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[Part II of a four-part post. Part I is above; III and IV, below.]

Mark O'Neill (Photo: mjj)

HONG KONG – In 1897, an Irish missionary named Frederick O’Neill set sail on a two-month journey to China to spread his Presbyterian gospel among Chinese countryfolk.

Reverend O’Neill remained in remote northeast China for 45 years. In fact, so devoted to his mission were he and his wife that they withstood the loss of two of their five children to childhood diseases – diseases they contracted from their living environment.

“Meaning, they wouldn’t have died if they’d been in Ireland,” says the reverend’s grandson, Mark O’Neill.

When Mark told me he was writing a book about his grandfather, I figured the man had inspired his grandson’s lifelong fascination with China. Wrong.

(See, dear students, this is why we journalists should never assume.)

In fact, Mark stumbled onto it in 1978, when an acquaintance in London suggested he try reporting from Hong Kong – a British colony where he’d have a leg-up getting hired. He eventually latched onto Reuters, then on to the South China Morning Post.

Thirty-two years later, Mark is best described by that charmingly antiquated term for veteran reporters, diplomats, scholars and spies with geographical expertise: “old hand.” Sounds so Cold War. “Old Soviet hand” … “Old Vietnam hand.” (How long before I graduate to “old Central Europe hand”?) (more…)

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