Ruth Mulan Chu Chao
Sophocles said that “One must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been.” This can be said of the modest woman who is Ruth Mulan Chu Chao.
Ruth Chao put the lives of others ahead of her own for as long as anyone could remember. In the end, this was the secret of her truly remarkable life.Ruth Mulan Chu Chao was born to a distinguished family in Lai’an County in Anhui province, China, that believed in the value of education regardless of gender.
As a young girl, she was torn from her native ancestral estate by an invading army. Named after the Chinese folklore heroine, Hua Mulan, she displayed her courage early in life: At the age of 8, she was sent behind enemy lines to retrieve the family gold on which her family depended to survive in exile.
It was a time when China was embroiled in historic upheaval, political turbulence and chaos. Ruth Chao’s family fled further east to Shanghai for safety and security.
There in Shanghai, one winter day, fate intervened and Ruth Chao met her future husband, Dr. James S.C. Chao, through mutual friends. Her gracefulness, dignity, bearing and beauty won James Chao’s heart.
Their love story took place against a backdrop of political instability, and neither James Chao nor Ruth Chao had finished school. Plans for the future were hard to make.
Ruth Chao and her family made their way to Taiwan, where they were safe, but life was difficult; the family no longer had their wealth. Life for Ruth Chao brightened when James Chao found her in Taiwan. At this point, a true courtship was able to begin. They soon married and started a family.
Ruth Chao’s belief in her husband’s potential was boundless. With her support, his professional ascent was unstoppable. James Chao became the youngest sea captain at the age of 29, and when he wanted to go abroad to study to advance his career, Ruth Chao held down the home front that gave him the serenity and peace of mind to score #1 in the national examinations. His score broke all previous records.
When Dr. James Chao earned the chance to leave for America, Ruth Chao was seven-months pregnant with their third child. Bravely, she supported his decision to seek a better life for their family in America, not knowing when they would be reunited, but knowing she would give birth to their third child without James Chao by her side.
They were separated for three years; Ruth Chao consoled James Chao throughout this challenging time with letters of encouragement, optimism, and hope.
Then, she personified her Christian namesake from Ruth 1:16: “Whither thou goest, I will go.”
The family’s sacrifice, and Ruth Chao’s work to keep the family’s optimism alive every day, was not over. The journey to America on a cargo ship took Ruth Chao and her three young daughters 37 days. Finally, they were joyfully reunited with James Chao and moved into a one-bedroom apartment in New York City.
The cultural divide was as wide as the ocean that brought them to America, but the Chao family made it through. They had their anchor. It was Ruth Chao.
In time, the family learned to speak English, they learned the culture, and all of the daughters would go on to the best universities in the country.
None of the family’s circumstances ever dimmed Ruth Chao’s optimism and faith. All obstacles in their new country were overcome in the warm light of her love, support and belief in a better future.
While raising her six bright, capable daughters with love and encouragement, Ruth Chao was also a partner to Dr. James Chao in creating and growing his global shipping business. Entrepreneurship can be a lonely path; once again, Ruth Chao’s support, love and faith in a better future was the essential ingredient in the family’s success. Her belief in her husband, common sense and sage advice lifted him when times were tough.
At the age of 51, Ruth Chao returned to earn a master’s degree in Asian Literature and History from St. John’s University - studies which had been interrupted by the wars in her native land. As a graduate, she embodied what she always believed – that the most important adornments for a woman were virtue, intellect, and achievement.
After a valiant seven-year battle with lymphoma, Mrs. Ruth Chao returned to the Lord on August 2, 2007. Through the arc of her life, Ruth was quiet, self-effacing, altruistic, selfless, kind, and humble.
“Mulan” means “orchid” and symbolizes strength as well as grace and elegance. Ruth Mulan Chu Chao’s legacy is all of that and so much more. She is an extraordinary, historic and enduring symbol of hope, kindness, faith and love.
It is fitting that the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center is not only the first Asian American name on the Harvard University campus, it is the first woman’s name to be enshrined on the Harvard Business School campus. Especially poignant is the fact that the Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center was established during the 50th anniversary celebration of women in Harvard’s full-time MBA program.
Ruth Mulan Chu Chao’s positive impact on the world goes on; visitors to the Chao Center are certain to be inspired by learning about the power of her values. From altruism and philanthropy to kindness and love, Ruth Mulan Chu Chao’s legacy contains valuable lessons for every visitor.
Praises of Ruth Chao by dignitaries
“[James] and Ruth’s story is emblematic of the best of America, and you have done so much to improve our country and our world. Those who learn of your story will find inspiration, courage, and renewal in your family’s journey.
– President Barack Obama
“This beautiful facility is a wonderful tribute [to Ruth’s] lifelong commitment to education…it will be a place where people from around the world come together to learn from one another in the spirit of friendship and understanding – values Ruth lived by and held so dear. And as the mother of six strong daughters and a passionate advocate for educational opportunities for everyone, it is meaningful that the building that bears her name is the first on campus to be named after a woman.”
– President Bill Clinton
“The building stands as a physical testament to Ruth’s undying commitment to instilling in students everywhere a love for learning…all who enter this beautiful building in years to come will be inspired by the woman for which it is named. They will be inspired by her spirit of optimism, hope, and service, and they will try to live a life worthy of the one she led.”
– President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
“From every corner of the world, people come to the United States to discover the promise of America…One of the finest examples is the Chao family. The Chao Center will stand as a permanent reminder of the strength of Ruth’s character and will benefit generations of the leaders of tomorrow for years to come.”
– President George W. Bush
“The Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center will be the gateway to our campus for generations of executives from all over the world and we are deeply grateful for the extraordinary generosity of the Chao family in making this a reality.”
– Harvard Business School Dean Nitin Nohria
“The Ruth Mulan Chu Chao Center epitomizes the ideals of its namesake, who so valued the broadening of minds that takes place when people come together to engage, share and learn…Her progressive views on the importance of education live on in her daughters, each of whom has used their education to improve the world around them.”
– Harvard President Drew Faust.