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COLLECTION Identifier: MC 641: MP-42: Vt-91

Papers of Grace Zia Chu, 1941-1986


Chinese American culinary instructor and author, Grace Zia Chu introduced the art of Chinese cooking to an American audience.


  • Creation: 1941-1986

Language of Materials

Materials in English.

Access Restrictions:

Access. Unrestricted. An appointment is necessary to use any audiovisual material.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright. Copyright in the papers created by Grace Zia Chu as well as copyright in other papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns.

Copying. Papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures.


.83 linear feet ((2 file boxes) plus 1 oversize folder, 7 photograph folders, 2 videotapes, 1 motion picture)

The collection, arranged alphabetically followed by oversized items, documents Grace Zia Chu's career as a culinary instructor and author. Papers include awards; biographical documents and correspondence; recipes and menus from classes; clippings; materials from demonstrations and lectures; and a short film based on her cookbook, The Pleasures of Chinese Cooking. The collection also documents her earlier career as a diplomatic military attaché's wife and as vice-president of the World YWCA through clippings and typewritten speeches.

All photographs in this collection are or will be cataloged in VIA, Harvard University's Visual Information Access database.


Known as "The First Lady of Chopsticks," Chinese American culinary instructor and author Grace Zia Chu was born August 23, 1899, in Shanghai, China. She was the eldest of nine children of Hong-Lai Zia and Sochen Sze. After the death of both her parents, Grace received a scholarship to study at Wellesley College in 1920. She earned her bachelor's degree in 1924 and a graduate certificate in Hygiene and Physical Education in 1925 before returning to China to teach physical education at the Ginling College for Women in Nanking.

In 1928 she married Shih-Ming Chu, a military officer she met in Boston while he was studying at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They had two sons, Samuel (born 1929) and Daniel (born 1933). In 1942, Madame Chu was appointed international vice-president of the World Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). For the next five years, she traveled internationally advocating the YWCA's mission to aid and educate working women. When, in 1937, her husband was appointed an aide to Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, Madame Chu became an active member of the Women's Advisory Committee in Chunking, working closely with Madame Chiang Kai-shek. In 1941, Lieutenant-General Chu brought his family to the U.S. when he was appointed military attaché to the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C. Seven years later he relocated to Tokyo, while Madame Chu remained in the United States, and in 1955 became a U.S. citizen.

Grace Zia Chu first encountered Chinese cooking in America while she was a student at Wellesley College. Lonely for her homeland's food, she began experimenting with different ways to replicate traditional Chinese dishes using only the ingredients found in American food markets. Years later she got her first experience as an instructor while living in Washington, D.C., when the officers' wives would urge her to show them how to cook Chinese meals. Developing her own way of preparing Chinese cuisine in America, Madame Chu often proclaimed that it is not the particular ingredients, but the technique that makes a dish uniquely Chinese.

In 1954 Madame Chu established her career as an instructor of Chinese cooking when she was invited to New York City to teach at the China Institute in America. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Madame Chu taught many classes on Chinese cooking, including in the Mandarin House School of Cooking, the Culinary Institute of America, the School of Good Cooking, and in her own apartment on the upper west side of Manhattan. Her teaching methods were admired for their integration of cooking instruction and Chinese culture. "I have a missionary spirit about Chinese cooking," she told students, "I want you to become thoroughly absorbed with Chinese culture, history, and philosophy as it relates to food."

In 1962 Madame Chu published her best-selling cookbook, The Pleasures of Chinese Cooking, which was praised for its clear and concise approach to preparing Chinese dishes aimed at an American audience. In 1963, the American Gas Association and the Gas Appliance Manufacturers Association produced a short film based on her book. As a result, Madame Chu was asked to be at the 1965 New York World's Fair demonstrating Chinese cookery on a gas grill at the Festival of Gas pavilion. In 1975 she published Madame Chu's Chinese Cooking School, a detailed teaching cookbook designed to answer questions for the beginning and advanced cook.

As recognition of her extraordinary contributions to the fields of culinary arts, Grace Zia Chu was invested as Grande Dame of Les Dames d'Escoffier New York Chapter in 1984. Two years later she retired, leaving New York City to live closer to her son in Columbus, Ohio. Madame Chu died April 15, 1999, a few months shy of her 100th birthday.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Accession numbers: 86-M131, 98-M19

These papers of Grace Zia Chu were included with a cookbook collection given to the Schlesinger Library by Grace Zia Chu in 1986; portions were transferred to the manuscript department in 1986 and 1998.

Processing Information

Processed: June 2010

By: Jessica Tanny

Chu, Grace Zia. Papers of Grace Zia Chu, 1941-1986: A Finding Aid
Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America
Language of description
Processing of this collection was made possible by a gift from the Radcliffe College Class of 1968.

Repository Details

Part of the Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute Repository

The preeminent research library on the history of women in the United States, the Schlesinger Library documents women's lives from the past and present for the future. In addition to its traditional strengths in the history of feminisms, women’s health, and women’s activism, the Schlesinger collections document the intersectional workings of race and ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and class in American history.

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