Chin Yang Lee

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Chin Yang Lee
Traditional Chinese黎錦揚
Simplified Chinese黎锦扬

Chin Yang Lee or C. Y. Lee (Chinese: 黎錦揚; pinyin: Lí Jǐnyáng; December 27, 1915 – November 8, 2018) was a Chinese American author best known for his 1957 novel The Flower Drum Song, which inspired the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song and writer for his 2006 film 10,000 Apologies with May Wang.


Lee was born 1915 in Xiangtan, Hunan, China, into a family of artists and scholars.[1] He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from National Southwestern Associated University, then emigrated to the United States of America in 1943 and earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in playwriting from Yale University in 1947. He was a contributor to Radio Free Asia. Lee was a journalist living in and working for two San Francisco Chinatown newspapers, Chinese World and Young China at the time, in the early 1950s, when he was writing Flower Drum Song, expanding it from a short story to a novel. He lived in Alhambra, California.[2]

The Flower Drum Song[edit]

By the 1950s, Lee was barely making a living writing short stories and working as a Chinese teacher, translator and journalist for San Francisco Chinatown newspapers.[3] He had hoped to break into playwriting, but instead wrote a novel about Chinatown, The Flower Drum Song (originally titled Grant Avenue). Lee initially had no success selling his novel, but his agent submitted it to the publishing house of Farrar, Straus and Cudahy. The firm sent the manuscript to an elderly reader for evaluation. The reader was found dead in bed, the manuscript beside him with the words "Read this" scrawled on it. The publishing house did so, and bought Lee's novel, which became a bestseller in 1957.[4][5]

The novel, about generational conflict within an Asian American family over an arranged marriage in San Francisco's Chinatown, was adapted into the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Flower Drum Song, opening in 1958. The original production was the first Broadway show to feature Asian American players. The 1961 film jump-started the careers of the first generation of Asian American actors, including Nancy Kwan, James Shigeta, and Jack Soo. Lee was interviewed on the 2006 DVD release of the movie.

On October 2, 2001, the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles premiered David Henry Hwang's adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song to glowing reviews, in the first major theatrical production that had an all-Asian cast of actors and voices.[citation needed] Its initial run was extended, and after several months, the production moved to Broadway, where the reviews were less than stellar. Lee had worked with Hwang on the rewriting of the musical.[6]

Personal life[edit]

C.Y Lee (left) with his seven elder brothers in Beijing, ca. 1930

C. Y. Lee (Li Jinynag) was the youngest and the last surviving member of eight high-achieving brothers of the Xiangtan Li family, known in China as the "Eight Stallions of Li" (黎氏八骏). His eldest brother, Li Jinxi, was a distinguished linguist and Dean of the College of Arts of Beijing Normal College. The second eldest, Li Jinhui, was a famous musician considered the "father of Chinese pop music". The third brother, Li Jinyao (黎锦曜) was a mining expert. The fourth, Li Jinshu (黎锦纾), was an educator and publisher. The fifth, Li Jinjiong (黎锦炯), was a railway and bridge engineer. The sixth, Li Jinming (黎锦明), was a writer, and the seventh, Li Jinguang (黎锦光), was a composer who wrote many popular songs including "Evening Primrose".[1]

Lee died on 8 November 2018 in Los Angeles at the age of 102.[1]


  • 10,000 Apologies (2006)


  • The Flower Drum Song (1957)
  • Lover's Point (1958)
  • The Sawbwa and His Secretary (1959)
  • Madame Goldenflower (1960), Farrar Straus & Cudahy
  • Cripple Mah and the New Order (1961)
  • The Virgin Market (1964)
  • The Land of the Golden Mountain (1967)
  • The Days of the Tong Wars (1974)
  • China Saga (1987), Grove Press, ISBN 1-55584-056-6
  • The Second Son of Heaven (1990), William Morrow, ISBN 0-688-05140-5
  • Gate of Rage: A Novel of One Family Trapped by the Events at Tiananmen Square (1991), William Morrow, ISBN 0-688-09764-2

Short stories[edit]

Many of Lee's short stories were published by the New Yorker magazine after the success of his first novel:

  • "A Man of Habit"[7]
  • "Sawbwa Fang And The Communist"[8]
  • "Sawbwa's Domestic Quarrel"[9]
  • "Sawbwa Fang's Sense of Justice"[10]
  • "Sawbwa Fang, Dr. Streppone, And The Leeches"[11]


Mama From China (2004)[12]


  • The Chronology of American Literature (2004), edited by Daniel S. Burt. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company.


  1. ^ a b c Ming, Fengying (2018-11-24). "纪念|黎锦扬:美国华人英文写作开拓者,好莱坞的打油郎". The Paper. Retrieved 2018-11-25.
  2. ^ Gerson, Daniela (January 29, 2016). "Tales of a new Chinatown: The San Gabriel Valley stories from 'Flower Drum Song' author C.Y. Lee". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2 February 2016.
  3. ^ Shin, Andrew. "'Forty Percent Is Luck': An Interview with C. Y. (Chin Yang) Lee". MELUS, vol. 29, no. 2, Elusive Illusions: Art and Reality (Summer, 2004), pp. 77–104, The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States. Retrieved December 3, 2010 (subscription required)
  4. ^ "Show History". Flower Drum Song. R&H Theatricals. Retrieved October 29, 2010.[permanent dead link]
  5. ^ Lewis, p. 28
  6. ^ "C. Y. Lee, author of Flower Drum Song, to attend opening night performance - China Insight". Retrieved 19 September 2017.
  7. ^ Lee, C. Y. (23 March 1957). "A Man of Habit". Retrieved 19 September 2017 – via
  8. ^ Lee, C. Y. (23 August 1958). "Sawbwa Fang And The Communist". Retrieved 19 September 2017 – via
  9. ^ Lee, C. Y. (13 September 1958). "The Sawbwa's Domestic Quarrel". Retrieved 19 September 2017 – via
  10. ^ Lee, C. Y. (29 November 1958). "Sawbwa Fang's Sense of Justice". Retrieved 19 September 2017 – via
  11. ^ Lee, C. Y. (13 December 1958). "Sawbwa Fang, Dr. Streppone, And The Leeches". Retrieved 19 September 2017 – via
  12. ^ Mama From China

External links[edit]