Oral Histories

Interview of San-pao Li

Immigrant from Taiwan. California State University, Long Beach, professor of Asian and Asian American Studies.
Suburban Chinatown: Chinese American Business and Political Leaders in the San Gabriel Valley
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Immigrant from Taiwan. California State University, Long Beach, professor of Asian and Asian American Studies.
Cline, Alex
Li, San-pao
Persons Present:
Li and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Li's home in La Palma, 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. Li was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research (COHR) staff. San-pao Lin provided the biographical material.
4.75 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.
Birth in Sichuan Province, China—Father’s military background and capture by communist forces—Family flees to Taiwan—Upbringing in rural Taiwan—Separation from father and uncle—Relationship with mother—Relocation to Taipei after elementary school—Friends and relatives disassociate themselves from Li's family during the Chinese civil war—Beginning of interest in calligraphy—Beginning of interest in academics and success as a student—Belief in gentle encouragement—Reflections on religion and spirituality—Admittance to Tunghai University—Major in political science and graduation at the top of his class—Work at the university library—Exposure to English and Western culture at Tunghai—Focus on academic scholarships—Focus on continuing education in the United States—Professorships at Dickinson College, Harvard University, and Columbia University—Reflections on the political atmosphere in the 1960s on college campuses—Beginning of graduate education at Harvard and teaching fellowship
Experience with student radicalism and interest in philosophy—Relationship between student radicalism in the United States and movements in China—Increased interest in ancient Chinese mysticism and culture—The change in his opinion of the Chinese educational system once in the United States—Doctoral thesis on Chinese intellectual reformer K’ang Yu-wei—Decision to continue graduate studies at University of California, Berkeley—Struggle with vision—Relocation to University of California, Davis and position as a lecturer—Reflections on meeting his wife at Tunghai University and marrying in the United States—Birth of daughter while at Harvard—Reflections on teaching career—Dramatic changes in Southern California’s Chinese American population—Pride in being part of the Asian American community.
Rarity of opportunities to return to Taiwan—Reflections on relationship between mainland China and Taiwan—Increase in Chinese faculty at California State University, Long Beach—Is invited by the United States State Department to serve as a presidential interpreter—Declines full-time job but accepts part time work in negotiations with China under President Carter—Interpreting discussions as China emerged from communist isolation in the 1980s—Participation at the sixth Sino-American economic conference in Beijing in 1985—Decision to quit interpreting to focus on teaching—Reflection on time as an interpreter—Refections on growth of Chinese immigrant community in Southern California—Relationships between Asian immigrant communities in Southern California—Racism and discrimination against Chinese Americans—Finding a balance in blending Chinese and American culture in his daughters' upbringing—Reflections on Chinese philosophy—Satisfaction with his acheivements serving as a bridge between cultures and communities—Major health crisis leads to retirement and renewed sense of appreciation—Commitment to volunteer work—Continued interest in calligraphy—Thoughts on recent Chinese immigration to the United States.