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In Search of a New Home: The Yao Family’s Journey from Shanghai to Canton to Hong Kong to Claremont Exhibit

In Search of a New Home: The Yao Family’s Journey from Shanghai to Canton to Hong Kong to Claremont Exhibit In-Person

The Yao family was one of the first Chinese American families in Claremont. How many miles did they travel before they found safety and peace in their new home in Claremont? How many seas did they sail before they reached “the land of freedom”? Come and find the answer in the Asian Library’s new exhibition highlighting photographic works and archival documents depicting the Yao Family’s trans-Pacific journey from Shanghai to Canton (Guangzhou) in the1940s, and then from Canton to Hong Kong to Claremont in the 1950s.

Co-curated by Xiuying Zou, Head of the Asian Library, and Angelina Chin, Associate Professor of History at Pomona College, the exhibition highlights photos taken by Norman Yao depicting pre-1949 Canton and pre-1957 Hong Kong; miscellaneous family records reflecting the social and economic conditions in Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong during the time; records from both Norman and his wife Anne’s professional service at the United States Information Service (USIS) in Canton and in Hong Kong from 1947 to 1956; and correspondence and documents reflecting the family’s immigration experience to Claremont during the Cold War, including the sponsorship and assistance provided to the family by local Claremont churches and businesses. 

Norman Gan-chao Yao (1913-1980) was born in Canton, China. Anne Lee Yao (1915-1971) was born in Shanghai, China. Both graduated from the University of Shanghai in 1938, Norman majoring in business administration and Anne in education. In 1947, Anne began working as a librarian for the United States Information Service (USIS), Canton Office, while Norman was employed by the Hsin Dah Trading Corporation. In 1949, the Yao family fled to Hong Kong after the Communist takeover of mainland China. During this time both Norman and Anne worked for the USIS Hong Kong Office — Anne as a librarian in charge of the Library in Kowloon and Norman as a photographer and dark room technician in the American Consulate General in Hong Kong.

In 1956, in search of safety and freedom, the Yao family migrated from Hong Kong to Claremont, California under the Refugee Relief Program. The Yaos were among the nearly 5,000 refugees to emigrate to the U.S. after the Refugee Relief Act was enacted in 1953. The family was sponsored by the Claremont Church and the Griswold’s Candied Fruit Co. After they settled in Claremont, Anne continued her librarian career at The Claremont Colleges Library where she cataloged Asian language materials and helped Asian Studies faculty and students. Norman continued his life-long enthusiasm for photography with The Claremont Colleges as a contracted photographer. Anne and Norman passed away in 1971 and 1980, respectively.

The photos and documents on display at this exhibit are part of the Norman Gan-chao and Anne Lee Yao Papers, which were donated by the son and daughter of Norman and Anne — Peter Yao, CGU ’83, and Margaret Ming Yao, Pitzer ’69. Visit the finding aid to learn more about the Yao Family Papers collection.

Exhibit Details
Asian Library Gallery (Honnold 3), The Claremont Colleges Library
(800 N. Dartmouth Ave., Claremont, CA 91711)
March 3, 2023 - January 31, 2024 (extended!)
Exhibit on view during Library building hours

Contact Xiuying Zou, Head of the Asian Library, by emailing xiuying.zou@claremont.edu or calling 909 607-4094.

Monday, January 1, 2024
Wednesday, January 31, 2024
Time Zone:
Pacific Time - US & Canada (change)
Asian Library Gallery, Honnold 3
The Claremont Colleges Library