The views and opinions expressed on this site and blog posts (excluding comments on blog posts left by others) are entirely my own and do not represent those of any employer or organization with whom I am currently or previously have been associated.
Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.
Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.
Think Jeremy Lin should be included? I certainly cast my vote for “definitely!” Among their list of nominees, there are several Asians and Asian Americans, so if you’re so inclined, cast your vote for those who you think should be included in Time’s list. The deadline for voting is Friday, April 6.
Time magazine has released its annual Top 100 Most Influential People in the World for 2011. This year’s list includes a number of Asians and Asian Americans, some well-known while others not as well-known (until now I suppose):
Feisal Abdul Rauf, 63, has moderate, colloquial eloquence, still relatively rare among American Muslim religious leaders. That didn’t stop the attacks on him and his wife Daisy Khan when they teamed with a developer to propose a community center near Ground Zero. They still hope to realize that vision, knowing it won’t come without further attacks. — Rev. William M. Tully
Ambani, 54, took the firm his father founded — Reliance Industries — and turned it into India’s largest private-sector company, a $45 billion petrochemicals giant. It’s a new kind of Indian company, built through adroit manipulation of governments and the stock market but also enriching millions of shareholders. “We have taken money from ordinary Indians, and we are their trustees,” he says. As long as the money keeps coming, they may forgive his excesses. — Suketu Mehta
In 2009 the chinese government, concerned about how information could spread rapidly among millions of people over microblogs, blocked Twitter and shuttered domestic equivalents. Amid those obstacles, Charles Chao saw an opportunity. A journalist turned accountant who rose through the executive ranks to head Sina, China’s largest Internet portal, he backed the company’s own microblog service [Sina Weibo] . . . [and] Beijing approved it. . . . It reached 100 million users in March, vs. 200 million for Twitter. . . . It is censored, Chao acknowledges, but it is also one of the freest online platforms in China. — Austin Ramzy
Amy’s book is a nuanced story of how her parenting had to evolve to take into account the differences between her children. Parenting is hard and humbling for all of us. If there were a right way to raise your kids, everyone would do it. Clearly that’s not the case. In China, this book is being marketed as a tale about the importance of giving children more Western freedom. Few have the guts to parent in public. Amy’s memoir is brutally honest, and her willingness to share her struggles is a gift. Whether or not you agree with her priorities and approach, she should be applauded for raising these issues with a thoughtful, humorous and authentic voice. — Sheryl Sandberg
As a spiritual guru, Cheng Yen, 73, has an ethereal quality. Yet the Buddhist nun is also the well-grounded, no-nonsense head of a non-profit humanitarian machine with divisions in 50 countries and nearly 10 million supporters and volunteers. The Tzu Chi Foundation (tzu chi means compassionate relief) is known for the astonishing speed and efficiency with which it brings aid to victims of natural disasters. Wherever calamities occur, Tzu Chi volunteers and experts arrive promptly, dispensing food, medicine, blankets and warm clothing (as they did recently in Japan) and, in the long term, rebuilding homes, clinics and schools. — Zoher Abdoolcarim
Hu founded Caijing [and] shook up China’s media landscape with courageous investigative pieces on corruption and fraud. After a dispute with her publisher, Hu left the magazine in 2009 and set up Caixin Century, now a paragon of reporting brilliance in China. In February it ran a commentary on Egypt that any savvy reader would link to China. “Autocracy creates turbulence,” it read, “democracy breeds peace.” — Adi Ignatius
Hung spent her teenage years going to school in New York City and college at Vassar. These days Hung, 49, is hugely influential in Chinese culture, tweeting with humor and intelligence to 2.5 million people. She runs a fashion magazine called iLook, owns a store featuring Chinese designers and recently became the director of the first design museum in China. What makes Hung unique is that she understands America, its pragmatism and practices, yet she remains a true Chinese patriot. She works hard to bring her country’s culture into the 21st century. — Diane Von Furstenberg
The 31-year-old doctor was on duty at the Shizugawa public hospital in the Japanese town of Minami Sanriku when he heard the tsunami alert. He immediately began moving patients to the highest floor. . . When the wall of water arrived, Kanno watched it swallow the street in three minutes, taking the patients he couldn’t move with it. . . . Over the next two days, Kanno refused to leave those he’d helped survive. When evacuation helicopters arrived, he waited until the last of his patients had gone before he too left. Three days after the quake, he at last made it back to his wife, just hours before the birth of their second child, a boy they named Rei. The name evokes two meanings: in English, a beam of light; in Chinese and Japanese, the wisdom to overcome hardship. — Krista Mahr
Nobody’s sure if Kim Jong Un is 28 or 29. There are only a handful of photos of him in circulation. Until a couple of years ago, few North Koreans knew anything about him. But he’s been picked to succeed his dad and granddad as absolute ruler of his impoverished, nuclear-tipped nation, which means that though he may not be known, he will be feared.
Few Americans have heard of Liang Guanglie, but his name comes up a great deal in discussions within the U.S. national-security establishment. Liang, 70, is a career military officer and since 2008 has been China’s Defense Minister . . . He is presiding over the rapid rise in Beijing’s defense spending, a subject of increasing concern in Washington. — Bill Powell
A pioneer of India’s IT-outsourcing industry, Premji [is] inspired by his belief that a strong educational system is essential to sustaining the economic growth needed to pull millions of Indian citizens out of poverty, Premji, 65, is deeply involved in efforts to provide universal primary education in India. The Azim Premji Foundation supports programs that reach more than 2.5 million children. But it may be his pioneering leadership in India’s nascent field of philanthropy that will be Premji’s lasting legacy. His recent $2 billion donation to his foundation was the largest charitable contribution in the history of modern India. — Bill Gates
The South Korean pop star turned actor Rain, 28, took the top spot in the TIME 100 reader poll for the third year, trouncing competitors from Barack Obama to Lady Gaga. That’s pretty impressive online power for a guy whose main claim to Western fame is a role in the 2009 film Ninja Assassin.
Ramachandran, 59, is best known for developing a therapy for phantom-limb pain in which a mirror is used to reflect the intact limb, creating the illusion that the missing one is still there. That persuades the brain that all is well, and the pain subsides. With his simple, creative and innovative ideas, V.S. Ramachandran is changing how our brains think about our minds. — Thomas Insel
The former chancellor of the Washington, D.C., school system and the founder of the Students First advocacy group, Rhee . . . . set a goal to improve the lot of the nation’s students, and she has stuck to that. And she paid dearly for it, stepping down from her D.C. post in 2010 after Mayor Adrian Fenty lost his bid for re-election, a public rejection that some saw as a repudiation of the tough steps Rhee took to raise the standards of the city’s public schools. Subsequently, she shunned any high-salary job offers that resulted from her high-profile tenure and instead founded her organization. — Davis Guggenheim
Starting from a tiny village in the deserts of Rajasthan in the 1980s, Aruna Roy began a long campaign to bring transparency to India’s notoriously corrupt bureaucracy. Its signal achievement is the 2005 Right to Information (RTI) Act, a law that has given the nation’s poor a powerful tool to fight for their rights and has influenced similar measures in other countries. It has also inspired thousands of RTI activists, who have exposed everything from land scams to bank embezzlement to the misuse of public funds meant for the poor. . . . Roy doesn’t just condemn a broken system; she changes it. — Jyoti Thottam
Within weeks of Lieut. General Ahmed Shuja Pasha’s becoming head of Pakistan’s top intelligence agency, ISI, in 2008, terrorist attacks in Mumbai seriously roiled already stressed U.S.-Pakistani relations. Pasha, 59, has grown progressively more suspicious of U.S. motives and staying power. . . . Pasha, a Pakistani patriot and American partner, now must find these two roles even more difficult to reconcile. — Michael Hayden
[A]s radiation wafted from the earthquake- and tsunami-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant toward the city of Minami Soma, some 15 miles (25 km) away, Mayor Katsunobu Sakurai . . . posted an 11-min. video on YouTube two weeks after the March 11 natural disaster [and] lashed out at Japan’s political and economic establishment, which had ignored his frantic calls and, as a result, left thousands of local residents stuck in a nuclear no-go zone. “With the paltry information given by the government and [plant operator] TEPCO, we are left isolated … and are being forced into starvation,” Sakurai charged. “I beg you from my heart to help us.” His plea resonated across the world, leading many to ask how a country so celebrated for efficiency had failed its most vulnerable citizens. — Hannah Beech
As the leader of Burma’s democracy movement and winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi, 65, is an Asian hero and global inspiration. . . Last November she was released from her latest stint of more than seven years under house arrest. In March her banned party, the National League for Democracy, called again for talks with Burma’s rulers. Even after spending most of the past two decades in detention, Suu Kyi is determined to return to the front lines of the battle for democracy. — Wang Dan
Dhoni is now universally acknowledged as India’s best [cricket] captain ever. He’s also its most likable, exuding both cool confidence and down-to-earth humility. As astonishing as Dhoni’s talent is his background. Indian success stories are usually associated with pedigree, connections and power. Dhoni, from a small-town family of modest means, had none of these, but he’s shown India that you can make it with only one thing: excellence. Dhoni doesn’t just lead a cricket team; he’s also India’s captain of hope. — Chatan Bhagat
Ai Weiwei is the kind of visionary any nation should be proud to count among its creative class. He has drawn the world’s attention to the vibrancy of contemporary Chinese culture. More important, Ai, 53, has shown compassion for his fellow citizens and spoken out for victims of government abuses, calling for political reforms to better serve the people. It is very sad that the Chinese government has seen a need to silence one of its most innovative and illustrious citizens. For the world, Ai continues to represent the promise of China. — John Huntsman
You can make the case that Xi has reformist impulses. His father, once a comrade of Mao Zedong’s, was purged three times. Xi is an engineer, like most of China’s leaders, but he also has a law degree and a breadth of knowledge that many of his colleagues lack. His wife is one of China’s most famous singers. His daughter is at Harvard. Who knows? Maybe he even likes jazz and scotch. — Fareed Zakaria
The following is guest post by Louise Baker, a freelance author and journalist. Her post is a brief profile of Five Asian Americans Who Changed the World. Feel free to nominate other possible famous Asian Americans who changed the world in the comments section.
1. Bruce Lee: One of the most famous martial artists of all time, and one of the most influential pop culture figures of the twentieth century. An athlete, actor, and philosopher, Lee’s exceptional talent and pan-racial appeal helped him to break many color barriers for protagonists in American cinema. During his lifetime, Lee’s name became synonymous with Asiatic martial arts, and remains so to this day, nearly forty years after his death. Lee’s enduring legacy and cross-cultural personal appeal place him in a rarified pantheon of iconic American actors of ageless popularity.
2. Jerry Yang: Co-founded Yahoo!, one of the first popular search engines of the internet era. Debuting in the mid-1990’s, Yahoo! offers both experienced and novice web users a way to search for entertainment and information, and did double duty in its early days as a web directory for a variety of topics. One of the architects of the internet as we know it today, Yang’s massive contribution to the world began as a side project with his friend, David Filo, while both were pursuing doctoral degrees at Stanford University. Today, Yahoo! remains one of the most popular sites and networks on the web.
3. Tiger Woods: One of the best golfers of all time, and one of the first minorities to achieve superstardom in that sport, Woods’s youth, charisma, and star appeal brought an element of glamour to his profession that had previously been absent. Having shattered the stereotypes of the typical professional golfer in both age and race, Woods has singlehandedly made his sport of choice seem far more accessible, more inclusive, and more glamorous to the general public than ever before. The global influence of Woods on golf can be seen in the popular champion’s vast number of endorsement deals.
4. Steven Chu: A Nobel Prize winning physicist, who won the aforementioned award as the result of his groundbreaking work in laser cooling technologies, Chu is the current Secretary of Energy of the United States. Chu’s current focus as Energy Secretary is largely on the development of alternative fuel technologies, with particular attention to the possibilities of a “glucose economy,” wherein the various byproducts of sugar might be cultivated and used as fuel on a scale large enough to power the modern world. Chu’s vision, precision, and commitment to excellence might just set the tone for new technologies to come.
5. I.M. Pei: Considered one of the masters of modern architecture, Pei is responsible for designing such iconic buildings as the Bank of China building in Hong Kong, the Louvre Pyramid, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and Boston’s Hancock Tower. With his work firmly ensconced as part of the backdrop for many world-class cities, Pei’s work has been an unmistakably powerful influence on art and architecture around the globe.
Louise Baker is a freelance author and journalist. She currently writes about online degrees for Zen College Life, where she most recently ranked the top online colleges.
J.T. Wang: CEO of the Taiwanese PC maker Acer Group, which has risen from ranking fifth in the global PC market in 2005 to No. 2 today.
Yukio Hatoyama: Prime Minister of Japan who broke away from his family’s roots in the Liberal Democratic Party establishment to form the reformist Democratic Party of Japan.
Bo Xilai: Anti-corruption mayor of Chongqing, China and rising star in China’s power hierarchy.
Robin Li: Taiwanese American internet entrepreneur and founder of Chinese search engine portal Baidu, China’s counterpart to Google.
Chen Shu-chu: Vegetable grocer in Taiwan who has donated $320,00 USD to support children’s programs and causes in her hometown/
Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw: Indian American doctor and biotech entrepreneur who has donated millions of dollars to provide healthcare to villagers in India.
P. Namperumalsamy: Indian eye surgeon who donates much of his services to helping rural Indians retain their eyesight.
Kim Yu-na: Olympic gold medalist in women’s figure skating and national hero in South Korea.
Nay Phone Latt: Burmese blogger and human rights activist who was recently sentenced to 12 years in jail by the Burmese dictatorship.
Rahul Singh: Indian Canadian paramedic and founder of GlobalMedic, providing disaster relief in the aftermath of catastrophes using volunteer professional emergency workers.
Jet Li: International Chinese action movie superstar and founder of his One Foundation, which he began to assist with disaster-relief efforts in China and beyond.
Sachin Tendulkari: The only player in the history of cricket to have scored a “double century” (200 runs) in a One Day International match, widely regarded as one of the greatest batsmen in the history of cricket, and national hero in India.
David Chang: Asian American restaurateur and founder of Momofuku in New York City, specializing in bringing innovative Asian fusion food to the masses.
Chetan Bhagat: Former investment banker turned critically- and popularly-acclaimed author in India who often writes about following your dreams and not bowing to others’ expectations.
Han Han: Chinese best-selling novelist, champion race-car driver, and influential blogger.
Larry Kwak: Profiled along with Douglas Schwartzentruber, medical doctor and researcher who is pioneering the search for a vaccine for cancer.
Atul Gawande: Indian American medical doctor and author who pioneered using simple checklists in medicine and other fields.
Lee Kwan Yew: First Prime Minister of Singapore and widely hailed as the architect of it becoming an intellectual, technical, and commercial powerhouse of Asia.
Amartya Sen: Indian American professor of economics and philosophy at Harvard, whose work on measuring human development is now central to the work of the U.N. and the World Bank.
Sanjit “Bunker” Roy: Indian grass-roots social entrepreneurship who, through his Barefoot College, has trained more than 3 million rural and poor Indians for jobs in the modern world.
Time magazine has released its annual list of the World’s 100 Most Influential People and I highlight the Asians or Asian Americans on the list (descriptions are from Time magazine):
Leaders & Revolutionaries
Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono (President of Indonesia)
The country’s transition from authoritarianism has proved that as a democracy, Indonesia can be culturally vibrant and economically prosperous. Since winning the presidency in 2004, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has managed to keep the nation afloat, even during the current global recession. . . The time is right for Indonesia, as the world’s most populous Muslim nation, to assume a more prominent position in Asia and throughout the Muslim world. In response to President Obama’s warm overtures to Muslim countries for a new phase in relations with the U.S., Yudhoyono can take the lead and chart a new course for the region.
Wang Qishan (Vice Premier of China)
He is the man China’s leaders look to for an understanding of the markets and the global economy. As a result, China has been supportive of U.S. actions to stabilize our capital markets and has not given in to those who advocate reversing economic reform to insulate China from the world. . . . Wang managed the largest bankruptcy restructuring in China’s history in 1998 and thereby prevented a banking crisis that could have crippled the country’s growth.
Ashfaq Kayani (Pakistan Army’s Chief of Staff)
General Kayani, 57, commands an army with troops fighting in what President Barack Obama has rightly called the “most dangerous place in the world.” He’s lost more than 1,000 soldiers in that fight. He knows the stakes. He’s got a plan.
Xi Jinping (Vice President of China)
As Vice President of China, Xi is considered the most likely candidate to assume the country’s presidency in 2012. You can already feel the Chinese system starting to flex as it prepares to make way for him. . . . Xi’s own experiences as a provincial leader and his firm politician’s instinct suggest that he is trying to knit the interest groups of China’s ruling Communist Party into something capable of executing the difficult political and economic reforms that have become essential. The running joke in Beijing is that anytime there is a potentially nasty task, Xi gets it: the Olympics last summer, and now an urgent new working group on social stability.
Builders & Titans
Nandan Nilekani (Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Infosys Technologies)
Infosys, the information-technology-services giant, was India’s first truly global company, and its core entrepreneurial insight was that spectacular success can be achieved through innovative, ethical and transparent business-management practices. In the process, Nandan, 53, became both a corporate icon and India’s brand ambassador. . . . As the new India, fueled by its robust democracy and favorable demographics, seeks to make the transition from a developing nation to a developed one, it will need the vision and talent of people like Nandan Nilekani.
Jack Ma (Chinese Internet Entrepreneur)
As founder and CEO of Alibaba.com, Ma, 44, runs one of the world’s biggest B2B online marketplaces, an eBay for companies doing international trade. Alibaba and Ma’s consumer-auction website, Taobao.com, did so well that in 2006, eBay shut down its own site in China.
Artists & Entertainers
Lang Lang (Chinese Pianist)
He has started the Lang Lang International Music Foundation, dedicated to supporting young pianists around the world. You hear him play, and he never ceases to touch your heart. And he’s fearless. He’s not afraid to burst the bubble of false élitism.
A.R. Rahman (Indian Musician)
A.R. Rahman, 43, dominates the music industry so totally that he has supplied the sound track for a whole generation. He enjoys the godlike devotion of India’s youth, but everyone from the street child who sweeps train platforms to the middle-aged doctor in Mumbai’s posh Malabar Hill hums his tunes. . . . Renowned for his immense range, he’ll do a traditional score for a conventional film, then blend exotic vocals with Japanese music and Western classical arrangements in his next project. A veritable Pied Piper, he has no competition, yet he makes it a priority to discover new talent and promote it.
Heroes & Icons
Somaly Mam (Cambodian-French Activist and Humanitarian)
[As a result of the Khmer Rouge’s genocide], 12-year-old Mam was sold into sexual slavery by a man who posed as her grandfather. She eventually ended up in a Phnom Penh brothel, beginning a decade of horrific rape and torture. She describes this period of her life simply: “I was dead. I had no affection for anyone.” . . . In 1996, Mam created a nonprofit organization called AFESIP (Agir pour les Femmes en Situation Précaire, or Acting for Women in Distressing Circumstances) that works with local law enforcement to raid brothels and reintegrate the trafficked women into society. . . . She has paid a terrible personal price for doing so, enduring death threats and assaults. In an effort to deter her work, brothel owners even kidnapped, drugged and raped Mam’s then 14-year-old daughter in 2006. Most people would have walked away. Mam continues to fight back so that others can be spared the pain she once suffered.
Suraya Pakzad (Afghani Activist and Humanitarian)
It is difficult to name a more committed advocate for women’s rights in Afghanistan. A recipient of the 2008 International Women of Courage Award, Pakzad is the founder of the Voice of Women Organization, committed to providing Afghan women with shelter, counseling and job training. Her shelters give abused women safe haven, legal services and long-term protection. She has worked tirelessly to raise awareness about gender-based violence that victimizes Afghan women.
Tiger Woods (American “Cablinasian” Golfer)
You rarely see an athlete who single-handedly changes an entire sport. When Tiger couldn’t play last year because of an injury, golf ratings suffered. He has changed the way golfers train and prepare themselves and has brought huge numbers of new fans to the sport. . . . We should all enjoy it. We may never see a golfer like this again.
Manny Pacquiao (Filipino Championship Boxer and Humanitarian)
Pound for pound, Manny Pacquiao is the best boxer in the world. But even more important than holding that distinction, Manny has connected with the people of his home country, the Philippines, to the point where he’s almost like a god. The people have rallied behind him and feel like they’re a part of him, because they can see his talent, his dedication, his grace and his class. The grip he holds over the Philippines is similar to Nelson Mandela’s influence in South Africa.
Scientists & Thinkers
Steven Chu (Chinese American Secretary of Energy)
Chu, 61, won the Nobel Prize in 1997 for his esoteric studies in physics. . . Perhaps Chu’s greatest impact, however, has been in the area of energy. Long a vocal advocate of weaning the U.S. from its dependence on fossil fuels, he was picked by President Barack Obama for both his ability and his candor. With the future of the earth’s climate dependent on rethinking the ways we consume energy, both skills will be needed in equal measure, but it’s the candor part that might be the most refreshing.
Yoichiro Nambu (Japanese Physicist)
Scientists have always sought symmetry in nature, meaning laws that are the same in all circumstances. Nambu realized that when a situation occurs that defies symmetry, a new particle is born. . . . A major task of the Large Hadron Collider, the particle accelerator near Geneva that was turned on last year, will be to search for a particle known as the Higgs boson that, according to Nambu’s theory, is responsible for breaking the symmetry between electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force. . . . Nambu shared the 2008 Nobel Prize in Physics.