The Eye on Taiwan news staff
Joe Hung (洪健昭), a seasoned journalist and former diplomat, has died at the age of 86 following a month-long battle with cancer-related diseases.
Bereaved family and friends gathered at the Taipei Municipal Second Funeral Parlor in a memorial service on Tuesday to bid farewell to Hung, who passed away on Feb 20 in Taipei.
He was remembered by relatives and friends as a man who was not only well-learned but was also unafraid to speak against those in power.
Hung was admitted to hospital in January with a diagnosis of rectal cancer cells spreading to his kidney, but after a successful surgical operation, he suffered from complications of heart attack and pulmonary infection and died on Feb 20, his family said.
Born in a relatively well-to-do family in Tamsui near Taipei in 1932, Hung was known for his great language skills since childhood. He had an excellent command of both Japanese and English and was able to learn a language easily, according to his friends and former colleagues.
Hung received Japanese education before his sophomore year in junior high in 1945 and spoke the language so well that he had served briefly as former president Lee Teng-hui’s Japanese interpreter.
Hung once told his friends he communicated with his classmates in Japanese after he went to the foreign languages and literature department of the National Taiwan University in 1950. He also talked to his wife — who passed away three years ago — in Japanese and it was until after they had their first child that he finally spoke Taiwanese at home.
After serving in Taiwan’s military for five years as the army’s English translator/interpreter responsible for communication with the US troops stationed in Taiwan, Hung pursued further study in the US where he received his master’s degree in journalism in Southern Illinois University in 1965 as well as his Ph.D. in history from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. in 1981.
He was recruited by late Nancy Yu-Huang, then publisher and founder of the English-language China Post, as the daily’s editor-in-chief between 1965 and 1970, while serving as an associate professor at National Chengchi University in Taipei from 1966-1973.
Jack Huang, former director of the China Post, recalled when Hung was the Post’s chief editor, one day a powerful typhoon hit Taiwan and only two people went to work. Hung single-handedly edited the entire newspaper so that it could be published in the next day.
His sharp news sense and his proficiency in English news writing had greatly helped elevate the status and influence of the Post, which was the first English daily published in Taiwan in 1952 and ceased to exist in print in May 2017. (Its website and mobile application have remained active.)
Hung had served as a correspondent for the semi-official Central News Agency in Jordan, Washington, Houston, Tokyo, and London between 1970s and late 1980s before becoming the agency’s president in 1990-1992 and chairman in 1992-1993.
He was made CNA’s chairman again in 2009, a year after Ma Ying-jeou of the Kuomintang became Taiwan’s president and served two years before devoting his time writing commentaries and editorials for the China Post.
Hung spent time in the diplomatic corps as well, serving as Taiwan’s representative in Italy from 1993 to 2000. He had once again proven himself as a man of great language-skills as it took the former stranger of Italian language only a week or so to master the language, recalled Andrea Lee, his aide who was tasked to prepare a five-minute Italian-language address when Hung was inaugurated as Taiwan’s representative to Italy.
Lee also praised Hung for his full trust toward his subordinates and his ability to make good friends with senior officials from Italy’s foreign ministry, which ultimately led to the signing of an unprecedented air deal for Taiwanese airliners to operate in Italy and the opening of an Italy’s representative office in Taipei during his tenure.
In 2010, he was invited by the Ma government to translate a collection of 21 short stories by early 20th-century Taiwanese writer-poet Lai He due to his good command of English and his deep understanding of Taiwan’s history.
Hung was also remembered as an outspoken person, who would sharply criticize those in power, including former presidents Lee Teng-hui, Chen Shui-bian, Ma Ying-jeou and incumbent president Tsai Ing-wen, in terms of their policies and political maneuvering he deemed improper.
According to the Central News Agency, the Ma government was angered by a Philippines’ decision in February 2011 to deport 14 Taiwanese fraud suspects to China instead of Taiwan. But in an article published by a CNA’s monthly magazine in March that year, Hung, who was still CNA chairman at that time, said the decision was not “unreasonable,” given that the fraud activities took place in China instead of Taiwan or the Philippines, and that Manila — which does not have official ties with Taipei — adheres to Beijing’s “one China” policy.
His comments immediately drew harsh criticism from some legislators, who lashed out at Hung for failing to uphold the government’s stance and dignity. Hung insisted that he only wished to point out the truth, according to CNA.
In his “A New History of Taiwan” published in English in 2011, Hung lamented the political divide within Taiwan, which he said had seriously hindered the development of the island and would continue to do so should there be no reconciliation.
Though Hung was born in Taiwan, he identified himself as an ethnic Chinese living in Taiwan.