Yu-Ching Tu 涂羽卿

Physicist, College President and Christian Leader

By York Lo 

 Y. C. Tu,  Technique 1918, p. 216.

Y. C. Tu,  Technique 1918, p. 216.

The son of a Methodist minister in Hubei, Y.C. Tu (1895-1975, Class of 1918), Mandarin pinyin Tu Yuqing, received his early education at the Methodist-sponsored Wesley College in Wuchang (later merged with the Boone School and others to form Huachung University in 1924). In 1913, he won a Boxer Indemnity Scholarship to study at Tsinghua and came to the US to study at Wesleyan College in Connecticut in 1914. In 1915, Tu matriculated at MIT, graduating in 1918 with both B.S. and M.S. degrees in Civil Engineering (B.S. thesis: Review of Methods of Flood Protection; M.S. thesis: Study and Design of a Surge Tank). During his time at Tech, Tu was a member of the Civil Engineering Society, the Cosmopolitan Club, and the Chinese Club, for which he served as President and Treasurer. He was also active with the Chinese Students’ Christian Association as the editor of the Chinese Students’ Christian Journal (circulation: 6000 by 1919). Tu later referred to himself as a “Scientific Christian.”  

 Y.C. Tu, 1919

Y.C. Tu, 1919

Upon graduation from MIT, Tu pursued further studies at Columbia University in New York while working as a draftsman for the New York Central Railroad. There he fell in love and married Muriel Hoopes (1898-1987), an American girl of Anglo-French descent, and together they returned to China in late 1919. (Muriel’s loss of US citizenship as a result of marrying a Chinese man actually later spared her from internment by the Japanese in Shanghai after the Japanese occupation during World War II.)

From 1919 to 1927, Tu taught as a physics professor at the Nanking Higher Normal School and its successor the National Southeastern University, working alongside his Chinese Christian friends from his student days in America, P.W. Kuo (president of the university) and H.C. Chen (famous educator who founded the first kindergarten in China). In 1927, he briefly worked for the public works department in Nanking, where he was responsible for the construction of the roads leading to the Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, before moving to Shanghai where he taught physics at the Baptist-sponsored University of Shanghai from 1927 to 1945. In 1930, he was sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation to pursue further studies at the University of Chicago under the Nobel laureate Arthur Compton (brother of MIT President Karl Compton), receiving his Ph.D. in physics in 1932. Upon his return to Shanghai, Tu became Head of the Physics Department at the University of Shanghai.  

Outside of academia, Tu began working with the YMCA in the 1930s. During the Japanese occupation, Christian organizations in China such as the YMCA, in Tu’s own words were like children “forcibly weaned from the mother,” and Tu was asked to serve as Acting General Secretary of the national committee of the YMCA to help keep the organization intact. When the War was over he joined the YMCA full time to help its reconstruction in China but in October 1946, he accepted an offer to become the President of St. John’s University, the prestigious Christian college in Shanghai sponsored by the Episcopal Church. During his tenure as president, he continued to teach physics and presided over the school’s registration with the KMT government (the last Christian college to do so) and merger discussions with Soochow University and Hangchow University to form East China Normal University. Like other major universities in China at the time, student protests against the crumbling KMT regime erupted on St. John’s campus during the difficult years of the Chinese Civil War and influential Church representatives in the School’s administration were displeased with Tu’s sympathetic attitude towards the students. In June 1948, he stepped down from the presidency of St. John’s and rejoined the YMCA as General Secretary.  

 Tu family, 1943

Tu family, 1943

Tu and his family chose to remain in China after 1949 and in 1950, he became one of the founding leaders of the Three Self Patriotic Movement (self-governance, self-support and self-propagation), a movement started by a number of Chinese Christian leaders to establish a new Protestant Church in China, supportive of the new Communist regime and free of foreign influence. He was a delegate to the First National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference and joined the faculty of the newly formed Shanghai Normal University where he served as the Head of its Physics Department. With his background of foreign education, interracial marriage and Christian faith, Tu became a target during the Cultural Revolution and was placed in solitary confinement for four years from 1968 to 1972. The years of physical abuse and isolation took a toll on his health and he died a few years after his release in 1975 at the age of 80.

Muriel lived in China for 67 years, became a Chinese citizen in 1956 and never reclaimed her US citizenship. As the “grand dame of Americans in China” (People magazine, 1982), she was visited by Pres. Jimmy Carter and actress Stefanie Powers when they came to Shanghai after China re-opened. Muriel later died during a visit to the US in 1987. The couple had 1 son (Harry) and 3 daughters (Anna, Mary and Nina).