March 19, 1930 – August 2, 2007
Named after the heroine of Chinese folklore Hua Mulan, Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao lived a life of virtue, compassion and grace, often in conditions of extraordinary adversity. The second of five children, Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao was born in Anhui, China to enlightened parents who encouraged their daughters’ higher education aspirations, in spite of the cultural pressures of the day. Her father, the Honorable Vei Ching Chu (朱维谦 先生),served as a member of the Judiciary Yuan, and her mother, Mrs. Hui Ying Tien Chu (朱田慧英 女士), exemplified the virtues of generosity, kindness, and fairness.
In the course of the domestic, political, and economic turmoil that shook China during the first half of the 20th century, Mrs. Chao’s family left their ancestral home in Anhui Province. During those harrowing years, ten-year-old Ruth was charged with recovering the family’s valuables, which had been hidden on the grounds of the ancestral family land. It was thought the occupying invading forces would not so easily notice a young child. She skillfully navigated through Japanese military checkpoints, across treacherous and rough terrain, to reach the family estate and secured the valuables. She knew her life would be in danger if she were caught with the valuables so she sewed them into the lining of her garment and returned to her family undetected by the occupying enemy forces. Her family’s ability to survive the ensuing conflict was due, in no small part, to the bravery of the young Ruth Mulan Chu Chao.
In Nanjing, Mrs. Chao attended the famous Ming Teh Girls High School where she learned English. In hopes of evading the chaos of Nanjing, Mrs. Chao’s family relocated to Shanghai, where she enrolled in Jiading’s Number One High School in a suburb outside of Shanghai. During that time, she met her future husband, Dr. James S.C. Chao. In spite of their mutual attraction, war prevented their courtship. Then, fate intervened when both immigrated independently to Taiwan in 1949. They were finally reunited after Dr. Chao searched for Mrs. Chao for two years, finally tracking her down when he spotted Mrs. Chao’s name in a local newspaper’s report of recent graduates. The couple married and started a family. But it was a difficult life, as Dr. Chao was often away at sea for months at a time.
To further his education, Dr. Chao took the National Examination. He earned the highest grade, and along with it the opportunity to study in the United States which was a rare feat at the time. Dr. James S. C. Chao went first, leaving Mrs. Chao– who was seven months pregnant– to care for their two other young daughters on her own.
Despite not knowing when the family would be reunited, she supported his decision and encouraged him to realize his dreams. Despite the time and distance that separated them, they remained loyal to each other. After three years, Dr. Chao was finally able to send for her and the children.
Faced with leaving everything familiar behind and living in a country with a new language and culture, their first years in the United States were difficult. But they met these challenges with dignity, hope, optimism, and the determination to make a better life for themselves and their growing family. After her children were grown, at the age of 53, Mrs. Chao was finally able to pursue a lifelong dream by returning to school and earning a master’s degree from St. John’s University in Asian Literature and history. Throughout her life, Mrs. Chao enjoyed composing Chinese poetry and she was a skillful calligrapher and painter. She was committed to her faith, her family, and her community. In her own self-effacing way, she made a lasting impact on her community and everyone who met her. She passed away on August 2, 2007, following a protracted, courageous battle with lymphoma.
A detailed visual depiction of her family’s history can be found on a website made by The Harvard Business School to honor the ongoing legacy of Mrs. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao.