Since 1987, the United States has designated the month of March as Women’s History Month to commemorate and honor the vital contribution of women in both history and modern society. The China-United States Exchange Foundation celebrates this momentous month by highlighting Chinese and Chinese-American women who have changed the lives of many and paved the way for future generations. They broke glass ceilings, created awareness, and redefined what it means to be a woman.
1. Yin Chang
The coronavirus pandemic lockdowns devastated communities and small businesses. Hollywood actress and podcast host Yin Chang decided to take action and create an emergency relief initiative titled “#LovingChinatown” in New York City. As a daughter of Chinese immigrants, Chang sensed a dire need for the Asian-American Pacific Islander community facing food insecurity in New York, which led her to establish the Heart of Dinner, a non-profit organization that provides “culturally appropriate meals of substance for the homebound, linguistically isolated, and underserved in the Asian-American and Pacific Islander immigrant community.” Her organization provides struggling individuals with meals that connect them to their Asian heritage. As the host of the “88 Cups of Tea” podcast, Chang interviews award-winning New York Times bestselling authors and voices to provide inspiration and guidance to young adults who are interested in a writing career.
2. Chloé Zhao
Born in Beijing and known for her thought-provoking independent U.S. films, Chloé Zhao was named by Variety as “the most awarded person in a single awards season in the modern era.” Her acclaimed independent film Nomadland offers an intimate portrait of itinerant Americans and earned Zhao a Golden Globe win for best director. She is the first Asian woman to receive the honor. Though Zhao left Beijing at 15 years old to attend boarding school in the United Kingdom, she celebrates her Chinese heritage and refers to northerners in China as “her own people.” Zhao’s next project will be much bigger: directing the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s The Eternals, slated for U.S. release in November, 2021.
3. Chien-Shiung Wu
Born and raised in a small town near Shanghai, Chien-Shiung Wu traveled to the United States in pursuit of earning a higher education degree in physics. Today, Wu is recognized as an invaluable Chinese-American physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project, “helping to develop the process for separating uranium metal into U-235 and U-238 isotopes through gaseous diffusion.” The U-235 isotope is separated and enriched to act as a fuel source in nuclear power reactors. She also participated in a study that researched blood and sickle cell anemia. Chien-Shiung Wu’s work and desire to understand more about nuclear and particle physics allowed her to be the first woman, and first woman of Asian heritage, to serve as the president of the American Physical Society, opening the door for other women studying STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) topics. Other significant accolades of hers include the National Medal of Science, the Comstock Prize, and the Wolf Prize. Her published book, Beta Decay, is still viewed as the standard reference for nuclear physicists today.
4. Tu Youyou
Born in Zhejiang Ningbo, China, Tu Youyou chose to dedicate her life to science and medical research after suffering from tuberculosis at a young age. Following time off from school due to her illness, she came back even more determined to eradicate pain and sickness from others. Her subsequent years of groundbreaking research would pay off. In 1971, she discovered a way to procure novel therapies against malaria, a disease caused by transmission of infected mosquitos. Youyou was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 2015 for her efforts in combating malaria. Her interest in making a difference in the quality of life of others led her through a multitude of trials to develop artemisinin. This synthetic derivative was discovered in 1972 and used to create combination therapies that have saved more than two hundred million lives to date.
5. Amy Tan
Amy Tan, a Chinese-American novelist and author, is known for her novel The Joy Luck Club, which explores the lives of four fictional Chinese immigrant families and the intricate relationships between Chinese mothers and American-born daughters. The book was an overnight success, simultaneously translated into 17 languages, including Chinese, and produced into a film of the same name. She has written multiple novels inspired by her own difficult relationship with her mother who left Shanghai in 1949 to escape an abusive marriage, unfortunately leaving her three daughters to start over in the United States. As an adult, Tan visited China with her mother, met her half-siblings, and learned more about her mother’s past, which she integrated into her writing.
Thank you to all the incredible, trailblazing women that have introduced the world to new cultures, new ways of thinking, and impacted not only our personal lives, but our society and our world. We celebrate your accomplishments, triumphs, and your efforts to create a better world where we openly celebrate our differences, knowing that these exact differences are the reason for new innovations, discoveries, and art. Share with us your favorite female champion! Who are you celebrating?