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Chinese-Americans: A History with Iris Chang

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Chinese Americans have been an integral thread in the tapestry of American history since the California gold rush of 1848-49. The fascinating story of the Chinese in America is also one of the long struggle for civil liberties, an all too familiar refrain to virtually all the ethnic groups who have settled in this country over the centuries, and a particularly relevant concern even today in the midst of a “war on terrorism.” Chang points out the work of political scientist, R.J. Rummel who examined genocide across world history to find out what are the underlying causes. She says, “What he found was really remarkable. It wasn’t any particular race, nationality, religion or political philosophy that tended to bring out these genocidal impulses. All of that was irrelevant. There was one factor that did, and that was power, the concentration of power in the hands of an elite. No matter what country or how idealistic that the group was, whenever they amassed too much power, unchecked power, then atrocities were inevitable.” Chang describes the three waves of influx of Chinese to America: the gold seekers and laborers in the 1800s, the professional in the middle of the 20th century, and, most recently those seeking financial betterment. There are many surprising understandings that come from this dynamic and forthright conversation.

Iris Chang is the recipient of the John T. and Catherine D. MacArthur Foundation’s program on Peace and International Cooperation Award, the Woman of the Year Award from the Organization of Chinese Americans, and an honorary doctorate from the College of Wooster in Ohio. She is the author of the international bestseller The Rape of Nanking (Penguin 1998), Thread of the Silkworm (Basic Books 1996) and The Chinese In America: A Narrative History (Viking 2003).

Program Number: 2993                Host: Michael Toms            Interview Date: 6/23/2003

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