May 5, 2006

Lee C. Lee, Asian-American studies pioneer, dies at age 70

Lee Charlotte Lee, 70, professor emerita of human development and of Asian-American studies at Cornell University, died unexpectedly April 30 at her home.

The first woman professor of Asian ancestry at Cornell, Lee was an expert in parental values and socialization in China and in identity and coping issues in Asian-Americans and Chinese immigrants. She was the founding director of the East Coast's first comprehensive Asian American Studies Program (AASP), launched at Cornell in 1987, as well as of the Hong Kong-America Center, an independent, nonprofit organization at the Chinese University of Hong Kong whose mission is to promote understanding between Hong Kong and American societies through educational and cultural exchanges.

Born in Suzhou, China, Lee was teaching in an American school in Taipei, Taiwan, when a severe case of meningitis destroyed her ability to read. An American minister and his wife painstakingly taught her to read again and then urged her to attend college in America. She was offered a full scholarship by Mount Union College in Ohio, from which she graduated in 1957; she went on to earn a master's degree in clinical psychology (1959) and a Ph.D. in developmental psychology (1968), both at Ohio State University. She joined the Cornell faculty in 1968 and taught experimental child psychology, personality and social development of children, Asian-American identity and cross-cultural issues in psychology. She retired in 2004.

In 1981, with a research fellowship from the National Academy of Sciences, Lee became the first American psychologist permitted to do research in China after the Cultural Revolution. She studied the development of prosocial behavior in Chinese children in Beijing and Shanghai. Increasingly concerned about the lack of knowledge Asian-Americans had about their roots and Americans' attitudes toward Asian-Americans, Lee developed courses on the Chinese in America, attitudes of U.S. media toward Asian-Americans and the social history of Asians in the United States from the 19th century to the present.

In addition to a number of scholarly articles, Lee was the editor of the first edition of the "Handbook of Asian American Psychology" (1996) and was an avid photographer with numerous solo exhibits to her credit.

Plans for a memorial service will be announced.