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Chinese Historical Society of America

September 19th “Above & Beyond Chinatown” Party Honors Cecilia Chiang

Chinese Historical Society of America

September 19th “Above & Beyond Chinatown” Party Honors Cecilia Chiang

San Francisco’s Chinese Historical Society of America Pays Tribute to 96-Year-Old Culinary Legend with event at Julia Morgan designed Museum

Media Contact: DP&A, Inc. / David Perry (415) 693-0583 /

11 September 2015 – San Francisco, CA: 100 years ago, San Francisco’s Pan Pacific International Exposition was celebrating progress, innovation and the completion of the Panama Canal. It was also, cementing an attitude of anti-Chinese racism that would linger for generations. Four years later, a woman who would combat such prejudice through courage, conviction and culinary prowess was born: Cecilia Chiang. On Saturday, September 19 (4pm – 8pm) — coinciding with Chiang’s 96th birthday — the ups-and-downs embodied by her extraordinary life will be on display when she is honored by San Francisco’s Chinese Historical Society of America ( at their annual fundraising party onsite at the Museum (965 Clay Street, between Powell & Stockton) this year themed “Above & Beyond Chinatown.” Tickets are $ 150 to the event that will feature live music, a silent and live auction, wines courtesy of ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates & Producers) and an eclectic array of food from some of San Francisco’s best-known and restaurants: 25 Lusk AsiaSF, B. Patisserie, Butterfly, Chino, Crystal Jade, M.Y. China, Original Joe’s, Palio d’Asti, Tacolicious and Yank Sing. The fundraising event is hosted by San Francisco’s internationally acclaimed and award-winning journalist, Liam Mayclem, known as the “Foodie Chap” on KCBS Radio and CBS-5 TV.

“Almost the entire 20th century’s experience for the Chinese-American diaspora is captured in Cecilia’s extraordinary life, ” said the Society’s Executive Director Sue Lee, a friend of Chiang’s. “She truly has gone above and beyond Chinatown, and way beyond the expectations of what a Chinese person – woman – could accomplish in an age of prejudice and fear.”

Born near Shanghai to an aristocratic family, Cecilia escaped with a sister from the Japanese occupation of China in 1942 by walking for nearly six months to Chongqing where they settled with a relative. Soon thereafter, Cecilia met and married a successful businessman, Chiang Liang. The couple had two children, May and Philip. She and her husband escaped from China on the last flight from Shanghai during the Chinese Communist Revolution of 1949. With only three tickets for a family of four they had to leave Philip behind with her sister (the family was reunited more than a year later). Her parents and siblings who remained in China were treated poorly by the Communists. Her parents died poor. A brother died in a labor camp and one sister committed suicide. Others were killed by communist soldiers.

Details of Chiang’s escape and subsequent journey to San Francisco were chronicled earlier this year in the nationally-broadcast PBS TV documentary Soul of the Banquet. Chiang and her son, Philip – co-founder of the wildly popular P.F Chang chain of restaurants – are featured in the critically acclaimed new film The Search of General Tso which chronicles the rise of Chinese cuisine in the United States.

“The phrase ‘living legend’ is bandied about quite a bit, but in Cecilia’s case is more than deserved, ” said the Lee.

In 1960, Chiang came to San Francisco to visit a sister, Sophie, whose husband William Hoy, had died. Walking through the streets of San Francisco’s Chinatown she met two friends from Tokyo who were planning to open a restaurant, and agreed to help negotiate their lease. She impulsively wrote a deposit check for $10,000 to secure their rent, which the landlord refused to return after her friends backed out of the venture. Unable to terminate the lease she decided to run the restaurant on her own, although she had never before run a business. The result: the world famous Mandarin that soon began to attract an international and celebrity clientele as the first restaurant of its kind in America.

Chiang is often credited with introducing San Francisco, and the United States, to a more authentic version of Mandarin cuisine. Over time the restaurant began to attract loyal customers. Journalist C. Y. Lee, who had just written the Broadway show Flower Drum Song, about San Francisco’s Forbidden City Nightclub, became a regular and brought many friends. One day, Vic Bergeron (founder of Trader Vic’s) came to the restaurant with Herb Caen, who immediately began to popularize the restaurant in his newspaper column. Over the years, Chiang befriended and trained a host of now iconic chefs including Alice Waters and Jeremiah Tower. Chiang sold the Mandarin in 1991 and it closed in 2006. In 2013, Chiang won a James Beard Foundation Award for lifetime achievement.

The Chinese Historical Society of America is the oldest and largest organization in the country dedicated to the documentation, study, and presentation of Chinese American history. Founded in 1963, CHSA has been located since 2001 in the landmark Julia Morgan-designed Chinatown YWCA building at 965 Clay Street, San Francisco, 94108. Museum hours are Tuesday-Friday 12pm-5pm, and Saturdays 11am–4pm. (Closed Sunday, Monday, and Holidays.) Further information is available by calling (415) 391-1188 x101, or at [widgetkit id=25]