He was a student in the USA, graduating from the University of Chicago in 1931. In 1932 he attended the University of Göttingen, then transferring to Leipzig where he worked with van der Waerden. They produced a series of joint papers on intersection theory, introducing in particular the use of what are now generally called Chow coordinates (which were in some form familiar to Arthur Cayley).
He married Margot Victor in 1936, and took a position at the National Central University in Nanjing. His mathematical work was seriously affected by the wartime situation in China. He taught at the National Tung-Chi University in Shanghai in the academic year 1946–47, and then went to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton University, where he returned to his research. From 1948 to 1977 he was a professor at Johns Hopkins University.
He was also a stamp collector, known for his book "Shanghai Large Dragons, The First Issue of The Shanghai Local Post", published in 1996.