EVERETT — Chuxiong Zhou’s life journey took him from China to Everett. It took him from flying as a commercial pilot to laboring in the countryside during China’s Cultural Revolution. It took him to freedom in the United States, where his new mission was teaching the gentle movements of tai chi.
He reinvented his life, sometimes under circumstances not of his choosing. Those who knew and loved him said Zhou always lived with grace and good cheer.
“He basically made four major professional changes driven by changes in society,” said Domi Zhou-Clark, Zhou’s granddaughter. “He made the best of it.”
Zhou died April 24 in Everett. Born Nov. 27, 1923 in Hunan, China, he was 89.
“Master Zhou was a unique and inspiring individual who had amazing stories to tell,” said Bill Broomall, who taught tai chi with Zhou. Broomall and his partner Linda Larson began studying tai chi with Zhou 18 years ago. They now teach the Everett Parks &Recreation Department’s tai chi classes.
Zhou — he often told students to call him “Master Joe” — continued teaching until shortly before his 89th birthday. “We have missed Master Zhou these past few months, and we will miss him more in the days and years ahead,” Broomall said. “We will do our best to honor him by continuing to learn, to grow, and to practice what he has taught us.”
Broomall said Zhou had students in their 90s. “Tai chi not only keeps you moving, it is really great for balance,” he said.
Zhou had learned tai chi as a boy, but told students he perfected his practice of it with the help of a monk he met in China.
In a booklet Zhou published in 1994, he wrote that the now popular exercise is one of the traditional Chinese martial arts, and is centuries old. The 24, 48 and 88 forms he taught are known as the Yang style of tai chi. The flowing movements, Zhou wrote, are meant to keep the “chi” — “your life energy” — moving smoothly.
Zhou’s years in China were anything but smooth after the communist takeover in 1949. From 1943 through 1948, he went through military training that brought him to the United States for fighter pilot training.
According to a short biography composed by his family and shared at a memorial service Sunday, he returned to Shanghai in 1948 and became a commercial airline pilot for the China National Aviation Corp.
His granddaughter said he told stories about meeting his future wife. “He was a pilot, she was a stewardess back in the 1940s,” Zhou-Clark said. They married in 1948, and would go on to have three children.
They moved to Hong Kong in 1949, but after the revolution he was punished for having anti-communist views. He lost his pilot’s license and was sent to drive a tractor in the countryside.
Because he was educated, Zhou-Clark said, an official asked him to become an architect. Self-taught, he spent 22 years designing and building schools, a hospital and other major projects. Another career change came in 1979, when the government apologized for past accusations. Until retirement and the move to Everett, Zhou worked as an English professor, his granddaughter said.
Zhou is survived by his wife, who lives in Everett. Two of his children also live in the area.
Everett’s Tanis Marsh, who studied tai chi with Zhou, said “his wonderfully light and graceful movements” seemed counter to any harsh treatment in Zhou’s past.
Gary Wilcox, a teacher who took Zhou’s tai chi classes, said Zhou channeled any anger he might have had about the past into helping others. “He didn’t have vindictiveness,” Wilcox said.
Dan Scott was helped by Zhou after suffering an injury. A truck hit Scott while he was riding his bike. “I came to tai chi in a wheelchair. He got a big kick out of that,” the Everett man said.
Zhou-Clark remembers her grandfather giving her rides to school in Everett on the back of his bicycle. He loved to travel, she said, and had been to Washington, D.C., Boston, Las Vegas, and Texas.
“He was very cheerful, and he loved to tell a good story,” Broomall said. “One student said she’ll always remember his smile.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.