s increasingly accommodating attitude towards Beijing ordered by owner Rupert Murdoch, who had big ambitions for expanding business in China.

Mirsky became a familiar figure at the FCC, where a lack of alcoholic consumption and an enthusiasm for discussion – not forgetting an impressive stock of Jewish jokes – marked him out as a not so run-of-the-mill member.

Mirsky, or Minsky as I called him after he was mistakenly identified as such by aristocratic Times Editor William Rees-Mogg, came to journalism through the circuitous route of academia and never quite lost his affection for the long form preferred in universities.

I got to know him back in the 1980s when we were both working for The Observer in London. He was an eccentric character in a newsroom where eccentricity was the norm. At the time I was engaged in the hard-edged area of labour reporting, while Mirsky was pontificating on China from afar. 

Infuriatingly to us hacks who thought that the only kind of reporting that mattered came from on-the-spot observation, he managed to produce superb and highly readable analysis which often outdid the work of Beijing-based correspondents.

When we were later both based in Hong Kong, we occasionally joined forces for interviews. It was an exasperating experience as Mirsky liked to be discursive and, with his genuine interest for people and what made them tick, would spend a great deal of time talking to the interviewees about their lives, while I was impatient to extract the news line of the day.

The Mirsky method often worked far better than the more conventional news-gathering approach, and he made firm friends with many of the people he interviewed. Among them were the Dalai Lama, who wrote to him shortly before his death, and Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last Governor – a combination of friendships likely to confirm the worst misgivings of an ever-suspicious government in Beijing.

Mirsky came from an aggressively secular intellectual leftist New York Jewish family and quickly graduated towards left-wing politics both as a student and an academic. It was this leftism that led him to become one of the early visitors to China in 1972 when the regime was keen to cultivate fellow travellers.

It would however be inaccurate to describe Mirsky as an apologist for the regime, because a sharp eye for the reality of Mao’s China and an uncontainable independence of mind defied such a simple characterisation.

In later years, most especially after Tiananmen, he became a prominent critic and was banned from entering the PRC. To describe Mirsky as being somehow “anti-China” would be a gross misconception because he had a deep love of all things Chinese and almost certainly a deeper knowledge of China’s culture and history than many of the most avid “patriots” who flaunt their love of the nation these days.

Above all Jonathan Mirsky was a mensch. It’s a Yiddish term that covers everything from friendship to humour to kindness yet is still inadequate to convey the true nature of the man.

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