Devoted husband, beloved professor, man of mystery. Born Sept. 1, 1922, in Hunan, China. Died Jan. 23, 2012, in Toronto.
John Yin liked to surround himself with an air of mystery. Born to a prosperous peasant family in Hunan, China, John went to university to study English and law. When the Chinese civil war turned against the Nationalists, John joined the staff of Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist leader.
In 1949, Chiang sent him to Manchuria, and while John was there, Mao’s armies overran the province. John fled to Soviet Siberia. To anyone who remembers the Cold War, the idea that Stalin’s USSR would protect refugees from Mao’s China might appear incongruous, but that’s what happened.
John would not talk about his life in the Soviet Union, but he was there long enough to become fluent in Russian. Finally, the Nationalists negotiated his release, and he travelled to the United States – by boat. He resumed his studies, and eventually obtained a PhD from the University of Southern California.
It was 1968. Baby boomers were streaming into universities. John got a job with Laurentian University in Sudbury, where he stayed until he retired. Students remember that John would learn his lectures by heart, statistics, dates and all, and repeat them word for word.
After John got tenure, he turned his attention to his personal life. A friend arranged a marriage, and John overcame his fear of flying – flying, he would say, was for birds – long enough to fly to Taiwan for the wedding. Arranged marriages are a gamble; John and Elizabeth’s was a success. They wanted a child, but it did not happen. At his retirement party, John advised students not to put their personal lives on hold while they pursued their careers.
John overcame his fear of flying one more time. In 1979, the International Political Science Association met in Moscow. John was to present a paper on Lenin. With an uncharacteristic lack of modesty, he asked me to take his picture while he spoke. John was a staunch anti-Communist. The organizers managed to drag out the program, so that John did not get to speak.
A high point of John’s academic life came in the early 1970s, when he presciently told the Sudbury Chamber of Commerce that the Soviet Union would one day break up. We, his colleagues, were embarrassed that someone so ignorant could be one of us.
After his retirement, John and Elizabeth bought a condo on the edge of Toronto’s Chinatown. John read newspapers in many languages and followed the Los Angeles Lakers on TV. John and Elizabeth’s greatest pleasure was to invite friends out to dinner.
In 2011, John became weaker. Just old age, he said. No need for a doctor. Elizabeth bought a wheelchair to wheel him around. Shortly before Christmas, my son Paul visited them. They went out for a Chinese meal, wheeling John in his chair, and bought Paul an extra meal to take home.
On Jan. 2, John could not speak. Mount Sinai Hospital diagnosed lung cancer that had spread to the brain. On Jan. 23, John died in his sleep.
Edelgard Mahant was John’s colleague and friend.