1931 – 2011
Dr. Fu-Shiang Chia died Monday, August 22 at the Lady Minto Hospital on Salt Spring Island, B.C. after an extended illness. He is survived by Sharon, his wife of 48 years, their daughters Maria (Myron, Saint Albert, Alberta) and Alisa (Toronto), their four grandchildren Massey, Lara, Elise and Jeremiah, two sisters in Shandong, China and numerous nieces and nephews. Born in Shandong, he was pre-deceased by his parents and three older brothers. The only literate member of the family was his grandfather, an itinerant, countryside judge and fung shui master, who , when Fu-Shiang was seven years old, began to give the future scholar rigorous lessons in Chinese Classical Literature. Though illiterate, the boy’s mother was a natural, gifted story-teller who recognized in her fourth son an unusual intelligence and an extraordinarily curious nature. When he was fifteen she urged him to “go far away,” wanting him to procure an education somehow and to develop his mind to its full potential. For the next three years he wandered about eastern China amidst the dangers of the vestiges of the Japanese invasion and occupation and the armies of the advancing civil war, all who would have conscripted or killed him. As a vagrant vagabond, he was often reduced to begging or to petty commerce such as selling single cigarettes or pieces of candy scrounged from ubiquitous war dead in order to earn enough for a meal.
Fu-Shiang’s family, though very poor, actually owned the plot of land from which they drew subsistence, and therefore were under threat from the advancing communists in 1949. An uncle assisted him to gain safe passage to Taiwan (then Formosa), where he was immediately (and briefly) imprisoned as a suspected communist spy. Upon release, he was given the rank of Lieutenant in the KMT Nationalist army. After two years, he was decommissioned and began to study for his BSc in biology at the National Normal University of Taiwan. In 1961, his academic excellence gained him a scholarship to the University of Washington in Seattle, USA, where he earned MSc and PhD degrees which launched him on a career of research and teaching at six universities on three continents, including an early appointment in England and ending with an unusual position at one of Asia’s premier institutions. The bulk of his academic life was spent at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, while he maintained an active research presence at the Friday Harbor Laboratories of the University of Washington and at the Bamfield Marine Station on Vancouver Island. Gradually he established a world-wide reputation for his academic work, publishing over 200 refereed scientific articles and four books on his specialization on intertidal invertebrate marine animals. He also mentored and supervised more than fifty post-doctoral fellows, MSc and PhD students. Not only was he a very popular instructor of undergraduate students, he also took a special interest in nurturing the aspirations of many younger people.
From 1978 to 1983, Fu-Shiang was Chairman of the Department of Biology at the University of Alberta, and from 1983 to 1993 he was the dynamic Dean of the University’s Faculty of Graduate Studies and Research, where he led by example to instil his own virtues of devotion to academic excellence, fairness, innovation and integrity. For several years he held the 9th highest amount of research grant dollars in Canada, all while distinguishing himself as an administrator.
From the University of Alberta, Professor Chia was recruited in the mid 1990’s by the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology as a professor to help that University in its ambitious program to become the MIT or Cal Tech of Asia. After four years there he enjoyed a brief stint as the Director of the Taiwan National Aquarium before returning to Edmonton. Soon after, he and Sharon took up residence on Salt Spring Island for his third, and final retirement. Until he was in his eightieth year, however, he continued to lecture to rapt audiences in Asia and North America.
This story of scientific and administrative achievements relates only half of Fu-Shiang’s professional life. During his mature years his mind returned to his tutelage by his grandfather in the 1930s. He quickly gained a vast readership in Taiwan, the People’s Republic of China and in the Chinese diaspora, prolifically publishing books of poetry, philosophical essays and popularly accessible, yet scholarly translations of Chinese classics. (He was also given as much space he wanted on whatever topic interested him in each year’s first issue of the Chinese edition of Scientific American, an honour and privilege he was only once able to fulfil.) Probably his greatest scholarly contribution to the world – and certainly his favourite work – was his 2008 publication of a tri-lingual translation of the Shi Jing, the oldest extant collection of lyric poetry in the patrimony of world literature, translating the Classical Chinese text into modern Chinese and on into contemporary English. In 2010 this magnum opus was republished by the prestigious University of Beijing’s Peking University Press, which further “translated” this work into the modern, simplified Chinese script put in place under Chairman Mao, virtually guaranteeingFu-Shiang’s work itself the status of a classic. Following this pinnacle of a more than forty year intellectual career, Fu-Shiang continued to the end of his life, writing and translating poetry and essays, planning his memoirs, and lecturing on ecology, philosophy and poetry, focussing his energies more and more on non-academic audiences and young people, fostering in them a love of science, fine arts and literature. To him no one who showed curiosity was ever too young or insignificant to be personally drawn into the orbit of his love of learning. His was truly a life well lived, and though he would blush and reject the notion, his was the life of a great soul, a very spiritual atheist.
Fu-Shiang’s family gratefully acknowledge the kindness and compassion of the nurses and doctors at the Lady Minto Hospital, especially Dr. White and Dr. MacPhail. They also extend a special, heartfelt “thank you” to the Salt Spring Hospice/Bessie Dan Foundation.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Dr. Fu-Shiang Chia’s memory to either the Land Conservancy of British Columbia [301-1195 Esquimault Road, Victoria, B.C. V9A 3N6] or to the University of Washington for the Fernald Fellowship Fund at the Friday Harbor Laboratories, Friday Harbor, Washington, USA 98250.
A Memorial Celebration of Fu-Shiang Chia’s life will be held on September 2nd, from 2:30 to 4:30 at the Harbour House Hotel on Salt Spring Island.