G. T. Chao (趙國材)

There are lots ways to categorize the various Indemnity scholars I’ve been profiling here in this blog. I’ve talked about previous students that I’ve profiled in regards to several broad categories; for example, E. J. Chu and W. K. Lam were both students at Albany Law School, the Chan family were not only related but also all Chinese Christians, and so on. But another interesting classification is by what these students did after leaving their US university. Virtually all of them returned to China, and many of them held important jobs in the Republic of China, but after the 40s and 50s, some students came back to the United States while others just . . . stop. Some of them stop because they died, like H. T. Wong and W. K. Lam, but some stop because information from China during wartime and under the Communists is near impossible to get. G. T. Chao is one of the latter cases.

G. T. Chao, from Chinese Wikipedia.
G. T. Chao, from Chinese Wikipedia.

Guo Tsai Chao (趙材, pinyin Zhào Guócái) was born in Shanghai on 12 December 1879. He attended St. John’s University in Shanghai, a prestigious missionary school, from which he graduated and received a B.A. in 1906. He shows up steadily throughout the St. John’s University catalogues as an alumnus under the Class of 1906 list, usually listed under his hao (號) name 趙泗 “Zau/Chao S.” (as he is here in 1908, when he was listed as “Studying in the US”, or here in 1921, when he was listed as working in the United States). That would have made him 25 at his graduation, a bit older than most other Indemnity Scholars.

I don’t have much US documentation for G. T. Chao for 1907-1910, but the 1932 Who’s Who in China confirms that he studied Political Science at Cornell for a time (Who’s Who, 1932, pg. 19). He quickly transferred to the University of Wisconsin to complete his American B.A., which he got in 1910, and his M.A., which he got in 1911 (Who’s Who, 1932; University of Wisconsin Alumni Directory, 1911, pg. 427). He is listed in the 1911 Eastern Directory as living at 617 State Street in Madison, Wisconsin. While at Wisconsin, he was active in both the Midwestern CSA and the Cosmopolitan Club, being elected its president in the 1908-9 school year (Chinese Students’ Monthly, v. 4, pg. 535).


After graduation in 1911, he returned to China in April to take up various educational posts. According to the Wisconsin Alumni Record cited above, he first headed to Hunan province to teach high school in Changsha, information repeated in the 1918 Who’s Who of American Returned Students (pg. 170-171). He also taught at Fu Tan College in Shanghai and the National Institute in Shanghai (170-171). We can probably take this publication as fairly reliable, considering that the man who first had the idea to create a returned students’ directory was . . . G. T. Chao himself (pg. ii). In addition, he got married around 1912, to a woman who went by the English name Emma, and they had a daughter in 1913.

In 1913 G. T. Chao also changed jobs. He became the vice president of Tsinghua University under the school’s first director and president, Tong Kai-son (唐国安), another returned student. Then, in August of 1913, K. S. Tong died suddenly, and G. T. Chao became acting president of Tsinghua for 2 months until Zhou Yi-chun (周诒春) was hired (Wikipedia). G. T. Chao then returned to his position as vice president from 1914-1918. He served as president of Tsinghua again for 7 months in 1918 when Zhou Yichun retired.

He also spent some time going back and forth as interim director of the Chinese Educational Mission and as the director in his own right of said Mission. The Chinese Educational Mission was modeled on the institution of the same name from the Yung Wing years and was headquartered in Washington DC. While vice president of Tsinghua, G. T. Chao visited the United States and even served as acting director of the CEM from October 1915 to April 1916 (Who’s Who, 1917, 171). In 1915, G. T. Chao and Emma entered the United States on 30 August, most likely having left their daughter behind in Beijing with family (ship’s manifest). G. T. Chao and Emma had a son as well, in 1918 after returning to his position at Tsinghua.

Emma Chao and her children Merry May and Yi WIlliam.
Emma Chao and her children Merry May and Yi WIlliam.


Events in Beijing and at Tsinghua were soon to change. The end of World War I and general dissatisfaction with the political situation in China sparked the May Fourth Movement, a series of student-led protests and strikes. Tsinghua’s president, the man who took over from G. T. Chao in 1918, was forced to resign in late 1920 (Wikipedia), but instead of becoming acting president again, G. T. Chao was appointed Director of the Chinese Educational Mission in Washington DC (Chinese Students’ Monthly, v. 16, 306). He and his family moved to Washington and lived there for two years. G. T. Chao came over to America first, on 21 February 1921, accompanied by his secretary K. Z. Li (ship’s manifest). Emma and the children were meant to come over on the SS China in August of 1921 (ship’s manifest), but instead sailed on the Empress of Asia, docking in Vancouver on 3 October 1921 (Notable Passengers, ship’s manifest). It’s interesting to note that despite G. T. Chao’s formation in missionary schools, Emma and the children’s religion is cited as “Buddhism” on the Empress of Asia manifest. In 1922, G. T. Chao was reappointed vice president of Tsinghua, and the family returned to Beijing.

It wasn’t their last time in Washington DC. After 1925, G. T. Chao stopped providing information to the Who’s Who editors; virtually all the Who’s Whos end his entry with “no further information has been received since 1925” (Who’s Who, 1932, 19). But city directories tell us that the Chao family was back in DC again in the late 1920s and that G. T. Chao was once again serving as the Director of the Chinese Educational Mission. He is listed in the 1927 Washington DC City Directory as living at 2312 19th Street NW, with a job title of “director”, obviously of the Chinese Educational Mission (399). In the 1928 directory, Emma shows up with him, and their address is now 2300 19th Street NW, which is possibly the same address, renumbered (407). This building, judging by the styling, was also the home of the Educational Mission itself. The 1929  city directory supports this assertion, giving G. T. and Emma Chao’s work and home addresses as 2300 19th St. NW (384). They do not show up in the 1930 city directory.

2300 19th St. NW, Washington, DC
2300 19th St. NW, Washington, DC


G. T. and Emma drop off the radar after that, although their daughter, Merry May, has a documented history in the United States as well. We can assume that she lived in DC with her parents in the 1920s during G. T. Chao’s two stints as CEM Director. She certainly entered the United States with her mother on that 1921 trip via Vancouver, as cited above. She went on to study at an American university herself, attending Earlham College in Indiana and studying biology. She is listed in the 1932 Handbook of Chinese Students in the USA as “Chao, Mary Mae” (75) and as “Chao, Mary May” in the 1933 Handbook (37). She has no other address for those years other than “Richmond, Indiana”, although the 1930 US Census lists her as living in the Earlham Hall dorm. She received her B.A. in 1933.

Around this time, she was featured in a vaguely racist “news of the weird” story that ran in several local newspapers – she was trying to get a marriage license at age 20. From the article: ”’In China,’ said Miss Chao, ‘one’s age is reckoned at one year so I really am 21 years old by that rule.’ Clerks debated, then granted the license” (The Chillicothe Constitution-Tribune, 22 Jun 1933, 10, among other citations). However, although Merry May used her intended’s surname, as evidenced in her Chinese Exclusion Act file (link to index record), and although her intended husband returned to China with her in the early 30s, the license seems to have never been used. This is borne out by the fact that when her intended husband later applied for another marriage license in the 1950s, he indicated that it was his first marriage. In addition, when Merry May herself died in 1935, it was as “Miss Chao”.

Oh yes, she died young, at age 22, only 2 years after returning to China and taking a job at a bank in Shanghai. She was the first woman on staff at the Central Bank (The China Press, 19 Nov 1935, 9).


G. T. and Emma’s son did not study in America as far as I can tell, apart from primary schooling when the family lived in DC. He married the daughter of another Returned Student – E. J. Chu – and they had three children. He also served in the nascent Republic of China Air Force. He, his wife, and their daughter escaped Shanghai in 1952, gave birth to another daughter in a refugee camp in Macau, and split up in 1957 when his pregnant wife and their two daughters went to America to continue to fight to bring him over. That never happened as his wife eventually remarried in America in the mid-60s, so I assume he must have died.


G. T. Chao’s death is almost completely undocumented, but there is one rather worrisome reference in the Chinese-language Wikipedia article about him. “In 1966,” it states bluntly, “he ran into difficulty with some Red Guards and died in Shanghai” (Chinese Wikipedia, original text: “1966年蒙紅衛兵之難,在上海去世”). This is in fact the only cited sentence in the entire article. The rest of the article, although uncited, is mostly correct and seems to be pulled from a 1925 Who’s Who. The issue is that the citation is so vague as to be useless: “A History of Chinese Foreign Education, Volume 1” (中国留学教育史科,第1册). No author stated, although the Wikipedia page editor kindly lets me know that the info is on page 25 of this book, whatever it is. So, what really happened to G. T. Chao? What happened to Emma?


One thought on “G. T. Chao (趙國材)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s