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Chinese American Firsts

This page lists some of the first Chinese Americans to break into the top ranks of their chosen careers.

When Who What
1919- 1975 James Wong Howe
b. 1899
d. 1976
Was the first Asian-American to win an Academy Award (in cinematography). He won two Oscars out of 16 nominations he received for some of his more than 130 films.
1920-1960. Anna May Wong
b. 1905
d. 1961
Became the first Asian American movie star even though she was typically asked to play stereotypes --her characters seemed to always tempt white men and die in the end
1931 Katherine Sui Fun Cheung
b. 1904
d. 2003
Became the first Asian-American woman pilot, amazing crowds with sensational loops and rolls of her plane in air shows and often flew in air races.
1939 Arthur Chin
b. 1913
d. 1997
First American fighting Ace. Volunteered for the Cantonese Air Force to fight against the invading Japanese before the US joined the war effort.
1940s Noel Toy Young
b. 1920
d. 2004
Was the first Chinese American exotic dancer. She danced primarily in San Francisco but also appeared in New York and acted in several movies.
1942? Wah Kau Kong First Chinese American fighter pilot
1948 Richard Tom Was the first Chinese American to win an Olympic medal. He won the bronze medal in weightlifting at the 1948 Olympics held in London.
1957 Tsung-Dao Lee
b. 1926

Chen Ning Yang
b. 1922
Became the first Chinese Americans to win a Nobel Prize (for Physics) when they disproved a quantum-physics law.
1959-1977 Hiram L. Fong
b. 1906
Became the first Chinese-American senator when Hawaii became a state, serving three terms.
1964 China Lee
b. 1942
First Chinese American Playboy playmate of the month. (That would be the August 1964 edition, for those looking to do further research. The next Chinese American playmate was Diana Lee, May 1988).

1969

Connie Chung
b. 1946
Was the first Asian American to anchor a news program for a national TV network (CBS Evening News and others) and only the second woman to do so.
1974 March Fong Eu
b. 1922
Became the first Asian American woman to hold a state elective office when she won the position of Secretary of State, a position she held five times.
1984 Lily Lee Chen Became the first Chinese American council member and mayor in the US when she was elected in the city of Monterey Park, CA.
1985 Taylor Wang
b. 1940
Was the first Chinese American in space as well as the first ethnic Chinese and only second Asian American to do so.
1988 Michael Chang
b. 1972
He is the youngest male to win a Grand Slam and the first American man to win the French Open since 1955. He was also the first Asian seeded in the top 10 world rankings for tennis.
1990 Chang-Lin Tien
b. 1936
d. 2002
Became the first Asian American chancellor of major research university when he was named chancellor of the University of California at Berkleley.
1991 Leroy Chiao
b. 1960
Was the first Asian to ever perform a space walk.
1996 Gary Locke
b. 1960
Became the first Chinese American state governor when he was elected in the State of Washington.
1999 David Wu
b. 1955
Was the first Chinese American member of the House of Representatives, representing the Oregon's First District..
2001 Elaine Chao
b. 1953
Became the first Asian American woman to serve in the U.S. cabinet, when she was sworn in as President Bush's Secretary of Labor.
©2003-2014 J. Lau. All rights reserved.