Ming Tchou comes from a highly literary and intellectual family in Guangzhou, China. Her grandfather was a judge and Dean of the Law School at Zhongshan Daxue. Her father and his brothers were all attorneys. They were all graduates of the Sorbonne University, France, where they had gone to study international law after World War I. Ming's father was also a traditional Chinese scholar, accomplished in Chinese arts and letters. Thus Ming grew up in an extended family full of scholars and poets. She fondly recalled that her mother and father used to carry on their discussions by writing poems to each other. Her mother is now 103 and currently residing in California.
When Ming graduated from high school in the 1930s she went to Shanghai to attend law school. There she met Dr. Tchou who had come from Vietnam to attend medical school. When the Sino-Japanese War broke out Ming's studies were interrupted and she went back to her family in Hong Kong and Macao. Dr. Tchou stayed behind in Shanghai and was able to finish his medical school training because the medical school was located in the French quarter and therefore protected. Dr. Tchou and Ming stayed in touch through letters, relying on the slow and precarious wartime mail service. In order to keep track that all the letters would arrive safely they would number each of their letters sequentially. A missing number would tell the recipient that a letter was missing. When the war ended in 1945 Ming went back to Shanghai to be with Dr. Tchou. At the same time Dr. Tchou's brothers came from Vietnam and told him that he needed to settle down. So he promptly proposed to Ming and they were married in 1946 in Shanghai.
The newlyweds stayed in Shanghai while Dr. Tchou practiced medicine. In 1947, they left Shanghai and traveled to Guangzhou where Dr. Tchou met Ming's family and then on to Vietnam by way of Kunming. They settled in Haiphong where Dr. Tchou soon developed a thriving practice. He was well liked because he could speak Chinese, French, Vietnamese, and English.
After several years in Haiphong, Dr. Tchou decided to accept a scholarship offer for post-graduate studies at Sorbonne University in France. He and Ming moved to Paris in 1951 where he wrote his dissertation on pulmonary diseases. In 1953, he was awarded another scholarship, this time by the United Sates Fulbright Exchange Program. He came to Buffalo, New York alone to begin the program since at the time the program provided room and board for himself only, nothing for Ming.
Ming remained in Paris and came to the U.S. a year later when she enrolled at the Youngstown College in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Upon completing his Fulbright program in Buffalo Dr. Tchou moved to Youngstown, Ohio so that he could be close to Ming.
When Ming graduated from Youngstown College the couple moved to East Texas where Dr. Tchou completed a residency in thoracic surgery and Ming obtained her certificate as a medical technologist.
At this juncture Dr. Tchou seriously considered returning to China to teach. Since the U.S. government had no diplomatic relations with the government in China at the time, the Tchous had to plan their return via Mexico or Canada to India or Pakistan, and then to China. Following this plan Dr. Tchou accepted a job in Montreal. However, before embarking on their journey, Ming's mother wrote from Guangzhou and discouraged them from going back.
The Tchous then returned to the U.S. in the winter of 1961 and came to MN where Dr. Tchou began a residency in anesthesiology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. Ming took a position as an X-ray technician at Abbott-Northwestern Hospital. She had wanted to be independent, and to learn more about medicine so that she could be Dr. Tchou's full partner.
After completing his residency in 1964 Dr. Tchou took a position at Mount Sinai Hospital. He then went on to an illustrious career in private practice at Mount Sinai Hospital and the Veterans Administration Hospital. He remained a clinical professor at the University of Minnesota where he trained many residents over the years. He retired as the medical director of Dept. of Anesthesiology at the Virginia Regional Medical Center in Virginia, MN.
In 1971 Ming opened a Chinese gift shop, called Ming's Import Gallery, at the Kahler Hotel in Rochester, MN. A Rochester newspaper article described the opening as "This is the year that the Chinese came to town." Soon after Ming opened a branch store in Edina. Her main purpose was to help people to have a job, to spread her love of Chinese art, and to help Americans learn more about China. Her merchandise came primarily from Hong Kong. After a successful run of 14 years, she decided to close both stores in 1984.
After a brief stint in the restaurant business Ming began to concentrate her energies in volunteering. She was a founding member of the Chinese Senior Citizens Society (CSCS) and was its first president for 10 years. Between 1984-1996 she led many group tours (over 10) to China, including the first one from the Midwest organized by the U.S. China People Friendship Association (USCPFA), another organization of which she was a founding member. Ming was also very involved with the Minnesota International Center (MIC), the Chinese American Association of Minnesota (CAAM), the National Association of Chinese Americans (NACA), the International Committee of the Minneapolis Women's Club, and the Hennepin Medical Auxiliary. She is the recipient of numerous awards, among them the leadership award from the Council of Asian Pacific Minnesotans.
While the Tchous have no children of their own, over the years they have become surrogate parents to many nephews, nieces and children of friends from Vietnam and China. They have guided and advised many aspiring young men and women and presided at their weddings. Through it all they have maintained their abiding love for China. For many years they contributed much time and effort to the establishment of Huanghe Daxue in China.
Reflecting on her 40 years in Minnesota, Ming said, "We should learn how to share ideas with each other and to do it often." Through the Chinese Heritage Foundation that she has established at the Minneapolis Foundation she plans to devote the coming years to promoting this important function within the Chinese community and with the wider community in Minnesota.