Oral Histories

Interview of Han Huang

Immigrant from Taiwan. CEO of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation USA.
Many Branches, One Root: Buddhist Traditions in the Los Angeles Area
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Immigrant from Taiwan. CEO of the Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation USA.
Cline, Alex
Huang, Han
Persons Present:
Huang and Cline.
Place Conducted:
The Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation in San Dimas, 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 Center for Oral History Research; musician; member, Order of Interbeing, Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism, ordained 2009 by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. Huang was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
4.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Many Branches, One Root series traces the histories and practices of a range of Buddhist traditions and communities in the greater Los Angeles area. Beginning in the early twentieth century, a succession of Buddhist traditions have put down roots in Los Angeles, each one providing spiritual support and a sense of community for the tradition’s immigrant population. By the late twentieth century many of those traditions had extended their reach beyond their original ethnic base to include an American-born, often largely Anglo, constituency. The series seeks to document the ethnic and immigrant roots of these traditions, as well as the changes that have resulted as traditions have accommodated to an American context. Series participants included monks, nuns, and lay people from Buddhist traditions from Japan, China, Tibet, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam and a mixture of immigrants and American-born practitioners.
Born in Taiwan— Parents’ background— Early life in Kaohsiang, Taiwan— Advanced education— Work at summer camp for disabled children— Relationships with family— Introduction to genetics— Studying biology at university in Kaohsiang— Rejection from U.S. schools— Reapplication and acceptance at University of Indiana— Reflections on Taiwan— Meeting brother in Oklahoma City— Culture shock of Bloomington, Indiana— Difficulties of English and molecular biology— Move to biochemistry— Meeting and marrying wife in Bloomington— Acceptance to Salk Institute— Move to San Diego after wedding in Taiwan.
Civil marriage in Chicago— Driving from Bloomington to San Diego— Genetic research on yeast— Difficulties in research and green card rejection— Wife volunteers with Tzu Chi Foundation— Initial lack of interest in Tzu Chi— Begins to volunteer— Despair over research and lucid dream with Master Cheng Yen— Renewed focus on research and Buddhist teachings— Visit to Taiwan and Tzu Chi headquarters— Volunteering at Tzu Chi hospital in Taiwan— Becoming an official disciple and going vegetarian— New, promising projects from research— Coordinating Tzu Chi relief volunteers after wildfire— Beginning to work for Tzu Chi— Initial frustrations and second relief coordination— Description of volunteers— Relocation to Los Angeles.
Master Cheng Yen’s daily Jing Si aphorisms— Combination of spiritual and technical training— Haiti relief as an example of training in action— Resistance to Huang’s changes to website— Focus on Buddha nature in Tzu Chi volunteers— Science experience as a management tool— Becoming CEO of Tzu Chi USA— Applying spirituality to work at Salk— Perception of Master Cheng Yen— Addressing negative perceptions of Tzu Chi— Decisions around establishing Tzu Chi centers— Language barriers and efforts to increase volunteer diversity— Tzu Chi’s socially engaged Buddhism— Master’s death— Huang’s role in foundation’s growth and future— Tzu Chi’s climate activism