Biography sheds light on ‘remarkable’ Canadian diplomat

New book on Chester Ronning pays tribute to the exceptional life of a leader who forged links between Canada and China.


This video, featuring footage from Edmonton filmmaker Tom Radford’s China Mission: The Chester Ronning Story, shows Ronning near the end of a life lived large.

(Edmonton) His Chinese friends called him an “egg”—white on the outside, but Chinese inside. The son of a Norwegian missionary, Chester Ronning grew up in China at the dawn of the 20th century, wet-nursed by a Chinese house servant and raised mostly by domestic staff.

He spent his childhood immersed in Chinese language and culture, returning to the country as a young man to teach. Later in life he became one of Canada’s most important diplomats, but not before serving as both the principal of Camrose Lutheran College—now the University of Alberta’s Augustana Campus—and leader of Alberta’s Cooperative Commonwealth Federation, forerunner of the New Democratic Party.

Ronning’s intelligence, good humour and deep understanding of China were crucial in forging relations between Canada and the Land of the Sleeping Giant in the postwar era. He advised former prime ministers Lester Pearson and John Diefenbaker on China’s political nuances and frequently opposed American cold-war foreign policy on the international stage.

Now, for the first time in English, U of A historian Brian Evans has written a biography of this exceptional Canadian, published by the U of A Press—The Remarkable Chester Ronning: Proud Son of China. Some 30 years in the making, the book is based largely on interviews with Ronning in 1980.

For more information or to order the book, visit the University of Alberta Press.