5 Famous, Inspiring Asian Men Who Also Married Non-Asian Women

Steven Chu
Steven Chu, the US Secretary of Energy

Some of the most famous and inspiring Asian men in this world also happen to have non-Asian wives (women like me). Even though they’re not all Chinese, they’re worthy of a shout-out. Here are my five favorites, in alphabetical order (by family name):

Steven Chu

Who says a Nobel-prize-winning Chinese-American physicist can’t rise in the world of politics? Steven Chu’s prominent role as US Secretary of Energy — as well as his vocal advocacy for renewable energy — defies the usual stereotypes about Asians in the sciences, especially someone with his accolades. He’s married to Jean Fetter, a British-American and Oxford-trained physicist.

Kazuo Ishiguro
Kazuo Ishiguro (photo by englishpen)

Kazuo Ishiguro

Time named him one of the 50 greatest British writers since 1945, with haunting works such as The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go. He stunned the world by capturing the English world so perfectly in The Remains of the Day, which some considered impossible for a British-born Japanese man Japanese-born British man. It’s no wonder then that he once said, ”Publicity for me has to a large extent been fighting the urge to be stereotyped by people.” And fight he did, with great success. He married Lorna MacDougall in 1986.

Li Cunxin
Li Cunxin (photo from http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/)

Li Cunxin

Li Cunxin made his mark on the ballet stage, winning silver and bronze medals at three international ballet competitions — and shattering stereotypes that Chinese (or Asians, for that matter) can’t dance well. He also moved us with his story Mao’s Last Dancer, the story of his rise from poverty to world-renowned ballet star (also a movie), and even won the Australian father of the year award in 2009. Li Cunxin married Australian ballerina Mary McKendry in 1987, and lives with his family in Melbourne.

Yo-Yo Ma

The talented and acclaimed Chinese-American cellist brings a sense of joy, experimentation and even humor to his music — such as in his most recent album The Goat Rodeo Sessions— which might seem unexpected from an Asian musical genius. He’s never been afraid to push the boundaries in his career as a cellist, dabbling in a vast range of musical genres far beyond the usual Bach and Brahms. Maybe it’s no wonder, then, that he pushed the boundaries of his own parents expectations for

Yo-Yo Ma
Yo-Yo Ma (photo by worldeconomicforum)

his marriage (that he would wed a Chinese girl); he still insisted on tying the knot with Jill Hornor, his longtime white American girlfriend.

David Suzuki

This Japanese-Canadian geneticist and professor challenged the stereotype that scientists — especially Asian ones — aren’t great communicators. Well, anyone who’s seen his award-winning shows — such as The Secret of Life and The Nature of Things— knows David Suzuki as a people’s scientist for the natural world, explaining the complexities of natural science to the general public. He’s also become one of the world’s

David Suzuki
David Suzuki (photo by Holger Motzkau)

most vocal environmental activists, and was even voted as the most trusted Canadian by a Reader’s Digest poll. He’s clearly passed on the torch in his family, since his daughter, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, has made her name in the world as an environmental activist, speaker, TV host and author. (And by the way, David Suzuki is married to writer and former Harvard professor Tara Cullis.)

Did I miss any other famous Asian men with non-Asian wives who have inspired you? Let me know.

P.S.: The links to books/movies/music in this article are affiliate links — which means your purchase helps support Speaking of China. Thanks!

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28 thoughts on “5 Famous, Inspiring Asian Men Who Also Married Non-Asian Women

  • June 15, 2012 at 4:28 am
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    Ishiguro is a Japanese-born British man. He was born in Nagasaki, Japan and moved to Britain with his parents when he was a child.

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  • June 15, 2012 at 6:53 am
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    There’s the Chinese chef, a famous one (forgot his name,) I think as well that first president of Taiwan, his son anyways, married somebody, and also the last royal of Korean family (his parents were a Korean male and a Japanese princess,) married a white woman, although due to family pressures they divorced.

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  • June 15, 2012 at 7:49 am
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    (Roger Yonchien Tsien,1952/2/1-),2008 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (Samuel Chao Chung Ting )(1936/1/27/-),1976 Nobel Prize in Physics

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  • June 15, 2012 at 8:21 am
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    Regarding one of Taiwan’s former Presidents mentioned above, Chiang Ching-kuo (son of Chiang Kai-shek), did indeed marry a Russian wife during his time there. Her name was Faina Ipat’evna Vakhreva, although she adopted a Chinese name of Chinag Fang-liang. She kept a low-profile, and Chiang apparently encouraged her to keep out of the public eye.

    I was privileged to meet Li Cunxin a few years ago. He turned up for a Rotary District Conference held in a relatively isolated coastal town. I don’t think the locals (or the organisers) quite expected such a famous person to come, but he did (and drove several hours to be there). He was very down to earth and humble, and happy to sign lots of his books. Meeting him was very inspirational for me, and helped me to continue with something personal I was facing at the time. His story doesn’t just end with the book: one of his daughters was born deaf, and ended up determined to be a dancer as well.

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  • June 15, 2012 at 9:26 am
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    I wonder who Jeremy Lin will marry……

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  • June 15, 2012 at 10:12 am
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    Jeremy Lin told Chinese media once that he only interested in Asian girls.

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  • June 15, 2012 at 1:45 pm
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    Back in the day, there was also Eugene Chan, foreign minister of the Republic of China, who was married to a biracial Creole woman from the Carribeans.

    In the turn of last century, marriages between Chinese men (mostly seamen and dockyard workers) and English women were quite common among people from the lower classes:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b015skx4/features/limehouse

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  • June 15, 2012 at 4:31 pm
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    There is also a book about US history – Chinese in the Post-Civil War South: A People Without History.

    Those Chinese (coolies) were brought in to replace slave labor after Civil War. They ended up marrying whoever around them – Native Americans, whites, and blacks. As a result, they disappeared.

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  • June 15, 2012 at 6:00 pm
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    Robert Kiyosaki (American Born Japanese)
    His book “Rich Dad and Poor Dad” is the one redefining the thinking of asset and liability in real estate financing.
    http://www.richdad.com/

    Roger Y Tsien (American Born Chinese)
    His co-discovery of Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP) led scientists to visualize clearly the function and locomotion of cellular proteins.
    http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/2008/tsien-autobio.html

    Samuel C. C. Ting (American Born Chinese, but mostly grew up in China)
    http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1976/ting-autobio.html

    Russell Peters (Canadian Born Indian)
    One of the best stand-up comedian so far. Born and raised in Canada, had a hard time telling jokes in his early years. Audience rarely cracked up. Now his reputation far reaches even to US military department and even US military asked him to perform in front of military returnees for the appreciation of their devotion to US country. In Singapore, his concert was forced to perform twice. He’s married to Latino, I guess?

    Reply
    • June 15, 2012 at 10:51 pm
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      First of all, thanks to everyone for the comments! After reading through your thoughts, I realized I left off one criteria I used to compile this list — that I was thinking of Asian men who are currently living right now. That’s why I left off a lot of the people you suggested, who would otherwise make great additions. Ah, I guess that’s what happens when I get a post like this together late in a very busy week, you leave a few important things out. (Promise to tell you more about what’s going on w/ John and I later, but definitely some exciting developments … :-))

      @Kedai, thanks for catching that mistake! I just corrected it.

      @Sveta, thanks for chiming in with your ideas; if you can ever think of their names, I’d love to keep them in mind for a future list.

      @Dingjie, thanks for suggesting two men I wasn’t aware of — I’d like to know more about them.

      @Taiwanxifu, thanks for mentioning Chang Ching-kuo’s wife, I have heard of her…of course, in light of my clarified criteria, not living — but he was still an inspiring leader of Taiwan.

      That’s also cool you met Li Cunxin, how nice that he turned out to be such a down-to-earth guy in person. I would love to meet him someday.

      @Dan, that’s a great question — but too bad that @aiyangxifu mentioned his interest in Asian girls only. Ah well. 😉

      @James, thanks for the suggestion, even if he’s not living (but still worth keeping in mind for a future list or two. And interesting what you mentioned about these turn of the century marriages, thanks!

      @Dan, fascinating, never heard such a story. I must pick up that book!

      @AG, LOL, I love that — “alpha nerd personality”!

      @Reo, thanks so much for all of these suggestions!

      @Chris, indeed Bruce Lee is inspiring, though he passed away some years ago. Still worth keeping in mind for future posts.

      Reply
  • June 15, 2012 at 11:30 pm
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    and Qiu Fazu, he was a chinese surgeon and a saviour of jewish prisoners in WWII, he is considered the father of modern chinese surgery.
    his german wife was the 1st foreigner who attained chinese citizenship after 1949

    Reply
  • June 16, 2012 at 12:59 am
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    Susur Lee is a renowned chef in Canada. Born in Hong Kong, his first wife was French. She died in the Korean airline disaster in 1983. He has three sons with his current wife, Brenda Bent.

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  • June 16, 2012 at 5:55 am
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    @Jocelyn Eikenburg Baidu 钱永键 or Google (Roger Yonchien Tsien ) Baidu丁肇中 or Google (Samuel Chao Chung Ting )

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  • June 16, 2012 at 12:42 pm
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    Jocelyn, those Chinese laborers in the South did not marry out of choices mostly. It was very circumstantial – lack of Chinese women or couldn’t get family to join them. In fact, a lot of these men went back to China after a while (similar to some who built the transcontinental railroad). Because these Chinese international migrant workers scattered across rural South and did not form centralized communities, they mingled with women with similar backgrounds. Maybe these men’ stories showed you will have better chances to meet different people when you reach out of your own ethnic groups either by choice or not.

    A century ago after boxer rebellion, US government used the part of war compensation from defeated Chinese government to create programs for Manchus to send teenage boys to study in States. This fund also created Tsinghua university, your husband’s Alma Mater. One of the boy married a white woman (can’t remember the name). Their story would be inspirational to your readers.

    If you put enough people together, some of them will bound to “hook up”. UK did not experience official segregation. Those Chinese seamen had a relatively easier time in this regard.

    Reply
  • June 16, 2012 at 7:56 pm
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    Love the books of Kazuo Ishiguro. Many of his works have a hauntingly beautiful fatalist flare that’s so typical of Japanese culture.

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  • June 16, 2012 at 10:54 pm
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    Chinese Name: Zhan Sai Chai
    Nationality: Chinese
    Place of Birth: Wuyuan County (now part of Jiangxi)
    Date of Birth: December 20, 1841
    The times: the Qing Dynasty
    Height: 3.19 m

    Chan Sai-Chai was taken to the United Kingdom, incorporated into the British nationality, a British woman married to a wife. Hong Guan Cun interview, the reporter saw a long Zhan Shi Chai Genealogy. “Hung Kai Jane’s genealogy records: World many nicknames 59. Word Yu Xuan Shen Shisheng December 20, 1841, and married the British native, sub-Ze pure, Mao Shi born September 17, 1876. In addition, Hong Guan said villagers Zhanqing De, a child to listen to their parents said, Zhan Shi Chai wife also taught the village children to learn English. Long Zhan World hairpin and the British woman is married, gave birth to a son Mingjiaozhanze pure. It is said that long son of Zhanze pure and inherited his father’s height, Zhanze pure at the British Consulate in Shanghai, his father, Chan Sai-Chai told his home in Wuyuan County, Zhejiang source Township Hong Guan Cun. Zhanze pure back to find a pro. He has an uncle of do Huimo business, a huge fortune, afraid of pure Zhanze back to recognize the pro division of property, they deny that they are his relatives. Later pure Zhanze could not come back to find too close, until the father Zhan World hairpin died

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  • June 17, 2012 at 1:54 am
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    Ming Tsai is a famous chef in the U.S.. I believe his wife is Caucasian.

    I recently learned that the wife of a well known Canadian-born Chinese author Vincent Lam, is of Anglo-Greek heritage.

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  • June 17, 2012 at 10:15 am
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    Honestly, I don’t pay much attention to who married who. So not much contribution to that area. But I read book “Rich Dad Poor Dad” and, if my memory serves me right, Robert and Kim were broke and lived in friend’s basement for more than half year. That really echos the spirit of “for rich and poor”. When couples go through tough time together, they form a strong bonding.

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  • June 21, 2012 at 6:40 pm
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    I think I messed up the dates when those teenage boys came to America late nineteenth century. It is a fascinating story about China’s quest to modernize.
    http://www.yale.edu/cusy/imperialstudents.htm
    The program ended after passing of Chinese Exclusion Act.
    US congress recently apologize for the Act. Canada and Australia also had similar exclusion in the past.
    Some background to understand the negative views for Asians (men).

    Reply
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  • June 22, 2012 at 10:44 am
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    Yung Wing should be added to this list –http://www.yale.edu/opa/arc-ybc/v33.n6/story5.html

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  • June 22, 2012 at 2:37 pm
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    @Dan,
    Thank you very much for such a rich story of Chinese in US. I did read the whole part from Yale article. Quite interesting. led me to google for a chapter “Chinese Schoolmates” by William Lyon Phelps and got me smiling while reading that.

    http://ywproject.x10.mx/Chinese%20Schoolmates.pdf

    Reply
  • June 23, 2012 at 9:51 am
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    Yung Wing’s book “My Life In China and America” worth reading too.
    This post is about prominent Chinese with their American wives. Many of Yung Wing’s and later generations also had romances with women in this country. Few ended in marriage. Time has changed. Our generation will have different experiences, but some same challenges remain.

    Reply
  • October 10, 2012 at 8:00 pm
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    David Suzuki!! I didn’t know until I read this
    So great to know he is part of “us”!!! Hope we’ll have more and more inspiring AMWF couples.

    Reply
  • July 2, 2013 at 4:43 am
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    Arcadio Huang (1679 to 1716) – one of the first Chinese men known to visit Europe.

    Huang, born in Fujian, was a priest brought to Europe to enter the Holy Order. But instead he used his knowledge of the Chinese language to secure himself a position as an assistant to the French king’s librarian in cataloging the Chinese books in the royal library. Huang became proficient in French and began courting a Parisian woman named Marie-Claude Regnier. They married in 1713. In spite of Huang’s precarious financial situation and warnings from several churchmen, Mary-Claude’s parent approved of this marriage. For a while they seemed to prosper as Huang became a popular figure in Parisian salons. In 1715, his wife gave birth to a healthy daughter, also named Marie-Claude, but the mother died a few days later. Discouraged, Huang himself died a year and a half later in Paris, and their daughter a few months later.

    Reply

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