Ming Chan and I first met when he was the coordinator of the Hong Kong Documentary Archives at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. Ming was a flamboyant character. He was large (sideways) with a clear, loud clip in his voice. He never sought to dominate but he was a fine scholar and had good turn of phrases to summarise complex thoughts and so he stood out. You could not miss Ming in a crowd full of experts.
Ming maintained a jolly demeanour even when he thought things were not going well for Hong Kong. His heart was with the democrats, but his head was hard – he pushed for scholarly reflection of Hong Kong’s future as a part of China. He brought together interesting people – his many friends – to contribute chapters to books, which he edited. No one refused Ming, as far as I know. I was a willing member of his “groupie”.
Recognised the importance of studying local history
Ming Chan recognised the importance of studying local history – a sorely neglected subject in Hong Kong – perhaps slightly better today in terms of available funding, but there is still insufficient attention paid to such work. Ming believed that by faithfully collecting archival materials from Hong Kong and Macao, that it would enable future generations to conduct good research about these fascinating places, and places he loved.
I visited Ming at Stanford on two occasions once before and once after 1997. He was a gracious host. There was always a lot of meetings with “interesting” or “important” people Ming wanted to introduce me to, and a lot of chowing. Ming returned to Hong Kong from time to time. Sadly, Ming Chan passed suddenly in his beloved city. Ming and I were in discussion on the new book he wanted to put together – to which he already had a contents page with authors’ name on it – and we were discussing one of the chapters he wanted me to write. I did not refuse him of course and we were going to finalise arrangements over noodles and talk about the fun we would have. Slurping noodles will have to wait.