Stepping up to challenges as they come
Charles Lu arrived early at the annual conference of the Roundtable of Chinese American Organizations (RCAO) with other volunteers to move tables and chairs, set up the stage and get everything ready.
At the conference held in Baldwin Park on March 1, Lu was reelected chairman of the RCAO, which counts 108 Chinese community organizations in Southern California as its members.
He took it as recognition of his hard work and community-focused mind. “I’m from an average family,” Lu said. “I don’t have a sparkling prominent background.”
Lu was born in Shanghai in the early ’60s. He didn’t receive a regular education as his generation grew up during the “cultural revolution”(1966-76). To win the opportunity for a higher education, he worked hard getting himself prepared — rising before 6 am and working until midnight every day. In 1980, he was admitted to Nanjing Aeronautics and Astronautics University, where he majored in aeronautics radar. He graduated in 1984.
“I chose to learn whatever was most needed in China,” he said.
Working as an engineer for five years out of school at the Shanghai Aircraft and Research Institute, Lu was sent in 1989 to work in Southern California on a project with the McDonnell Douglas aerospace company.
Two years later, he enrolled as a graduate student at California State University in Fullerton. And then he started his own insurance company in 1994, one of the very first owned by someone from the Chinese mainland.
Lu joined the Shanghai Association of Southern California in 1999, and worked his way up to chair the RCAO, which was established in 2004 to achieve greater unity among the Chinese American community in the region.
“My debut on the big stage was the 2009 Chinese National Day celebration,” he recalled. The celebration — raising the Chinese flag — had hundreds of participants in previous years, according to Lu. 6,000 showed up.
Lu arranged for a small airplane to fly over the gathering trailing a banner that read “Happy Birthday China!” When the flag was raised to the top of the pole, thousands of doves of peace
But in 2009, about were set free.
“Many people were so touched by the ceremony that they had tears in their eyes,” Lu said.
Lu doesn’t just organize happy gatherings; a lot of times they are serious affairs. When ABC television’s Jimmy Kimmel offended the Chinese community on his show, Lu, with other community leaders, organized a protest in front of ABC headquarters in Burbank.
“It was a tough job,” Lu said. “The event coordinator backed out because of the huge number of people that showed up for the protest. I had to step up. It was not an easy job to make sure the message was correctly delivered and at the same time, make sure things were kept under control — you don’t want a protest to go wild.”
Southern California is an important center for the US-China relationship. Chinese President Xi Jinping paid visits there in 2012 and 2013. Lu organized a Chinese community welcome party for then Vice-President Xi’s first visit to Los Angeles.
As overseas council member of China’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council and All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese committee member, Lu will lead a team of Chinese-American business leaders to the China (Shanghai) Pilot Free Trade Zone next month, with the goal of generating more back-andforth business.
“Another big thing of this year is the 65th Chinese National Day celebration,” Lu said. “We’ll have 10 celebration events, including a show called Ode to the Motherland from Shanghai.”
Charles Lu in protest against ABC show.