Fu-Mei and Chi-Kun Kao Memorial Scholarship in East Asian Studies

Awarded to graduate students who have completed the first year of their program, and whose thesis focuses on Japanese-related or relevant subjects, including, but not limited to, the following (in order of priority): Japanese culture/traditions, Japanese language, Japanese linguistics, Japanese history, Japanese arts/music, Japanese political systems, Japanese government, and Japanese religions. The recipient is chosen based on superior academic achievement.

Almost immediately after immigrating from Taiwan with his wife Fu-Mei and the youngest daughter in 1977, Chi-Kun Kao presented his language teaching credentials to the Chair of the interdepartmental East Asian Studies Committee at University of Alberta, joining through the Department of History in Fall 1978 (Note 1). His native fluency in Japanese and Taiwanese, coupled with acquired fluency in Mandarin Chinese and English, made him a valued, innovative colleague and popular, effective teacher. 

Chi-Kun designed a unique curriculum for teaching Japanese to both heritage Japanese speakers and Chinese speakers familiar with kanji, a model that eliminated unfair competition in mixed classes that included students with no prior experience with Japanese. Separate classes offered appropriate challenges for both. This model was adopted by other universities facing similar challenges. 

He also had a special ability to capture students’ imagination and curiosity while teaching them the usually tedious exercises for memorizing kanji.  Armed with deep knowledge of the indigenous Japanese pronunciation (kunyomi) and the Chinese pronunciation (onyomi) for the same kanji, as well as the compositional principles of both Chinese characters and Japanese kanji, Chi-Kun could draw comparisons and make connections, often involving amusing stories from both cultural traditions, with the result that students came to regard Japanese writing as enjoyable and fun. The line of students outside his door during office hours was said to be long and last until early evening.

Chi-Kun also supported the National Japanese Language Speech Contest, sponsored by the Consulate-General of Japan since 1988, advocating that students compete on separate levels according to their background preparation to make competition fair to all.  His wife, Fu-Mei, also a native speaker of Japanese, was equally devoted to providing excellent training to students of Japanese. She worked with Chi-Kun’s students both for their classroom studies and helping them prepare for the Japanese Speech Contest. Chi-Kun and Fu-Mei were so respected and trusted that they were selected as chaperons for UA’s Japan Exchange Program, a heavy responsibility that they embraced with enthusiasm. Chi-Kun retired in 1992, after 14 years of valuable service to East Asian Studies at University of Alberta. 

This Memorial Scholarship in honor of Fu-Mei (1929-2021) and Chi-Kun Kao (1928-2023) is offered to recognize and support students who demonstrate the qualities these two dedicated teachers valued - the pursuit of education, attaining high academic achievement, and cherishing Japanese culture.

Note 1: East Asian Studies at that time was a so-called East Asian Studies Committee under the Faculty of Arts established by Faculty of Arts members from History, Political Science, Economics, Religious Studies, and Language teachers. 

Professor Hazel Jones of History was elected as the first Chair to lead this interdepartmental committee belonging to the Faculty of Arts. 

Acknowledgment: Chi-Kun and Fu-Mei’s tenure at EAS was based on inputs from a former colleague. We deeply appreciate his support making this article possible.