Biographer Gordon Chang
watercolors of flowers and birds. After living in Nanking for
several months, the family returned to the U.S. and settled in Piedmont,
California. Chang grew up there, graduating as valedictorian and student body
president of his high school.
Life in Piedmont was a very mixed experience, he recalls, speaking
choosing his words carefully whenever he talks about issues touching on race and
discrimination. It was pleasant in many ways, but not so congenial in other
I was the only person of Chinese ancestry in a class of 200 and I did pretty well
but it was still an odd situation.
Chang went East for college and majored in history and East Asian studies at
Princeton, where he was one of five Asian Americans in a class of 800 men. After
becoming active in the anti-war movement, he came to Stanford in 1970 to study the
early history of the communist movement in China with Lyman Van Slyke - and
to push for more Asian American history and culture in the curriculum. He picked
up a masters degree, taught briefly at Berkeley, and then spent 10 years
teaching American studies and Chinese history at Laney Community College, where he
was chair of the Asian Studies department.
Laney was located in downtown Oakland and there was a great mix of students
- Vietnam vets, recent Asian immigrants, young high school graduates and
retired folks, he says with obvious fondness.
By the time Chang returned to Stanford to complete his doctorate, however, he
had decided to change his field of study from Chinese history to American
To do a continuum of Chinese history would have required extensive study in
China, Hong Kong or Taiwan, and by the early 1980s I had decided I wanted to stay
in the U.S. and help to understand this country better.
Under the guidance of Barton Bernstein, professor of history, Chang examined
the history of United States policy toward the Sino-
Soviet alliance. His dissertation, published by Stanford University Press, drew on
three months of research at the University of Beijing and was titled Friends
and Enemies: The United States, China, and the Soviet Union, 1948-1972.