VALE CHI KONG LAI (1955-2021)

18 Jun 2021

One of a number of excellent appointments made to the then History Department by Ross Johnston, Chi Kong arrived at UQ in 1995, armed with a much-praised PhD from the University of California Davis and lecturing experience at the University of New England. He immediately established himself as a most energetic and popular colleague, one who knew an astonishing amount about many things. His library, which in its bulk called to mind the Great Wall of China, revealed an extraordinarily wide range of knowledge and interests, and like its owner it was continually growing, fueling his great output of distinguished publications in both Chinese and English and his highly committed teaching, which ranged over more fields than most people can manage.

But his friends will remember him more for other things. Chi Kong attracted more research students from overseas than anyone else in the Faculty, and the supervision they enjoyed was inspirational, painstaking, and occasionally costly. He was meticulous in keeping in touch with former students after they graduated, and so came to preside over an international family of emerging scholars. He reveled in the entrepreneurial organization of international conferences, to which he apparently effortlessly summoned the most eminent scholars, with whom his own students in the early stages of their own careers were able to rub shoulders.   

In such ways Chi Kong stood at the centre of groups of people who had largely come into being because of him, a position that he relished. But he chiefly did this in his own home. He was by far the most hospitable among the historians at UQ, and the superbly catered-for evenings at Rose Crescent provided the setting for discussions of a kind they rarely enjoyed elsewhere, no less than with people from Griffith and further afield. We will never forget the genial figure of Chi Kong, greeting his guests by name in his strong and confident voice as they entered his home, rejoicing to see his friends happy. 

Universities are nowadays home to fewer colorful personalities than they used to be. But Chi Kong was more than just a larger-than-life character. He was extraordinarily open-hearted, always keeping an eye open for how he could help others, whether friends made when he was himself a student, his own students, his colleagues, or his many friends from different circles, with whom he seemed to be in constant contact over his phone. The astonishing number of floral tributes that arrived at his funeral showed how many lives he touched, and how widely he will be missed. Our deepest sympathies are with his wife Pui Ching, who always stood by his side and unfailingly supported him. We shall feel his loss for the rest of our lives. May his memory be eternal!  


Emeritus Professor John Moorhead, University of Queensland