Oral Histories

Interview of Thomas G. Lee

Immigrant from Taiwan. Licensed acupuncturist (L.Ac.), doctor of oriental medicine (D.Ac.), and Ph.D. in oriental medicine.
Suburban Chinatown: Chinese American Business and Political Leaders in the San Gabriel Valley
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Immigrant from Taiwan. Licensed acupuncturist (L.Ac.), doctor of oriental medicine (D.Ac.), and Ph.D. in oriental medicine.
Cline, Alex
Lee, Thomas G.
Persons Present:
Lee and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Lee's office in South Pasadena, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alex Cline, series coordinator, UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research; musician. Cline prepared for the interview by studying biographical information supplied by the interviewee.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Lee was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content. The corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff. Lee provided the resume.
4.25 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Suburban Chinatown series focuses on political and business leaders in the San Gabriel Valley who came to the U.S. in the post-1965 wave of Asian immigration after the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 abolished the quota system based on national origins. The series was undertaken as a collaborative effort between the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research and the American East Asian Cultural and Educational Foundation (AEACEF). AEACEF recommended the majority of the individuals interviewed and introduced the interviewer to the narrators. Many of the narrators are also featured in the AEACEF’s book Thirty Years of Chinese American Immigration in Southern California.
Date and place of birth—Father’s background and relocation to Taiwan—Mother’s background in Henan province—Mother meets father after fleeing mainland China during civil war—Childhood memories in Taipei—Education and family support for his liberal and diverse interests—Impact of father’s career as an actor—American cultural influence in late sixties— Decision to study medicine—Parents’ divorce—Fulfills military service obligation by studying pharmacology and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)—Licensed pharmacist—Relocation to Los Angeles in 1983—Becomes a licensed acupuncturist as a step toward becoming a doctor—First job in the U.S. answering phones at L.A. County Courthouse—Comparison between Los Angeles and Taipei—Linguistic differences separating generations of Chinese immigrants—Monterey Park as the epicenter of Taiwanese immigrant activity.
Diversity of foods in Los Angeles area/places to get authentic Chinese cuisine—Decision to become an acupuncturist—Passes exam permitting him to practice TCM in California—Begins practice in Glendale—Emphasis on overall wellness for his patients and growth of his practice—Interactions with medical peers around TCM’s efficacy and validity compared to Western medicine—Reasons for pursuing advanced degrees in his field in the 1980s—Relocating practice to Pasadena and opening office in Santa Monica—On becoming a citizen of the U.S. in 1988—First trip back to Taiwan in 1989—The importance of tai chi and qi gong—Appearance on KTLA Channel 5’s morning program—Efforts to expand the reach of tai chi and qi gong classes—Move to Temple City, where his practice continues to serve people outside of the Chinese community—Changes in the San Gabriel Valley with increased Chinese immigration—Daughters Jacqueline and Jennifer Lee—Choice of Thomas as Western name—Hollywood contacts provide Lee opportunities to give his father studio tours—Adjustments and compromises to balance different cultural influences—Daughters study Mandarin language—End of Lee’s first marriage and continued relationship with ex-wife.
Seeking acceptance for TCM within the Western medical mainstream—Discussion and debate surrounding acupuncture in the early 1970s—In 1976 California approves official licensure for the practice of acupuncture—Advocates on behalf of acupuncture as holistic health regime in 1980s—Issues regarding the integration of Western and TCM terms in the U.S.—Advocates freedom of choice for patients to choose acupuncture treatment and claim it on their medical insurance, while also urging TCM practitioners to learn more about Western medicine—Advocacy for acupuncture in California State Legislature, leading to the passage of bills—State bill AB1943—Takes appeal for more balanced training to non-Asian students of TCM—Past perils of practitioners of TCM prior to legislation in 1973—Council of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Association—Lessening of resistance to TCM over the decades—Focus on teaching Chinese-speaking students—Differences between the philosophies and treatment approaches of Western medicine and of TCM—Experience with patients fuels Lee's advocacy for TCM as first-resort choice for health care—Early career success in Los Angeles—Lee's popular tai chi and qi gong classes—Teaching of ping shuai—Thoughts on American and Californian democratic process—Changes and challenges in San Gabriel Valley with respect to immigrants and immigration trends—Challenges Lee’s family faced from immigrants—More about his daughters—Second marriage—Contribution of Chinese to Southern California culture—More on reconciling divergent cultural influences.