442: The Woman at the Heart of Two Chinese American Food Empires

Asian Communities, Diaspora

Cecilia Chiang (1920-2020) was spent more than four decades shaping the Chinese American food landscape at a time when immigrant Asian female entrepreneurs were extremely rare and built a multimillion-dollar restaurant empire. Her youth spent with Shanghainese family in Wuxi, Chiang found herself on the run in 1937 owing to the Second Sino-Japanese War. Meeting and marrying her husband Chiang Liang during this time, they would settle in Shanghai after the war and had a son and daughter. During the Chinese Communist Revolution, the family would resettle in Tokyo, which was where Chiang opened Forbidden City, a 250-seat Chinese restaurant, her first hospitality experience. In 1959, she would found herself saddled with a restaurant lease in San Francisco, which would house The Mandarin in 1961. Bringing Beijing cuisine to America, and after initial hurdles, the restaurant would soon come to host dignitaries and celebrities like Mae West and John Lennon. The success of Mandarin would lead to Chiang’s permanent move to San Francisco, separation from her husband, who remained in Japan, and restaurant moving to a larger location in 1967. Chiang opened a second Mandarin in 1975. Chiang died at her San Francisco home at the age of 100 in 2020.

This article is published in JoySauce.