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Interview with Yue-Sai Kan: The Bridge between the East and West

By CAPA-JRC reporter Emily Jia

On October 13th, 2023, the Gold Lantern Awards were held at the Kennedy Center, honoring notable Chinese Americans. Among those honored included Yue-Sai Kan, a Chinese-American television host, producer, author, entrepreneur, and humanitarian. She is known for her work in bridging the gap between the East and the West, introducing China to the United States.

JRC reporters interviewing Yue-Sai Kan (Photo credits: Qiang Wang)

At the awards ceremony, JRC members met Ms. Kan and arranged an interview. Although she is already in her 70s, we found that she does not appear as elderly as we had imagined. She wore a vibrant orange top, high-heeled shoes, and wore neatly crafted makeup. During our conversation, she maintained an elegant demeanor, appearing truly youthful.

Ms. Kan noted that many Chinese values in her upbringing have guided her through her career: “Our parents have very special values, for example, the respect for elders, working really hard, saving money, being kind to people, and being close to family. Especially, respect for other people, because if you think about it, the Chinese are very peaceful people. Right now a lot of people think the Chinese are scary because they might go to war, but the Chinese are not conquerors. The most important street in Beijing is called “Eternal Peace”, so in other words, that is their wish. Our job is to let more people know who we are.” 

“Looking East” was the first TV series to introduce Chinese culture to America. Yue-Sai Kan explains, “The main reason I shot the series was because no one had done it before. If no one has done it before, then you should do it.” She has shot thousands of shows and movies over the years, and she shares some of her proudest moments: “I loved interviewing Mother Teresa; I interviewed her in Rome. There was a show I did called “Doing Business in Asia”, where I featured four countries in Asia. That was the longest selling videotapes, it was selling for years and years and years. A specific TV documentary I am proud of is ‘Journey through a Changing China’. It is a program about the changes that happened in 1988/1989, when China was just opening. It was a really exciting time. We aired it all over the country, sponsored by American Express, and the next morning I got a phone call from Senator Inouye, who was the senior senator. That program was put into the Congressional Record. Out of thousands of programs, that was the one put into the Congressional Record, so I am rather proud of that one.”

Aside from producing programs and TV series, Yue-Sai Kan has also started a cosmetics brand, which has since been sold to L’oreal. She says, “I don’t run it anymore, but it was the first cosmetics brand ever produced for Asian women. It uses a lot of Chinese herbs in the makeup. A lot of American women use cosmetics, but not a lot of Chinese use cosmetics, so I knew it was a potential market for China. The idea really isn’t about lipsticks or eyeshadows, the idea is that if you can change the way you look, you can do anything.”

JRC reporters with Yue-Sai Kan (Photo credits: Qiang Wang)

Although our JRC junior reporters haven't seen the influential television programs Yue-Sai Kan produced back in the day, through this interview, we learned about her contributions for the improvement of relations between China and America. Her efforts and life experiences are truly inspiring. At the end of the interview, she shared some advice: "Everybody makes different impacts. I happened to make that kind of impact because the time was important. Now it is a little different. For Chinese Americans, I think because the relationship between China and the US is so bad, there is an opportunity to tell the Chinese story.”

This article was provided by Chinese American Parents Association Junior Reporter Club (CAPA JRC) with members who interviewed, audio recorded, wrote, translated, and video recorded. CAPA JRC has 25 Montgomery County middle to high school students. They have created a bilingual platform delivering news and serving the community.

Instagram: @capa_jrc

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