Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Frank Lieu ’47

A life lived between China and America

The world has changed since Frank Lieu first began his MIT studies with the Class of 1941.

Born in 1921 in Shanghai into the prosperous home of one of China’s leading industrialists, Lieu was sent to study mechanical engineering at MIT. But he was forced to return to China, before completing his degree, because of America’s immigration laws.

This story is part of the July/August 2012 Issue of the MIT News Magazine
See the rest of the issue
Subscribe

His journey home was an odyssey. He accompanied his mother to Shanghai, then traveled, disguised as a peasant, for 40 days through Japanese-held territory to Chungking, where he worked for his father’s wool factory. There, the 20-year-old Lieu and six other mechanical engineers labored 11 hours a day trying to design and build replacement machine parts to get the factory into production despite wartime shortages.

After the war ended, Lieu was picked by the Chinese government to return to the United States to receive on-the-job training through a State Department program.

“I visited the production lines of Dodge automobile assembly plants, and I worked in textile machinery production plants,” he says. He completed his MIT degree in 1947 and a master’s degree at Harvard Business School in 1949. Then familial obligations led him back to China, where he lived for the next three decades, working for his father’s many enterprises and coping with political change. Those years, which coincided with China’s volatile Cultural Revolution, were difficult for Lieu.

“I went through a lot in communist China,” he says, “and I couldn’t come out of China again until 1979. However, China has changed … Chinese society is now more capitalistic in recent years than the United States, according to what I have heard.”

Lieu, who settled in California with his wife, Barbara, and children, has spent the last few decades strengthening ties between China and the United States. He has served in numerous Chinese-American organizations, including the U.S.-China Friendship Society in San Francisco. He is also contributing to a biography about his father, O. S. Lieu, jointly written by professors from Cornell and Grinnell universities. His two sons have followed in his footsteps as mechanical engineers, and his daughter is a software engineer.

And he is back in the classroom. “I have been taking voice classes at the College of San Mateo and watercolor painting at the San Mateo Senior Center,” he says. “Over the last 20 years, I have taken well over 100 units of courses at our community colleges with a GPA over 3.75—much better than I had at MIT.”

Another change? “I was the youngest in my class at MIT,” he says. “Now I am definitely the oldest.”

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
Next in MIT News
Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe and become an Insider.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}* Best Value

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Print Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

  • Insider Online Only {! insider.prices.online !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Unlimited online access including articles and video, plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.