Switch to: th
29 May 2017 23:14PM

Farewell to Kayser Sung, a world-class textile economist!

22 Mar 10 ,  R. H. Leary
  • 0

Kayser Winsiang SUNG, editor-in-chief and publisher of Textile Asia, born Nanjing, October 1, 1919; died Hong Kong, January 12, 2010


Kayser Sung was Managing Editor of the Far Eastern Economic Review in 1964 when the Magsaysay Award for Journalism and Literature was awarded to him jointly with Dick Wilson, Review Editor, for "their accuracy, impartiality and continuing search for facts and insights in recording Asia's quest for economic advance."



I was invited by Dick Wilson to join the Review staff in 1965, which made me feel good, but an invitation from Kayser to collaborate with him in the preparation of a new edition (the 5th) of the Asian Textile Annual made me feel that I was being taken seriously.


This publication drew the attention even of newspapers, one of which (the Japan Times) wrote "the need for a well-edited reference book about the textile industries of Asia has long been granted by textile men the world over. Yet such an attempt had never been made until the publication of the first Asian Textile Annual..." The Institut de Sociologie, Universite Libre de Bruxelles, felt that "the main trends are analyzed by very detailed analytic studies....a first-class survey."


As I worked alongside Kayser I began to see where he came from---he demanded that a writer writing for him had to be correct and direct. I learned that he was becoming a big name in textile journalism, such as it was then. He had made a progress through Europe, meeting many of the important names, and he was one of only four experts chosen by ECAFE (Economic Commission for Asia and the Far East) to form an Expert Working Group on the Textile Industry.


Kayser was involved, as one might expect, with the Hong Kong Economic Society and, when it eventually came time for him to go out on his own, I believe he would really have liked most to publish a journal on Textile Economics. But he was too smart for that; he saw clearly that such a venture would be a good way to make a small fortune provided that he started out with a large one---a tiny subscriber base and no advertising.


So one day after he left the Review he visited me, announced his intention to begin publishing Textile Asia and invited me to join him as Editor (he was, of course, Editor-in-Chief).   That was the beginning of an association that lasted 40 years. Kayser was responsible for the economic side of the journal and I handled the technical side, having earlier in life been a chemist. It can be said with complete honesty that there was hardly ever a disagreement.


Starting up a magazine is always a chancy business, but we kept to a standard high enough to attract readers, which in turn attracted advertising from manufacturers of textile machinery, chemicals and fibres and articles from well-informed authors. Then, for a decade or so,  early seventies to mid-eighties, Textile Asia could claim to be the best textile magazine in the world. This was Kayser's greatest achievement, and fortunately he recognized that fact.


Later I went out on my own, but the relationship held firm in that I joined with him in visiting textile-machine exhibitions around the globe---ITMA, OTEMAS, ATME, CITME, IMB, JIAM et al. Kayser would visit all our advertisers and seek new ones among the exhibitors while I would seek out the innovations in processes and machinery. This entailed a great deal of travelling, since we had perforce to visit Milan, Hanover, Paris, Cologne, Tokyo, Osaka, Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Taipei, Seoul, Singapore, Jakarta, Bangkok, Mumbai and Greenville S.C.


Attending one of the early IMBs, we arrived in Cologne in the late afternoon. Kayser strongly wanted to be present at an important company reception that evening, but first we needed sleep. We agreed to wake soon! I was aroused by the phone. "What time is it?" asked Kayser plaintively.  Trying to inject a tragic tone into my speech, I said the evening was just about finished. We left the hotel and found a genuine Chinese restaurant just a few doors up the street. So all was well that ended well.


In a very different milieu, in Beijing, we had gone down the street for lunch. Returning to the show, we were confronted in the vast forecourt by a young provincial soldier engaged in an argument with a young woman; their voices were raised. I heard Kayser's quiet groan: "Ohhhhh, shouting!" His ideal Chinese person did not shout, no matter what. Kayser lived up to his ideals.


Those were the days when passengers flying into the New York area off the Atlantic had to transfer to another flight---and another airfield!---for the final, relatively short, leg to Greenville, home of ATME. For some reason that escapes me now, Kayser stopped the cab somewhere in the wilds of Brooklyn in order to upbraid the cabbie. They both alighted and started a serious argument.  Something caused me to realise that the cabbie was Korean (the argument was in English), and since one of my major principles is "Never argue with a Korean", I managed to get between them and wind the argument down. We eventually caught our flight, but I never found out what had been going on.


Kayser hated censorship. He once received from an independent author a serious description of a new machine from a prominent Swiss company, and he decided to publish it. Shortly before that could happen, the Hong Kong representative of the Swiss company heard about the article and said to Kayser "Of course, you'll let us see it first, won't you?" The implied act of censorship made Kayser's hair stand on end. He paid the author but never published the story.


As I have said, I was a technical man, so I hardly ever read Kayser's editorials, presuming them to be full of stuff of no interest to me. Several years ago Business Press published two volumes containing all the editorials. I dipped into them at first, here and there, but eventually was amazed at the sheer perspicacity of Kayser's writings, the degree to which he kept hitting the nail on the head in the confused days of quotas and trade disputes that bedevilled world textile trade for so many years. A good memorial stone for Kayser Sung would read "He knew his stuff".


Apart from the Magsaysay award, Kayser garnered many honours, but it was the final one that formed the keystone of the arch---the China Enterprise Award for Creative Personalities (2006).   A mere 100 people were  chosen for this award---one out of every 15,000,000 Chinese---and Kayser was one of that Hundred, chosen for the worth of his long adventure, his pilgrimage to elevate the people and textile industries of Asia. For a Chinese gentleman it was the zenith of his career, nothing could beat it. It was a crown, a crown never conciously sought but an honour that found its way to the inevitable wearer and would not be denied.


In the field of publishing I may have known Kayser Sung more closely than anyone outside his family.   Now I am left with the wish that I had observed him more closely. I knew he was a world-class textile economist, but basically I thought of him simply as a colleague, so much that I could have gathered and saved was allowed to slip away. How often the serious thinking occurs too late! Still, the memories remain.