Obituary: John Chinnery, former Edinburgh University's Chinese department head, 86

Dr John Chinnery, the first head of Edinburgh University's Chinese department, has died, aged 86.

After many teaching roles in the UK and China, the position was fitting for a person with his level of expertise in the Chinese language. A fluent Chinese speaker at the time of his 1965 appointment, he had became a sinologist by chance.

Born on June 30, 1924 outside the village of Much Hadham, Essex, he was educated at Waterside School before winning a scholarship to Bishop's Stortford College.

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With Britain's lack of oriental linguists, the headmaster was approached by the Department of Education for suitable candidates.

Mr Chinnery was asked, and on accepting he chose to learn Chinese at the School of Oriental Studies (SOAS).

His teacher was Xiao Quian, a Chinese writer and wartime London correspondent of a Chinese newspaper.

His classmates included Sandy Wilson author of The Boy Friend and Ted Youde who served as a British ambassador to China and a Governor of Hong Kong.

In 1943, he joined the army where he read written communications between India and China.

Demobbed in 1947, he returned to the SOAS. Graduating with a first class degree, he was invited to become a lecturer.

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A year later, he married his first wife, Helga, a German Jewish refugee, with whom he had three sons, Brian, Chris and Tony.

He took his first trip to China in 1954 and, thereafter, he regularly visited the country to teach or as chair of the Scotland China Association (SCA).

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The SCA was established in 1966, the same year the Cultural Revolution began, and he served as the chairman for many years, as well as being an honorary president. The organisation held many events in Glasgow and Edinburgh encouraging friendship between Scotland and China.

After the breakdown of his first marriage, he married Xiaoying who worked for the BBC's Chinese service. He became a father to another son, Colin, and the family settled near Arthur's Seat.

In 1972 he suffered a heart attack following a game of table tennis in China, and spent two months in hospital in Guangzhou City. He later underwent two heart bypass operations.

After the Cultural Revolution, Edinburgh was twinned with Xi'an.

Mr Chinnery was invited to join a delegation where the signing of the twinning agreement was being held, and where he read a message of greeting in Chinese.

Mr Chinnery was cremated yesterday at Golders Green Crematorium, London. He is survived by his wife and his four sons.