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.

New Year thoughts in different directions

New Year thoughts in different directions

The arrival of another new year brings with it many open doors of opportunity. The old adage, when you’re so far down, there’s only one way to go, up, may well describe the present state of the world.


On the international scene, Christmas and New Year’s headlines focussed on the conflict in the Middle East, the breaking of the six month truce between Israel and Hamas, and the bombings of Hamas military targets by Israeli planes. The psalmist’s age old lament-question, “How long, O LORD,” is as applicable as ever. The issues, of course, are as old as the days of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael. Questions, criticisms, and advice are legion—however, solutions are still as enigmatic as ever. Fundamentalist and evangelical preachers with all of their eschatological scenarios are a dime a dozen. A Bruce Cockburn line comes to mind: “Everyone wants justice done on somebody else.” Or maybe a little more hope in a Leonard Cohen line: “Ring the bells that still can ring forget your perfect offering there’s a crack in everything that’s how the light gets in.” Maybe we all need to pray for more cracks and ring more bells. What is the international community—including the so-called moderate Muslim nations—doing about the escalating anti-Semitic rhetoric and the Holocaust denial conference of Iran’s Prime Minister? Remember, the Nazi movement also started with rhetoric and escalated into anti-Semitic political policies, which in turn, resulted in the Holocaust. Why is the international community criticising Israel to no end, yet failing to act to declare suicide bombings a crime against humanity? Israel has a right to exist in peace with her neighbours. Do her neighbours accept or reject this right? My hope and prayer for 2009 is that the peace movement among Israelis and Palestinians shall flourish, and the press focus more on what they are doing to make a difference in everyday life for both peoples.


On the national scene, we had a bit of a political crisis, with the threat of a coalition between the NDPs and Liberals, and the BQ promising their support. Most Canadians may not have voted Prime Minister Harper into parliament—since the voter turnout was rather pathetic!—yet, I think the majority of Canadians would consider such a coalition with a separatist party holding the balance of power rather dangerous. I empathize with the Governor General; she had a difficult decision to make; however I think she made the best one, considering the alternatives. Our M.P.s in Ottawa from all parties need to stop playing destructive political partisan games and consider the overall well-being of the nation—that’s what Canadians gave them a mandate to do, to govern responsibly in a minority situation by working together regardless of their political ideologies. The growing—statistics may not support this—violence, or at the least media coverage, is a concern for every Canadian. What are the circumstances and other factors that draw people into gangs and drugs? Do we need to be more proactive? How can we as a society meet the needs of people in order that they would not turn to gangs, violence and drugs? We all need to struggle with questions like this and work together for a more peaceful society. Rather than signs of despair, these are doors of opportunities, for where there is life there is hope and vice versa. Happy New Year and God bless us one and all!