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Michael Rank - a generous colleague in 1980s Beijing

Michael Rank was entirely at home in that strange Beijing where I landed as a novice reporter in 1984.

I soon realised I was lucky to have this thoughtful, understated, generous man as a colleague. 

He had a deep hinterland in Chinese matters, having studied in the capital and in Shanghai at the end of the Cultural Revolution, then started his posting for Reuters as the trial of the Gang of Four began. 

Michael did not have to rely on interpreters, supplied and monitored by the authorities. His command of the language allowed him to speak to people directly and to scour the turgid official newspapers for hints of policy shifts.

This expertise meant he was respected in the cosmopolitan community, made up chiefly of diplomats, journalists, academics and business people, in which we had to live and work.

He was also well liked. Esther and he had a hospitable home where I met some of their many interesting friends, including valuable future contacts.

For me their flat was an island of light among the stark tower blocks where foreigners were housed, overlooking the city's low-rise skyline, with its temples and palaces, that would soon be transformed by development. 

Michael’s posting ended a few months after my arrival. I am still grateful to him and to Esther for their warm welcome. ■