The Professor Yuan-li Wu Economics Speaker Series honors a pioneering scholar who was also the first Chinese American to serve as deputy assistant secretary of defense in the U.S. government. Scroll down to learn more about his life and work.

As our flagship economics and public affairs series, it features notable policymakers and social innovators. Past speakers have included John Williams, president and CEO, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (and now of New York Fed); Christina Romer, former chair of the Council of Economic Advisors in the Obama Administration; Ahmed Rahim, co-founder and CEO of Numi Organic Tea; and Kathryn “Kat” Taylor, co-founder and CEO, Beneficial State Bank. A full list of speakers can be found below.

This series is made possible by generous support from Suzanne Wu Zurinaga, Luis Zurinaga, and the Wu Chen Lew Zurinaga Fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

A Life Shaped by World Events

Yuan-li Wu (1920-2008) was born into a prosperous family in Tianjin, China. With the Northern Expedition of 1926-28 and establishment of a national government in Nanjing, his father moved the family and his businesses south to Shanghai. The coming of full-scale war with Japan, however, prompted Yuan-li at the age of eighteen to depart for England in pursuit of higher education. A dedicated student, he earned a bachelor of science degree (Economics, 1942) and Ph.D. (Economics, 1945) at the London School of Economics, where he studied under renowned economist Friedrich Hayek. His interests were not restricted to economics. Fascinated by languages and linguistics, Yuan-li Wu not only polished his English but gained proficiency in French, German, and Russian. It was also in England that he met the love of his life, Annemarie Jacobi, a refugee who had escaped Nazi Germany.

Soon Yuan-li Wu would be a refugee as well. Upon completing his doctorate, he “returned to China anxious to serve his motherland,” only to find himself and his extended family displaced by civil war and the Chinese Communist Revolution. In 1950, he and Annemarie arrived in America. “Without the help of his prominent father [who passed away that same year in Hong Kong]… he literally started from scratch, working hard to build a career here.” (Judy Chu, Junzi, A Man of Virtue, p. 193)

After a decade of short-term projects and teaching positions, Yuan-li Wu settled into a professorship at the University of San Francisco and a concurrent research position at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Amidst the Cold War, his appointment at Hoover facilitated winning numerous grants to support individual and collaborative projects. Dr. Wu would go on to author or co-author “over 40 books and monographs and more than 100 articles.” (Ibid., p. 139)


Photo: Wedding day, Cambridge, 1941


Photo: Economics conference in Berlin, 1980s

Professor Yuan-li Wu’s Scholarship

Dr. Wu’s “research covers a wide range of subjects, from [the] Chinese economy to studies on geopolitical and security issues concerning Communist countries such as Russia, and countries of South and Southeast Asia, Europe, Middle East, the Mediterranean and North Africa. He was among the first to conduct systematic research on the economy of Communist China in the 1950s and his research has been widely quoted by others…. [His] half-century publishing record was capped by his 1997 book Tiananmen to Tiananmen: China Under Communism, 1947-1996.” (Ibid., p. 139)

As noted above, Professor Yuan-li Wu wrote on much more than macroeconomics. Blessed with an inquiring mind and academic training that encouraged synthesizing careful empiricism with bold theorization, his research interests expanded over time to include arms control, diplomacy, food and energy policy, immigrant communities, income and wealth distribution, scientific networks, and much more. By the end of his career he wrote on human rights, the future of Taiwan and Hong Kong, and even turned his attention to childhood education, emphasizing the importance of nurturing inter-cultural understanding through broad reading and language study.

The Professor Yuan-li Wu Economics Speaker Series aspires to cover a similarly broad range of important topics that honor Dr. Wu’s scholarly and moral imagination.


Photo: In 1992, University of London’s wartime graduates were invited back for a “make-up” commencement exercise.

List of Speakers and Events

February 2010
“China’s Environmental Challenge”
Elizabeth C. Economy, Ph.D., Senior Fellow for China Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

December 2011
“Healing America’s Troubled Economy”
- Christina Romer, Ph.D., Garff B. Wilson Professor of Economics, UC Berkeley & Former Chair, Council of Economic Advisers
- David H. Romer, Ph.D., Herman Royer Professor of Political Economy, UC Berkeley

March 2011
“The Rise and Fall of the Dollar”
Barry Eichengreen, Ph.D., George C. Pardee and Helen N. Pardee Professor of Economics and Political Science, UC Berkeley

May 2012
“U.S.-East Asia Relations: As Seen from Tokyo”
Glen S. Fukushima, Chairman, Airbus Japan

November 2012
“The Economy and the Fed in Unusual Times”
John C. Williams, Ph.D., President and Chief Executive Officer, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

May 2014
“Social Impact from Farm to Cup: Numi Organic Tea”
Ahmed Rahim, co-founder and CEO, Numi Organic Tea

November 2014
“Banking Toward Social Justice: Community Development Financial Institutions”
Kathryn “Kat” Taylor, co-founder and CEO, Beneficial State Bank

October 2015
“California Dreaming: Succeeding in China’s Growing Wine Market”
- Lindsey Gallagher, Vice President of International Marketing, The Wine Institute
- Chris Beros, China Office Director, The Wine Institute
- C. T. Wong, Deputy Director, Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, San Francisco

November 2015
“Building the Foundations of a Championship Community Organization”
- Shana Daum, Vice President for Public Affairs, SF Giants
- Yeshayah Goldfarb, Director of Minor League Operations and Quantitative Analysis, SF Giants

April 2016
“From Ghost Town to Havana: Sports, Community Development, Intercultural Understanding”
Opening Night of 2016 Oakland International Film Festival
- Roscoe Bryant, Community Organizer and Coach of the Oakland Royals Youth Baseball Club
- Eugene Corr, Academy-Award-nominated filmmaker and director From Ghost Town to Havana

September 2016
“Arts Diplomacy and the Exhibit Emperors’ Treasures: Chinese Art from the National Palace Museum, Taipei”
Jay Xu, Ph.D., Director and CEO, Asian Art Museum of San Francisco

April 2017
“Guangzhou Dream Factory: Economic Migration from Africa to China”
Opening Night of 2017 Oakland International Film Festival
Christiane Badgley, investigative journalist and director of Guangzhuo Dream Factory

April 2018
“Shot in the Dark: Hoop Dreams and the Realities of Growing Up in Chicago’s West Side"
Opening Night of 2018 Oakland International Film Festival
- Dustin Nakao Haider, director Shot in the Dark
- Tunisia Owens, Ph.D., Policy Director, Ella Baker Center for Human Rights

September 2019
“Circles: The Power of Restorative Justice in Oakland Schools”
Opening Night of 2019 Oakland International Film Festival
- Eric Butler, Restorative Justice Coordinator, Ralph J. Bunche Academy
- Cassidy Friedman, director, Circles; founder, Stories Matter Media LLM
- Gina Hill, principal, Oakland Emiliano Zapata Street Academy
- Nina Senn, Director for District 4 and Vice President, Board of Education, Oakland Unified School District
- Betsy Steele, principal (ret.), Ralph J. Bunche Academy

Notes: Events in this series have been held at the HNU Valley Center for the Performing Arts and the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). Special thanks to Dr. Patrick Lloyd Hatcher, who was instrumental in launching the Professor Yuan-li Wu Economics Speaker Series and has served as moderator in many of our programs.