Cao Zhongyue, fondly called Xiao Cao by us, first joined CERS in 1993, driving our two newly imported Land Rovers from Kunming to Lhasa. From that time, he was with CERS continually for thirty years.
Xiao Cao was released from China’s PLA after participating in the final battles with Vietnam along the China/Vietnam border. He then joined the Yunnan Institute of Geography, at the time CERS’s partner in research and conservation in the remotest parts of China. Starting as a driver with mechanical skills acquired during his service in the army, useful for car repair, Cao became also my back-up videographer.
Cao was by my side on expeditions to all six of the river sources that CERS defined. These included the Yangtze, Mekong, Yellow River, Salween, Irrawaddy and Brahmaputra. Pictures of him at each of these sources now stand as memorials to his expeditionary achievements. He further provided logistic support for our caving team, and he was at the forefront of much of our research and conservation work on the Black-necked Crane, Tibetan Antelope, Wild Yak, Snub-nosed Monkey, and many other species.
Beyond China, Xiao Cao also traveled with me to Myanmar and Palawan in the Philippines multiple times, always ready to help and lend a hand beyond the call of duty. I remember well all his support and contributions to CERS and to me personally. Our last field trip outside of China was into the border region of upper Myanmar near Tibet. Even during the pandemic, he escorted me through countless roadblocks into and out of Tibet.
As the driver/manager of the large fleet of CERS cars, handling everything from routine registration to minute repairs and spare- parts inventory for intricate and demanding expeditions, Xiao Cao never missed a beat. With him in charge, I always felt well assured. And his video record of our work is now an important and integral part of our film archive.
Xiao Cao’s most important project and perhaps his lasting legacy, however, is that he helped me design, and then single-handedly organized building and management of our meditation premises at the sacred Damozhong, or Bodhidharma Cave, a very important pilgrimage site in northwest Yunnan.
Xiao Cao, as member of the CERS team, circumambulated the most sacred Mount Kailash twice, in 2002 and 2018, gaining merit that would accompany him into his next life. We mourn his passing, way too early, but cherish what he has left with us from his thirty years of service to CERS. We, who now carry on in what should have been his remaining years, should make best use of the time that he left with us to carry our work forward.