Shanghaied by Love as a Girl, Muriel Hoopes Is Now the Grande Dame of Americans in China

updated 05/03/1982 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/03/1982 AT 01:00 AM EDT

When Muriel Hoopes Tu set sail for China in November 1919, Americans were still welcoming their doughboys back from World War I. But Muriel had little cause to share in the patriotic revelry. A few months earlier, after a whirlwind romance, she had married Tu Yuqing, an engineering student visiting the U.S. on a scholarship from China. At the time, American laws barred Chinese from gaining citizenship. Indeed, Muriel was stripped of her citizenship just for marrying Yuqing, and the couple soon left for China.

Her new homeland depressed Muriel at first. "There was no sanitation, no running water, no electricity," she remembers. "I missed the lights of New York." But over the years Tu Yuqing rose to president of St. John's University in Shanghai, and the couple rode out the decades of war between Chiang Kai-shek's Kuomintang and Mao Tse-tung's Communists. At Muriel's insistence, they stayed on after the Revolution. "He belonged here," she says.

In 1968, during the Cultural Revolution, Muriel and her husband were held in confinement. She was freed after nine months, but by the time of his release in 1972, Tu Yuqing had been broken by physical abuse and four years of isolation. He died in 1975. Yet Muriel, now 83, bears no grudge. "Hatred just isn't in my dictionary," she says.

The law that deprived Muriel of her U.S. citizenship was changed in 1922, but she has never reclaimed what she lost. On a visit last year, she stayed in Beverly Hills with actress Stefanie (Hart to Hart) Powers, who met her on a trip to Shanghai in 1978. "Muriel was disappointed by the rudeness in America," Powers recalls. "In China people take care of each other." Still, Muriel's children have come here for graduate work. Harry, 48, studies engineering in Utah; Nina, 47, studies epidemiology at Johns Hopkins. Although Mary, 51, is a Kansas City pediatrician, Anna, 57, is a Shanghai cancer specialist—and Muriel hopes the others will return. "I have never tried to interfere in their lives," she says. "But I have told them, 'China needs you. America doesn't.' "

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