Li Chen


In 1878, the first Chinese student, Sit Ming Cook, sought entry into an American law school and was rejected because of his race. Chang Hong Yen, the second Chinese law student, was more fortunate. In 1884, Chang journeyed to New York City to embark on his legal education at Columbia Law School. A former Chinese Government Scholar, Chang had nine years of preparatory and collegiate education in the United States. In June 1886, after two years of full-time study, Chang became the first Chinese person to graduate from an American law school. Unfortunately, his race became a formidable barrier for him to gain admission to the New York bar. By dint of resourcefulness and determination, Chang fearlessly fought against racial discrimination for inclusion in legal profession. In May, 1888, two years after graduating from Columbia Law School, Chang successfully overcame all hurdles and became the first Chinese to be admitted to practice law in America. Two years later, Chang relocated to California in order to practice law among the Chinese community. When he sought admission to the California bar, the California Supreme Court denied his admission because of his race, finally admitting him posthumously 125 years later. Chang's aspiration was again thwarted by his race. Sit and Chang's courageous, yet largely unknown and untold struggles have paved the way for early Chinese Americans to achieve improved successes in the legal field since the early part of 20th century.