Miss Chinatown USA

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Miss Chinatown U.S.A.
2010 contestants. Center, seated is Crystal Lee, winner of Miss Chinatown USA 2010 and Miss California 2013.
DateFebruary 12, 2022
SponsorThunder Valley Casino
WinnerCrystal Lee (2022)
CongenialityKimberly Tom (2022)
1st Princess / Miss Chinese Chamber of CommerceVanessa Lee (2022)
Miss San Francisco ChinatownKimberly Tom (2022)

The Miss Chinatown USA pageant, based on Chinese communities within the U.S., greets delegates around the country. The pageant has been an annual Lunar New Year event since 1958. The winners of this pageant represent the Chinese community and act as ambassadors promoting Chinese culture and heritage.


A local beauty pageant had been held by the Chinese American Citizens Alliance (CACA) and the San Francisco Lodge around Independence Day since 1948,[1]: 42  with Penny (Lee) Wong as the first winner (CACA). The 1948 pageant was held in Pleasanton.[2] Other winners included Lotus Wong (1948, Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association or CCBA), Fanny Don (1949, CACA), Lena Jane Chin (1950), Dorothy Lee (1951), and Annie Chow (1952).[3]

Following the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the first official Lunar New Year Parade in San Francisco's Chinatown was held in 1953 to project that community as "patriotic, assimilated [and] compatible with American values".[4] That year Pat Kan, the daughter of noted Chinatown restaurateur Johnny Kan,[5] was chosen as "Miss Firecracker"[6] by non-Chinese reporters and posed with "nothing but a string of firecrackers".[1]: 41  In 1954, the local beauty pageant was rolled into the parade as a contest to select the Festival Queen and the parade expanded into a multi-day event.[4] Chinese New Year Parade / Festival Queens included Bernice Woong (1954),[7][8] Carolyn Lim (1955),[9] Estelle Dong (1956),[10][11] and Ruby Kwong (1957).[12][13][14]

Karen Li, Miss Chinatown U.S.A. 2014[15]

In 1958, the pageant was opened to seventeen competitors from around the United States and the first winner was June Gong,[16]: 216  a 21-year old originally from Miami who previously had won the 1957 Miss New York Chinatown pageant and was runner-up for the 1957 Miss New Hampshire title. Gong was a senior majoring in Home Economics at the University of New Hampshire.[17]: 5  Judges at the 1958 contest included Chin Yang Lee, Joseph Fields, Richard Pollard, Mrs. K. L. Kwong, Mrs. John Yu, and Sally Lee Thompson;[18] the judges since then have been a mix of prominent citizens, both Asian and non-Asian.[4]

Kem K. Lee was the first official photographer of the pageant and photographed the event until his death in 1986; he also covered the earlier pageants dating back to 1948.[3] In 1961, the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas announced plans to hold its own "Miss Chinatown USA" pageant, but changed the name of its contest to "Miss East Bay" after a protest from the San Francisco Chinese Chamber of Commerce (SFCCC).[1]: 58  That year, contestants included representatives from Durham, North Carolina, Fresno, California, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Minnesota, New York City, Phoenix, Arizona, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Whittier, California.[3]


Miss Chinatown USA 2010, Crystal Lee

The signature evening gown is a tightly fitted cheongsam, chosen by the New Year Festival's organizer, H.K. Wong, to exoticize the contestants as "the perfect blend of East and West" and draw tourists to Chinatown.[4][1]: 64 [17]: 7  Although the earlier (1948–1953) local beauty pageant featured western dresses, author Chiou-Ling Yeh asserts the new pageant served to reinforce stereotypes: the choice of the cheongsam reinforced sexualized perception of Chinese women through its extra high-cut side slit, and early publicity emphasized the value of traditional, patriarchal ideals for female behavior, referring to the Three Obediences and Four Virtues.[1]: 42–44  [19]: 332  The winners were seen as cultural ambassadors to bridge the gap between Chinese-American immigrants and western society; in one instance, a restriction on the use of firecrackers in San Francisco was lifted after San Francisco Mayor George Christopher kissed the reigning Miss Chinatown in 1956.[1]: 47–48 

Additional criticisms of the pageant, including it being not truly representative of the Chinatown population, reinforcing Caucasian beauty standards, and perpetuating the model minority stereotype have arisen since its origins.[17]: 6, 13–17  The Holiday Inn Chinatown sponsored one of the 1971 contestants; as a publicity stunt, she jumped out of a giant fortune cookie for the opening of the hotel, later drawing jeers and eggs when she rode on a float during the Lunar New Year parade.[4][17]: 14 

Performance artist Kristina Wong has crashed numerous events in costume as the character "Fannie Wong, former Miss Chinatown 2nd runner up" since 2002;[4] parodying the stereotype of a quiet, demure Asian woman, Wong describes Fannie as a "cigar chomping, leg humping fast talking beauty queen" that was "often escorted out of venues".[20] Wong grew up in San Francisco idolizing Miss Chinatown, but admits she was "nervous because she did not know how she'd transition from being 'completely sexually repressed and totally awkward' to someone who was beautiful and self-assured. 'I felt like such an embarrassment to my family.'"[21]

Pageant rules[edit]

2008 contestants pose for photographers outside 947 Grant (2007)

Eligibility is limited to unmarried United States citizens of Chinese descent between the ages of 17 and 26,[22] which means the entrant's father must be of Chinese descent.[4][23] Local Chinatown beauty contests were won by the contestant that raised the most funds or sold the most raffle tickets for their family association, but these rules were changed.[24] Initially, contestants were required to answer questions posed in Chinese, but by 1965, it was recognized that some, especially those who had not grown up in Chinatown, did not possess the necessary bilingual skills and the committee stopped factoring the Chinese language responses into the results.[1]: 70 [17]: 15  As of 2014, the four scored segments are introduction, talent, swimsuit, and question-and-answer.[15]

The winner of the Miss Chinatown USA title receives a US$10,000 scholarship[15] and, during her reigning year, travels to meet with family associations, officials, and politicians in the United States and abroad as a goodwill ambassador.[24][25][26] As a national pageant, the titleholder of Miss Chinatown USA also is eligible to enter the Miss Chinese International Pageant, a contest for women of Chinese descent not residing in China.[27] For instance, Ni Jiang won Miss Chinatown USA in 2008, then competed in Miss Chinese International in early 2009.[28]

The first runner-up for Miss Chinatown USA holds the simultaneous titles of First Princess and Miss Chinese Chamber of Commerce.[29] Third place is named Second Princess.[30] There is a separate award for Miss Talent, given to the contestant who receives the highest talent score.[15]


Great China (now Great Star) Theater, 2018

The first Miss Chinatown pageant was held on February 15, 1958, at the Great China Theater.[18] The theater, now renamed as the Great Star, was completed in 1925 to stage Chinese operas and is still showing limited engagements and live performances.[31] Since then, pageants have been held at larger event locations in San Francisco, including the SF Masonic Auditorium (starting in 1959),[1]: 57  [32] Palace of Fine Arts Theatre,[33][34] and Hyatt Regency San Francisco.[35]

Traditionally, a separate coronation ball is staged at a separate venue after the pageant; in 2012, the coronation ball was held at the Hilton San Francisco Union Square.[36] In 2020, the coronation ball was held at the InterContinental San Francisco.[37] For 2022, the pageant and coronation ball occurred on the same night, in the same venue.[35]

List of Miss Chinatown USA titleholders[edit]

Year Miss Chinatown USA Origin City & State
1958 June Gong 周轉娣 Miami, FL
1959 Leona Lee 李麗卿 Honolulu, HI
1960 Carole Ng 吳惠芳 San Francisco, CA
1961 Irene Tsu 諸慧荷 New York, NY
1962 Darrah Lau 劉淑卿 Honolulu, HI
1963 Shirley Fong 鄺秋娥 Honolulu, HI
1964 Josie Leong 梁雁玲 Sacramento, CA
1965 Mary Tom 譚雅倫 Jamaica, NY
1966 Jacqueline Chun 陳韻媛 Honolulu, HI
1967 Marilyn Lew 劉嫚蘭 San Francisco, CA
1968 Betty Wong 黃珍瓊 Sacramento, CA
1969 Carole Young 楊小薇 San Francisco, CA
Year Miss Chinatown USA Origin City & State
1970 Marion Lee 李金燕 Honolulu, HI
1971 Linda Shen 沈元元 Minneapolis, MN
1972 Trudy Young 容蓮愛 Honolulu, HI
1973 Sandra L. Wong 黃艷愛 Oakland, CA
1974 Pamela Fong 鄺素蘭 Sacramento, CA
1975 Jeannie Fung 馮亦明 San Francisco, CA
1976 Linda Sue Chun 陳桂媛 Honolulu, HI
1977 Sandra L.Q. Mew 繆麗昆 Honolulu, HI
1978 Stephanie Ann Lee 李儀寶 San Francisco, CA
1979 Glenda Tang 鄧靜雯 Columbia, SC
Year Miss Chinatown USA Origin City & State
1980 Ronda Ching 程慧珍 Honolulu, HI
1981 Rose Chung 張艷珍 San Francisco, CA
1982 Stephanie L. Shiu 邵小媚 Lemoore, CA
1983 Sandra Young 楊碧聯 Honolulu, HI
1984 Cynthia Gouw 吳義菊 Westwood, CA
1985 Audrey R. Liao 廖瑞曼 Baltimore, MD
1986 Amy Mae Woo 胡丁美 Sunnyvale, CA
1987 Crystal Lee Kwok 郭錦恩 San Francisco, CA
1988 Sylvia Shim 沈睡蓮 Honolulu, HI
1989 Lisa Chen 陳毓英 Montebello, CA
Year Miss Chinatown USA Origin City & State
1990 Evelyn Ding 丁嘉靜 Houston, TX
1991 Jennifer Tung 滕廣霞 Rodeo, CA
1992 Melissa M. Wu 吳美珩 San Francisco, CA
1993 Melissa Yeh 葉貞靖 Spring, TX
1994 Ivy Hsu 許慧馨 San Jose, CA
1995 Jamie Chou 周潔明 Berkeley, CA
1996 Grace Maa 馬友慈 Belle Mead, NJ
1997 Lori Young 楊兆妍 Honolulu, HI
1998 Gwendoline Yeo 楊時賢 San Francisco, CA
1999 Karen Chen 陳 媛 Union City, CA
Year Miss Chinatown USA Origin City & State
2000 Jennifer Lin Hong 項德慧 Pearl City, HI
2001 Pamela Woon 溫美玲 Seattle, WA
2002 Andra Chung 張 慧 Cupertino, CA
2003 Darah Annette Dung 鄧貴美 Honolulu, HI
2004 Shan Chen 陳 珊 New York, NY
2005 Carol Chen 陳盈璉 Dallas, TX
2006 Louise Suzanna Wu 吳如意 Fremont, CA
2007 Betty Hsu 徐仁惠 San Francisco, CA
2008 Ni Jiang 蔣 妮 Bellevue, WA
2009 Cindy Wu
(aka:Cindy Yen)
Houston, TX
Year Miss Chinatown USA Origin City & State
2010 Crystal Lee 李萬晴 San Francisco, CA
2011 June Quan 關蓮珠 San Francisco, CA
2012 Steffi Hu 胡瑞欣 Sugar Land, TX
2013 Leah Li 李卓兒 Mercer Island, WA
2014 Karen Li 李凱若 Houston, TX
2015 Rose Li 李思佳 Houston, TX
2016 Stephanie Wong 黃嘉穎 Millbrae, CA
2017 Karen Lynn Yang 楊開潤 Sugar Land, TX
2018 Jasmine Lee 李萬莉 San Francisco, CA
2019 Katherine Wu 吳沛琳 San Francisco, CA
Year Miss Chinatown USA Origin City & State
2020 Lauren Yang 楊若潤 Sugar Land, TX
2021 Event cancelled
2022 Crystal Lee 李詩濤 Castro Valley, CA
2023 Ashlyn Tsui 徐莊婕 Redwood City, CA

Progress in Miss Chinese International[edit]

Year Representative Representing
City & State
Placement/Progress in MCI Placement in MCU Year in MCU
1988 Tammy Lee Seattle, WA 1st Runner-Up Tammy Lee (Miss Chinese Chamber of Commerce 1988) competed as Miss Seattle Chinatown 1988.
1989 Yu Ping Fan Seattle, WA Top 5 Yu Ping Fan (unplaced in MCU 1989) competed as Miss Seattle Chinatown 1989.
1990 No Pageant Held
1991 Deanna Leung Seattle, WA Deanna Leung (unplaced in MCU 1990) competed as Miss Seattle Chinatown 1990.
1993 Stephanie Chang Seattle, WA Top 12 Stephanie Chang (Miss Chinatown USA Third Princess 1992) competed as Miss Seattle Chinatown 1992.
1994 I-Man Chao Seattle, WA 2nd Runner-Up I-Man Chao (Miss Chinese Chamber of Commerce 1993) competed as Miss Seattle Chinatown 1993.
1995 Susan Chao Seattle, WA Susan Chao (unplaced in MCU 1994) competed as Miss Seattle Chinatown 1994.
1996 Melissa M. Wu San Francisco, CA 1st Runner-Up Winner 1992
Winnie Young Hong Kong, HK Top 10 Winnie Young (Miss San Francisco 1991) competed as Miss Hong Kong 1995.
Wen Sun Seattle, WA Wen Sun (unplaced in MCU 1995) competed as Miss Seattle Chinatown 1995.
1997 Jamie Chou San Francisco, CA Winner 1995
1998 Louisa Luk San Francisco, CA Winner Miss San Francisco (2nd Runner-Up) 1997
1999 Alice Tam San Francisco, CA Miss San Francisco (2nd Runner-Up) 1994
Yan Wang Seattle, WA Yan Wang (unplaced in MCU 1998) competed as Miss Seattle Chinatown 1998.
2000 Karen Chen San Francisco, CA Winner 1999
2001 Valerie Foo San Francisco, CA Miss San Francisco (2nd Runner-Up) 2000
2002 Pamela Woon Seattle, WA Winner 2001
Michelle Lum San Francisco, CA 3rd Princess 2001
2003 No Representative
2004 No Representative
2005 Annie Chang San Francisco, CA Top 5 Miss San Francisco (2nd Runner-Up) 2004
Fala Chen New York, NY 1st Runner-Up Fala Chen (Miss Chinese Chamber of Commerce 2003) competed as Miss Chinese New York 2005.
2006 No Representative
2007 Louise Wu San Francisco, CA Top 10 Winner 2006
2008 No Representative
2009 Ni Jiang Seattle, WA Top 5 Winner 2008
Louisa Liu San Francisco, CA Miss San Francisco (2nd Runner-Up) 2007
2010 Amy Chu San Francisco, CA Miss San Francisco (2nd Runner-Up) 2009
2011 No Pageant Held
2012 No Representative
2013 Samantha Ark Chin Seattle, WA Samantha Ark Chin (unplaced in MCU 2010) competed as Miss Seattle Chinatown 2007.
2014 Amanda Lee San Francisco, CA Miss Chinese Chamber of Commerce (1st Runner-Up) 2012
2015 Leah Li Seattle, WA Top 3 in National Costume Winner 2013
Shirley Liu San Francisco, CA Miss San Francisco (2nd Runner-Up) 2014
2016 No Representative
2017 Stephanie Wong San Francisco, CA Top 10
Top 4 in Talent Performance
Winner 2016
2018 Rose Li New York, NY Winner Rose Li (Miss Chinatown USA 2015) competed as Miss Chinese Beauty 2017 (formerly known as Miss Chinese New York).
Elisa Santos-Ko San Francisco, CA Top 10
Live Audience Most Liked Performance Award (Miss Talent)
Miss San Francisco (2nd Runner-Up) 2017
2019 Stephanie Wang Honolulu, HI 1st Runner-Up Stephanie Wang (Miss Chinatown USA Second Princess 2017) competed as Miss Chinatown Hawaii 2017.
Maggie Huang San Francisco, CA Miss San Francisco (2nd Runner-Up) 2018
2020 Pageant deferred to 2021


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