Obituary - VALE JIMMIE YAPP (1914 - 2012)

Barry Pearton

Vale Jimmie Yapp (left) and Clare Hollingworth (right).
[中文] [Oct 2012 - The Journalist] JIMMIE YAPP was one of those rare creatures of journalism – understated, generous, compassionate, but with an underlying steel in the spirit, and the incisive mind of the inquisitor.

A regular contributor to ATI Magazine from our earliest days through until 2007, when he ‘retired’ (again) at the age of 93, Jimmie brought a special perspective to his reporting of events in China – a country he had watched through the Japanese occupation, the fall of the Kuomintang, the Cultural Revolution, the re-opening under the reforms of Deng Xiao-ping, and the return of both Hong Kong and Macau.

Jimmie died on July 13, two years short of his 100th birthday, and was cremated on August 6 at Cape Collinson in Hong Kong.

"Jimmie" — as he was known to colleagues, friends and admirers — was a self-made success story. He rose from humble beginnings as a largely self-taught Chinese reporter to become a revered editor at the China Mail, South China Morning Post and Tiger Standard — three of the leading English dailies in colonial-era Hong Kong. He endeared himself to colleagues, particularly juniors, as a mentor, friend and philosopher.

Jimmie was born in 1914 in Cape Town, South Africa, where his father had emigrated from China to join an uncle in the grocery business. After his father died, Jimmie's uncle advised him to go back to his ancestral village in Guangdong.

While there, Jimmie got into trouble for criticising the village chief. Warned of his impending arrest, he fled to Hong Kong. After stints in several odd jobs, including pest extermination, he landed a post as freelance reporter at the Post, and, after plucking up the courage to ask if he could have more work, was told he could cover all sport in Hong Kong.

Knowing little about sport except the basics of soccer, Jimmie bought books to educate himself. Thereafter he went to Happy Valley, where the army held its league games: he always went to the goalkeeper first to ask what game was being played and for the names of teams and players. That way, he could cover five or six games each afternoon.

The soldiers wanted to see their names in the paper, which helped boost circulation. At night, Jimmie covered badminton to boost his earnings. Before long, however, he was offered a monthly salary of HK$80.

Jimmie decided against joining the Post and went instead to a smaller paper — the Hong Kong Tiger Standard — because, in his own words, he wanted to gain more experience. He later became news editor there. Years later he returned to the Post as assistant news editor and later became editor of the China Mail, a broadsheet evening paper.

During the second world war, Jimmie saw action as editor with the British Ministry of Information, China Branch, in Guilin, and later in Kunming, Yunnan. There, he met and married Harriette Wong, following a whirlwind romance in 1944. His wife, born in Burma, worked for the Kunming Broadcasting Company, and translated Jimmie’s English scripts for broadcast in Burma. Harriette died in 2005, aged 83.

Jammie was awarded the MBE for services to journalism in 1977. He is survived by a son, three daughters and six grandchildren.