Born in a scholarly family in Chaoan, Guangdong, Professor Jao was first known to literary circles at a young age when he sorted out his father's posthumous work《潮州藝文誌》which was published on《嶺南學報》. He came to Hong Kong in 1949 and taught at the University of Hong Kong from 1952 to 1968. From 1968 to 1973 he was the first Chair of Chinese and Head of the Department of Chinese Studies, National University of Singapore. During the same period he also taught at Yale University, USA as Visiting Professor and served as Research Fellow of the Institute of History and Philology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan. In 1973, he returned to Hong Kong and joined the Department of Chinese Language and Literature of The Chinese University of Hong Kong as Chairman until his retirement in 1978. Thereafter, he travelled and lectured in France, Japan, Mainland China, Taiwan and Macau. He is currently Wei Lun Honorary Professor of Fine Arts and Emeritus Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at CUHK.
An erudite scholar, Professor Jao's works in research and fine arts have gained him worldwide admiration. The extensive scope of his scholarship covers paleography, Dunhuang studies, archaeology, epigraphy, historiography, etymology, history of music, history of religion, Chuci, bibliography, and the study of local gazettes. Professor Jao is a prolific writer and has published over 80 books and 500 papers, the most significant of which being《殷代貞卜人物通考》,《詞籍考》,《敦煌曲》,《中國史學上之正統論》,《中印文化關係史論集》,《老子想爾注校證》,《文轍》,《畫 》,《梵學集》and 《新加坡古事紀》. He enjoys great fame for his poetry and lyrics, calligraphy and painting. He has published over 20 collections of poetry and lyrics, and held exhibitions in Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Guangzhou and Beijing for his calligraphy and painting.
Professor Jao's academic achievements and contributions have won him numerous awards and honours. He has been awarded the Prix Stanislas Julien by the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles-lettres, Institute de France, and was the first Chinese to receive an honorary degree in humanities by the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in France. He is a Life Member of the Bhandarkar Oriental Institute in Poona, India; Fellow of Ecole Francaise d'Extreme-Orient; Honorary Member of the Societe Asiatique, France; Honorary Research Fellow of the Dunhuang Research Institute, China; Adviser of the Research Centre of Ancient Civilization, Peking University; Consultant, Research Bureau of Ancient Scripts, State Council of China; and Adviser of the Institute of Literature and Philosophy, Academia Sinica, Taiwan. For his remarkable work in promoting the arts and culture, he has received many prestigious awards including the Order of Arts and Letters, Ministry of Culture of France, the Grand Bauhinia Medal, and a Prize for Special Contributions to the Protection of Dunhuang Relics.
Professor Jao has been actively associated with CUHK for several decades. He has generously given his calligraphy and paintings to the University as gifts. He offers regular seminars and supervision sessions to graduate students, and leads important research projects.