Charles Chu Chai

Law professor, law school dean, and worked in the Legislative Yuan to draft the new Chinese Constitution.

arles Chu Chai (birth date unknown) grew up in a struggling merchant family in Anhui, but managed to study on his own, pass the national entrance exam with the secret help of his elder brother and was “awarded the most prestigious academic prize in China for his generation, an American Boxer Indemnity Fund scholarship, which enabled him to study at the American-run Qinghua College in Beijing, then go to American to study through a Ph.D. (5 years) at the school of his choice. In 1927 he elected to go to Stanford because ever since he had been a little boy and had heard tales of “Gold Mountain,” he had always wanted to see California. After he became engaged to [May-lee Chai’s] grandmother [an arranged match], he decided to attend Northwestern University Law School in Chicago to study for a J.D. degree so that he could be closer to his fianc�e, who had been awarded a scholarship to study at Wittenberg College in Ohio.” They first met when he awaited her arrival in San Franciso, and with a friend drove cross-country to the Midwest.

“In China, he held many important government positions, working in the Legislative Yuan to draft the new Chinese Constitution and later training army officers under the warlord of Hunan province. He was the founding dean of National Chongqing University Law School. After immigrating to America [when?], he co-wrote nine books on China with [Winberg Chai, the first son born 1932], several of which became best sellers.”

After return to China (1931), he obtained a job in 1933 through his wife’s former professor at National Central University, as a law specialist in the Legislative Yuan working on drafting the new Chinese Constitution. During the Japanese occupation, they first went to Anhui and then to live in a village near Changsha, where Charles found a job through a former classmate, brother to Chang Chih-chung (governor of Hunan), teaching legal theory at an Officer Training Institute he helped set up. Ruth opened an English school (really a Sunday school) for the farmers in the village, working through the “Lu Xi (village name?) Christian Association.”

Around 1940, the successor warlord re-assigned Charles as dean of students for Hunan University in southern Hunan (Sunxi). This didn’t work out so they moved to Chongqing in 1942, where Charles’ estranged brother helped him become the first dean of the National Chongqing University Law School [reconstituted in the 1990s? now the most prestigious in China? or is it in Chengdu?].

1955 Charles accepted an adjunct teaching position at the New School for Social Research in New York City. They joined a prominent expatriate community in Manhattan, gathering at Dr. Hu Shih’s apartment on the weekend. But to earn money, Charles took a course in auditing and worked as an auditor in the New York City legal deptartment while writing books with Winberg for the royalties (publications listed p. 260 of The Girl from Purple Mountain)

(This story was written with sources available. If you have further information about this story please let us know.)


  • May-lee Chai and Winberg Chai, The Girl from Purple Mountain: Love, Honor, War, and One Family’s Journey from China to America (New York: St. Martin’s Press Thomas Dunne Books, 2001).

About the Author

Carol Lee Hamrin

George Mason University Research Professor and Senior Associate for Global China Center