Monday, June 19, 2017

A00742 - Ruth Mulan Chu Chao, Mother of Elaine Chao


Ruth Mulan Chu Chao (Chinese趙朱木蘭pinyinZhào Zhū Mùlán; 1930–2007), the Chinese American matriarch of a philanthropic family, established charitable foundations providing scholarships to more than 5,000 students.[1] Harvard Business School has named the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center in her honor, making it the first building at the business school named for a woman and an Asian American.[2] Four of Chao's six daughters attended the business school, including the former United States Secretary of Labor and current U.S. Secretary of TransportationElaine Chao.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Ruth Mulan Chu Chao (March 19, 1930 – August 2, 2007) was born in AnhuiRepublican China, daughter of the Honorable Vei Ching Chu (朱维谦Zhū Wéiqiān) and Hui Ying Tien Chu (朱田慧英Zhū Tián Huìyīng).[1] She was named for the Chinese folklore heroine, Hua Mulan, the legendary warrior representing qualities of character, courage, and resolve.[1]
Amidst political and economic turmoil of the Chinese Civil War, her family migrated from Anhui Province to Nanjing by 1940.[4] As a child only ten years old, she journeyed alone back to Anhui to reclaim the family's gold that had been hidden away on their land. Sewing it into her garments and passing undetected through checkpoints of the occupying Japanese forces, she returned safely to her family, having secured resources they needed to survive the conflict.[4] Her family eventually migrated to Shanghai, where she attended Number One High School in Jiading and she met her future husband, James S. C. Chao. They each independently went to Taiwan in 1949, and were reunited when he found her name in a local newspaper's listing of recent graduates.[4]
They married in 1951,[1] and began their family, but when she was seven months pregnant with their third daughter in 1958, he had an opportunity to study in the United States, rare for those times.[4][5] They only had resources for Chao's husband to travel to the United States, and it took three years' separation before they were reunited in the U.S.[4] They reared six daughters; four of them attended the Harvard Business School.[2]
After her six daughters were grown, when she was 53 years old, she entered St. John’s University in New York City, and graduated with a master's degree in Asian literature and history.[4]
Ruth Mulan Chu Chao died on August 2, 2007, in New York, after a seven-year battle with lymphoma.[4][6]


Dr. James Si-Cheng Chao and Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao established the Foremost Foundation "to help young people access higher education... while also supporting health care initiatives and U.S.-Asia cultural exchanges."[7] The Foundation has provided scholarship to more than 5,000 students.[1] It has also supported the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR)-Career Mentoring Sessions,[8] and the National Committee on United States-China Relations.[9]


The Shanghai Jiao Tong University named the building housing its School of Naval Architecture, Ocean and Civil Engineering in honor of the philanthropy of Ruth Mulan Chu Chao and her husband, an alumnus of the university.[10]
In 2016, the Chao family donated US$40 million to the Harvard Business School, supporting the US$35 million construction of the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center and US$5 million to endow a scholarship fund for students of Chinese heritage. On the 50th anniversary of Harvard's first acceptance of women into its MBA program, Harvard president Drew Gilpin Faust said the gift would remind people of the important role women have played in the history of Harvard Business School.[11] At the dedication, Elaine Chao said that her mother "believed that men and women should be treated equally, and she and my father made sure her six daughters were equipped with the tools they needed to realize their dreams...We hope that people will be inspired by the life and spirit of an ordinary yet extraordinary woman."[2][12]

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