Book Review: The Remarkable Chester Ronning

ronningThe Remarkable Chester Ronning: Proud Son of China

Author: Brian L. Evans

Publisher: The University of Alberta Press, Edmonton, 2013

306 pages, including Bibliography and Index, ISBN 978-0-88864-663-7, CDN $34.95, Paperback

Reviewed by Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

According to Professor Evans, Chester Alvin Ronning was an “extraordinary” and “remarkable” man on almost all counts, and deserves more public and academic recognition. This volume is one contribution that endeavours to rectify the matter at hand.

Chester Ronning was born in China to Norwegian-Lutheran missionary parents. He was trilingual, speaking Chinese, Norwegian and English. I can still remember years ago as a student at Camrose Lutheran College, meeting the elderly, dignified Ronning on campus and being amazed at how he loved to seek out the Chinese students and regale them with his stories and humour by speaking fluent Chinese.

I appreciated Evans’s emphasis on Ronning’s significant contributions as, among other things: a farmer, a provincial politician with the United Farmers of Alberta and the CCF, an innovative educator and principal, a distinguished Canadian diplomat, and a husband, father and family man.

Professor Evans underscores Ronning’s zealous commitment to Canada and the USA recognizing the legitimacy of the communist government of China. Although Ronning was a social democrat—not a communist as many of his critics branded him—he was quite sympathetic to the political activists in China among the peasants. He was also a close friend and colleague of Chou En-lai.

Having worked as a diplomat for 20 years with the Department of External Affairs, representing Canada in China, Norway and India; Ronning became widely acclaimed as an inspirational, international figure; travelling extensively in his retirement years as a much-in-demand speaker and expert on China, opponent of the Vietnam war, and other popular causes of the political left.

My only critique of Evans’s biography is that I would like to have heard more from those closest to Ronning—his wife Inga and their six children. However, Evans does include statements from and references to Ronning’s eldest daughter, Audrey Topping and her husband Seymour, who was a journalist with The New York Times, and who devoted some significant coverage on Ronning in that newspaper from time-to-time.

I would recommend The Remarkable Chester Ronning: Proud Son of China primarily to students and teachers of Canadian history.