AskBwog: Who is Z.Y. Fu?
Written by Bwog Staff
In our latest AskBwog, Peter Krawczyk searched high and low (and mostly on Google) to see what can be found about the Engineering School’s namesake.
In 1997, the Columbia School of Engineering and Applied Science received a gift of $26 million from a Chinese businessman known only as Z.Y. Fu. The School was allowed to use the money in any way it saw fit; Fu’s only stipulation was that the 133 year-old institution had to rename itself “The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science,” which today is pronounced “SEEZ”. Of course, the school was only too happy to oblige. As Zvi Galil, then the SEAS dean, told the Times, ”It is a no-strings-attached gift that will come all at once … I can’t dream of something better.” And today, in the several screens of website devoted to its history, all the school has to say regarding Fu’s gift is: “Today, The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, as it was named in 1997, continues to provide leadership for scientific and educational advances.”
Fu said he made the gift because: “I am a regular visitor to New York, where Columbia is the most prestigious institution of higher learning. In addition to its long history of association with Chinese professors and scholars, the university has educated numerous Chinese students and successfully hosts the Fu Foundation Scholars program. Through this new gift, I wish to honor that association and to ensure that, in the years to come, Columbia will continue to grow in strength as an international leader in science and technology. This will serve as a model for education in China.” That quote is apparently his only ever public statement on the matter.
Then who was this mysterious man of four letters? He was born in Shanghai as one of thirteen children, and made the gift at the age of 78; he had also endowed a chair at SEAS in 1990, and was honored for his donation in 1999 with the Columbia University Distinguished Achievement Award. However, he was not by any means a Columbia alum – in fact, he had no apparent connections to the University other than a brother-in-law, Chia-Kun Chu, who was a professor at SEAS, and a few English classes taken in GS after he began donating.
We do know that Fu made his fortune through the Sansaio Trading Corporation which he founded in Tokyo in 1951, and which can evidently only be described as an amorphous, “wide-ranging international operation,” dealing in “import-export, investments, and securities trading.” Sansaio has no website, but appears to have an office in Midtown with a working phone. When Bwog called, a very nice American-sounding woman answered and promised to get back with information; unfortunately, we have yet to hear back.