Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory, said in a statement on Sunday that Dr. Kao’s work on fiber optics had made a “tremendous contribution to Hong Kong, the world and mankind.” She added that he had also played a prominent role in shaping local higher education and scientific research.
“An eminent figure, Professor Kao is the pride of Hong Kong people,” Ms. Lam said.
Charles Kuen Kao was born in Shanghai on Nov. 4, 1933, to a wealthy family, according to an autobiographical sketch published by the Nobel Foundation. His father, Kao Chun Hsin, was a judge, and his grandfather, Kao Hsieh, had been a Confucian scholar active in a movement to bring down the Qing dynasty during the Chinese Revolution of 1911.
Dr. Kao described his early life in Shanghai as “very pampered and protected.” His family moved to Hong Kong when he was 14, on the brink of China’s Communist Revolution of 1949, and at 19 he sailed to England to study electrical engineering at Woolwich Polytechnic, now known as the University of Greenwich.
Dr. Kao would later admit that he had not been the most diligent university student. “In those days the degrees were awarded as a First, Second, Pass or Fail,” he said. “As I spent more time on the tennis court than with my books, my degree was a Second.”
After graduation, he joined a British subsidiary of International Telephone & Telegraph, and spent the next three decades working for the company in Britain, Europe and the United States. It was during his stint in England that he met his future wife, Gwen Wong, a fellow engineer who worked on an upper floor.