Z.Y. CHOW 周象賢


By York Lo

ZY Chow, MIT Senior Portfolio 1915.

ZY Chow, MIT Senior Portfolio 1915.

Ziang-Yien Chow (1890-1961) 

pinyin Zhou Xiangxian (Chinese alias Chiyu 企虞, also known as "Elephant Chow" to some of his friends and family) was born in Dinghai near the coastal city of Ningbo in Zhejiang province in 1890. After graduating from the Imperial Polytechnic College in Shanghai (predecessor of Jiaotong University) in 1910, Chow became a member of the second class of Boxer Indemnity Scholars at Tsinghua. His classmates included the prominent scholars Hu Shih, YC Mei and YR Chao, who became his lifelong friends. After preparation at Tsinghua, Chow matriculated at MIT, majoring in sanitary engineering. Chow was a co-author on two B.S. theses: “Design for a Water Supply System for Duxbury, Mass” (Civil Engineering) written with Turpin Hsi in 1914; and “An Experimental Investigation of the Water Supply System of Reading, Massachusetts, with Reference to the Fire Protection” (Civil and Sanitary Engineering) written with H. S. McLellan in 1915. 

ZY Chow in Tech Show, 1913.  Technique  1914. Courtesy MIT Archives and Special Collections.

ZY Chow in Tech Show, 1913. Technique 1914. Courtesy MIT Archives and Special Collections.

During his time at MIT, Chow was active in various aspects of student life. He was a member of the Walker Club, the Cosmopolitan Club, the Institute Committee, the Biological Society, and the Chinese Club. In the Cosmopolitan Club, he helped to organize the 1913 "Chinese Night" (the first of a series of "national nights") along with classmates T Chang, Turpin Hsi, TC Hsi, TK Kao, MC Hou, HK Chow, and FT Yeh, and served as club president his senior year. Chow also participated in the Tech Show in 1913, playing the inventor Loo Chang in "Money in Sight," and played in various musical performances. 

Chow was especially active in the Chinese student community and participated in a number of Chinese music and cultural performances in the Boston area. In 1914, he served as stage manager for the much acclaimed "Chinese Fete" performed at the Copley Society of Boston, which featured a pageant on the theme of the classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West. During his student years, Chow befriended Wellesley student Mayling Soong (the future Madame Chiang Kai-shek) and her brother, Harvard student TV Soong, which was beneficial to his government career later in life.

MIT Technique 1915, p. 310. C  ourtesy MIT Archives & Special Collections.

MIT Technique 1915, p. 310. Courtesy MIT Archives & Special Collections.

Chow returned to China immediately after graduation and was appointed Lecturer of Sanitary Engineering at Peking University and later served as a municipal engineer for the Municipal Government of Peiping (now Beijing). In 1922, Chow took a post as Chief Technical Expert of the Ministry of the Interior and was appointed to the Technical Committee of the Yangtze River Conservancy Commission. When TV Soong became Finance Minister of the KMT (Nationalist) regime in Canton in 1925, he appointed Chow as Head of the Statistics Department. After the KMT government established itself in Nanking (Nanjing) in 1927, Chow served in various leadership roles in the government’s relief efforts for a number of the deadliest floods ever recorded in Chinese history that took place in the 1930s. These positions included Director of the River Conservancy Bureau of the National Reconstruction Commission, Chairman of the Yangtze River Conservancy Commission and the Yellow River Flood Relief Commission and Director of the Chien-Tang River Conservancy.


Through these years, Chow remained active with MIT alumni in China. Together with C.Y. Wen (Class of 1908), he helped found the Technology Club of Peking in September 1917, serving as Secretary and Treasurer. In January 1930, Chow helped found the MIT alumni club in Hangchow (Hangzhou), serving as first president. In 1930, Chow helped to found the Hangchow M.I.T. Alumni Club, serving as its first President, with Prof. Y.H. Ku (1925) serving as Secretary-Treasurer. In January 1930, they sent this message to MIT alumni, via Prof. and Mrs. Dugald Jackson, who visited the club in Hangzhou (Hangchow).

Above all, however, Chow was probably best remembered as for his role as the three-time Mayor of the city of Hangzhou in his native Zhejiang province – the first time from November 1928 to August 1930, the second time from February 1934 to December 1937, and the third time after World War II from September 1945 to October 1948. As Mayor he helped to modernize the infrastructure of the ancient city – including paving modern roads around the West Lake and to and from various tourist destinations, establishing public hospitals and schools, and improving the water supply when he served simultaneously as the head of the Hangchow Water Works during his second term as Mayor. 

Classmates of the second class of Boxer Indemnity Scholars at Tsinghua, 1940s.  Left to right: ZY "Elephant" Chow, HU Shih, YR CHAO, and YANG Sih-zung. C ourtesy of Mabel Chow with assistance from Julian Suez.

Classmates of the second class of Boxer Indemnity Scholars at Tsinghua, 1940s. Left to right: ZY "Elephant" Chow, HU Shih, YR CHAO, and YANG Sih-zung. Courtesy of Mabel Chow with assistance from Julian Suez.

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    ZY Chow (front row right) with his Tsinghua classmates YC MEI (front row center), HU Shih (back row third from right) and YR CHAO (back row second from right) in 1959 in Taipei. Source: Peter Q. Yang. 

ZY Chow (front row right) with his Tsinghua classmates YC MEI (front row center), HU Shih (back row third from right) and YR CHAO (back row second from right) in 1959 in Taipei. Source: Peter Q. Yang. 

Chow also hosted many visiting dignitaries including the Chiang family, Beijing-opera star MEI Lan-fang, and US Ambassador John Stuart Leighton (who was born in Hangzhou in 1876 and was made the first honorary citizen of the city by Chow in 1946).

In between his three stints as Hangzhou Mayor, Chow also held a number of other positions such as Assistant General Manager of China Products Trading Corporation, a Bank of China subsidiary in Hong Kong from 1939 to 1941 under his Tsinghua classmate YANG Sih-zung and Secretary-General of the Chinese Industrial Cooperatives (better known as the Gung Ho movement) in Chungking from July 1942 to June 1943. After he finished his third term as Mayor of Hangzhou, Chow left for Hong Kong in March 1949, where he served as a Director of the Nanyang Brothers Tobacco Co. He soon moved to Taiwan with the KMT regime where he was appointed by Chiang Kai-shek as the administrator of the Yangmingshan (abolished in 1974), managing the famous district in Taipei. Chow died in Taipei in 1961. His daughter Mabel (96 years old in 2016) worked for the United Nations for 32 years and currently resides in the US. 


MIT Senior Portfolio, 1915.

Technique 1915, 1914, 1916.

"Chinese Entertainment Cosmopolitan Club," The Tech, April 23, 1910, vol. 29, no. 145.

"Chinese Fete at the Copley Society of Boston," The Chinese Students’ Monthly, May 1914, vol. IX, no. 7, pp. 562-3. "CHINESE FETE." Boston Daily Globe (1872-1922), Apr 25, 1914, "SETTINGS FOR CHINESE PLAY." Boston Daily Globe (1872-1922), Mar 09, 1915, "Will Repeat Chinese Play." Boston Daily Globe (1872-1922), Mar 08, 1915.

MIT Chinese Students Directory: For the Past Fifty Years, 1931.

The Technology Review, volume 19, 1917, 620.

Who’s Who in China (1936), p 56


List of Chow’s KMT government appointments:


Memoir of Peter Q. Yang (whose father Yang Sih-zung was a classmate and good friend of Chow):






Jiaoyu zhi qiao: cong Qinghua dao Mashengligong/Bridge of Education: From Tsinghua to MIT. Hong Kong: Cosmos Point Limited, 2011,