History of Chinese Food in America

History of Chinese Food in America 

Panelists:Miranda Brown, Professor of Chinese Studies, U-M
Yong Chen, Professor of History, UC Irvine
Joseph Lam, Professor of Musicology, U-M
Yan Liang, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, Grand Valley State University
Carolyn Phillips, Blogger, writer, and chef @MadameHuang
Edward Q. Wang, Professor of History, Rowan University
Date:Friday, February 9, 2018
Time:10 am – 4 pm
Location:Michigan Room, Michigan League
Language:Presented in English

Chinese_foodSponsored by the Confucius Institute and Department of Asian Languages and Cultures, the conference will examine the historical and contemporary connections between Chinese food in America. The participants will discuss various issues surrounding food practices and traditions in China and in America including cookeries, culinary traditions, and more.

Yong Chen, Professor of History, University of California, Irvine
Yan Liang, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, Grand Valley State University
Carolyn Phillips, Blogger, writer, and chef @MadameHuang
Edward Q. Wang, Professor of History, Rowan University

Miranda Brown, Professor of Chinese Studies, U-M
Joseph Lam, Professor of Musicology, U-M
Eric Rath, Professor of History, University of Kansas


10 – 12 PM Panel Discussion 1 (open to the public)

Moderator: Miranda Brown
Discussants: Yan Liang & Edward Q. Wang

  • What is American Chinese food? How has American Chinese food changed over time? Are there regional variants of American Chinese food?
  • Does the meaning of American Chinese food depend on the identity of its consumers, be they American Chinese or non-Chinese Americans?
  • What is the relationship between Chinese cookery in America and the food of Greater China (P.R.C, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan)?
  • How much of this relationship been shaped by politics, especially U.S.-China relations?

12 – 1 PM Lunch
*This lunch is for RSVP’ed guests only, and RSVP is closed at this time.

​1-2:30 PM Panel Discussion 2 ​(open to the public)

Moderator: Joseph Lam and Eric Rath
Discussants: Carolyn Philips & Yong Chen

  • What is the current assessment of American Chinese food? (Inauthentic, derivative, American invention, creative?)
  • What motivates negative assessments of American Chinese food, and who judges the culinary merits of this culinary tradition?
  • How have assessments changed over time, or not?

​2:30 – 4 pm Panel Discussion 3 (closed door session)


Yong Chen received his Ph.D. degree from Cornell University. He is professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, where he also serves as Associate Dean for Curriculum and Student Services in the School of Humanities.  He is author of Chop Suey, USA: The Rise of Chinese Food in America (Columbia University Press, 2014); Chinese San Francisco 1850-1943: A Transpacific Community (Stanford, 2000); and The Chinese in San Francisco (Peking University Press, 2009). He is also co-editor of New Perspectives on American History (Hebei People’s Publishing House, 2010). His research on diverse topics such as Chinese American history, U.S. ethnic food, and higher education has been published in various leading academic journals and has received much public attention in the United States and China. He is a main contributor to Civil Rights in America: A Framework for Identifying Significant Sites for the National Park Service, authorized and funded by the U.S. Congress. He has been frequently interviewed by various media organizations (such as Radio France Internationale, ETTV, Sing Tao DailyCorreio Braziliense, National Public and KPCC) in four languages, discussing issues ranging from food, race and immigration in the U.S. to Sino-American relations.

Yan Liang is Associate Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at Grand Valley State University. She received her PhD in Comparative Literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2008. Her research interests include late imperial Chinese literature, vernacular fiction and storytelling, Chinese food culture, and Chinese popular culture. Her recent publications focus on the narrative functions of food in late imperial Chinese novels.

Nominated twice for a James Beard Award, Carolyn Phillips is a food writer, scholar, and artist. She is the author of All Under Heaven (McSweeney’s + Ten Speed) and The Dim Sum Field Guide (Ten Speed). Her work has appeared in most major publications and collections, including Lucky Peach, Saveur, Vice Munchies, Gastronomica, and Best Food Writing 2015. Carolyn and her husband were cultural consultants on the third Ghostbusters movie. She was a professional Mandarin interpreter in the federal and state courts for over a decade, lived in Taiwan for eight years, and married into a Chinese family almost 40 years ago.

Q. Edward Wang, author of Chopsticks: A Cultural and Culinary History, is Professor of History and coordinator of Asian Studies at Rowan University. A cultural and intellectual historian, his other publications include A Global History of Modern Historiography and Inventing China through History: The May Fourth Approach to Historiography. He is editor of Chinese Studies in History (Routledge) and board member of the International Commission for the History and Theory of Historiography.


Miranda Brown is Professor of Chinese Studies in the Department of Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan. She has taught there since 2002, after receiving her PhD in History from U.C. Berkeley. A historian of imperial China by training, she is the author of the The Politics of Mourning in Early China (State University of New York Press, 2007) and The Art of Medicine in Early China: The Ancient and Medieval Origins of a Modern Archive (Cambridge University Press, 2015), as well as more than a dozen published articles. Her current research and teaching focus on the history of Chinese food.

Joseph S.C. Lam is Professor of Musicology in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance at the University of Michigan, and director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Michigan. A musicologist and sinologist, Lam specializes in the musics and cultures of Southern Song (1127-1275), Ming (1368-1644), and modern China (1900 to present). Lam regularly and extensively lectures in China, Europe, and the U.S.

Eric C. Rath is Professor of History at the University of Kansas. A specialist in premodern Japanese cultural history, Professor Rath’s research ranges from the traditional Japanese performing arts, especially the 600-year old masked noh drama, to dietary culture particularly the origins of Japanese cuisine, regional foodways, sake, confectionery, and tobacco use. While maintaining his interest in Japanese theater, he is now working on several projects related to the traditional diet, ritual uses for food, smoking, local food, and sweets in early modern and modern Japan. His research illuminates patterns of daily consumption as well as the moments when food takes on symbolic meanings such as through the artistry of the chef, use in ritual, and by references to local terroir and literary culture. His editorial work includes Japanese Foodways Past and Present, co-edited with Stephanie Assmann (University of Illinois Press, 2010), and he is currently area editor for the forthcoming Oxford Companion to Sweets.