Lucie Cheng, former director of the UCLA Asian American Studies Center and a professor emeritus of sociology, died Jan. 27 in Taipei, Taiwan, after battling cancer for several years. She was 70.
A groundbreaking social researcher, Cheng served as the first permanent director of the center, from 1972 to 1987.
"Lucie Cheng was, without question, one of the most significant pioneering social scientists and program leaders in the field of Asian American studies, at UCLA and globally," said Don Nakanishi, current director of the Asian American Studies Center and a professor emeritus of education. "She contributed her many talents, leadership and vision to developing the UCLA Asian American Studies Center during a period when there was considerable opposition to our center and the other three ethnic studies research centers at the university.
"She also played an indispensable role in building research and other meaningful relationships within the entire Asia–Pacific region, most notably between the United States and China," Nakanishi said. "She leaves an enormous legacy."
Cheng received her Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Hawaii, Manoa, in 1970. She came to work at UCLA as an assistant professor of sociology that same year.
Two years later, she took the helm of the Asian American Studies Center, which had been created in 1969, succeeding the center's interim director, Harry Kitano, another Asian American studies pioneer. She developed key areas of the center's programming and structure, including the master of arts program. The program has since produced hundreds of scholars, writers and community leaders throughout the United States.
Cheng hired many of the center's founding core faculty and scholars, some of whom still remain at UCLA. In addition to Nakanishi, they include professor of English King-kok Cheung, professor of history and Asian American studies Valerie Matsumoto, professor of Asian American studies and pioneering filmmaker Robert Nakamura, and urban planning professor Paul Ong. She also hired Russell Leong, editor of the center's Amerasia Journal, which remains a leading periodical in Asian American studies.
During Cheng's tenure, the center produced various publications that served as curriculum material for Asian American studies courses. They included "Roots: An Asian American Reader" (1971), edited by poet Amy Uyematsu and other scholars, and "Counterpoint: Perspectives on Asian America" (1976), edited by Emma Gee.
She also helped establish UCLA's first endowed chair in Japanese American studies.
As a sociology scholar, Cheng was a pioneering social scientist who helped place the field of Asian American studies within a trans-Pacific context. Among her many publications, she edited, along with UC Riverside sociologist Edna Bonacich, the classic "Labor Immigration Under Capitalism" (University of California Press, 1984), which situated the study of early Asian Americans within the context of international labor migration. With Ong and Bonacich, she also edited "The New Asian Immigration in Los Angeles and Global Restructuring" (Temple University Press, 1994).
She went on to serve as founding director of the Center of Pacific Rim Studies at UCLA from 1985 to 1990.
Cheng established a research team consisting of scholars June Mei, Renqiu Yu and Zheng Dehua and became one of the first American scholars to engage in joint research with Chinese universities, brokering fieldwork projects between China's Sun Yat-sen University and UCLA. Her team did research in the emigrant-sending area of Toison and published research on Chinese Americans' contributions to building railroads in Guangzhou and on remittances, language, bachelor society and early female migrants.
Cheng also grounded her research in the local Los Angeles community. She was an active presence at the Chinese Historical Society of Southern California, working with others to support programming and publications. Along with several UCLA Asian American Studies Center staff members, she produced a pathbreaking publication on Chinese American women in Los Angeles, "Linking Our Lives" (1984). In the book, Cheng portrayed the courage of these pioneering women, who overcame geographic, political and cultural adversity to settle and build their communities.
The courage to forge new thinking also characterized her life and work. Cheng broke new scholarly ground, linking Asian Americans to their countries of origin and analyzing their experience from the perspectives of class, gender and labor, Nakanishi said. Her research broke away from traditional motifs of assimilation and modes of acculturation that had characterized the conventional frameworks previously applied to Asian Americans.
After leaving UCLA in the mid-1990s, Cheng remained an active scholar on both sides of the Pacific. She served as founding dean of the Graduate School for Social Transformation Studies at Shih Hsin University in Taipei in 1997 and worked as a publisher and journalist for two newspapers in Taiwan, including the Lipao Newspaper, which had been founded by her father, Cheng She-Wo. In 2006, she established the Cheng She-Wo Institute for Chinese Journalism at Shih Hsin University, an archive dedicated to the history of journalism in China.
Cheng officially retired from UCLA in 2001.
The UCLA Asian American Studies Center and the UCLA Department of Sociology are planning a memorial/tribute. Details are available on the center's website or by calling 310-825-2974.