BEIJING (AP) — Ji Chaozhu, a veteran Chinese diplomat who provided English translation for leaders including Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping and served as an undersecretary of the United Nations, has died, the foreign ministry said. He was 90.

Ji also served as ambassador to Britain over the course of a lengthy career that began after he left Harvard University to return to China during the Korean War, when U.S. and Chinese troops engaged in vicious combat.

After briefly studying at prestigious Tsinghua University, he was assigned by dint of his fluent English to assist with the peace talks at the Korean village of Panmunjon between the warring sides.

That led to a job as interpreter to Premier and Foreign Minister Zhou Enlai as well as Mao, with whom he appeared on the reviewing stand atop iconic Tiananmen Gate when foreign guests were present.

After Mao’s death, Ji took on a similar role with successor Deng Xiaoping. Having been dispatched by Zhou to set up an informal liaison office in the U.S. in 1973, Ji accompanied Deng to America after the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the long-time antagonists in 1979 and later worked at the Chinese Embassy in Washington.

That was followed by assignments as ambassador to Fiji and the U.K. and five years as a U.N. under-secretary-general for development support and management services, a position from which he retired in 1996.


His last post was as vice president of the All China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, from which he stepped down in 2005.

Ji was born into a wealthy family in the northern Chinese province of Shanxi in 1929 and moved with his family to the U.S. when he was 9. He and his brother attended exclusive private schools in New York where he developed the fluent English and deep knowledge of American culture that would prove him so valuable to China’s drive to confront the West and restore what it views at its traditional dominant role in Asia.

Like many high officials, Ji experienced various persecutions during the xenophobic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, particularly due to his foreign education and the fact that his brother had remained in the U.S. He chronicled his experiences in his autobiography, “The Man on Mao’s Right”

In a brief notice sent to The Associated Press, the foreign ministry said Ji died on April 29 in Beijing from an unspecified illness.

“We mourn the unfortunate passing of Mr. Ji Chaozhu and send our condolences to his family,” the ministry said.

Ji is survived by his wife and two sons.