Gus Lee Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The Chinese American writer Gus Lee became known as a novelist with a gift for telling strongly autobiographical stories. He was born Augustus Samuel Jian-Sun Lee. His parents had emigrated to the United States during World War II, when the Chinese troops of Chiang Kai-shek were being routed by the Communists. His father was a well-educated military officer whose ancestors had been farmers. His mother came from a family that cherished education and religion. Lee was born two years after their arrival in San Francisco. Five years later his mother died, and his father remarried an American citizen from Pennsylvania. Gus Lee’s childhood was marked by the difficulties of coping with a new mother with significantly different, more Western ways, as well as by those of adapting to a neighborhood in the rough “panhandle” section of San Francisco.

In his first novel, China Boy, Lee describes some of the problems of a young boy, Kai Ting, as he tries to deal with his demanding stepmother and a predominantly African American neighborhood whose criminals and street toughs are intimidating to the young Chinese American boy. To avoid the constant beatings he was taking on the streets, Ting becomes a member of the neighborhood YMCA, where he learns to box and wrestle while developing his muscles with weights. Soon he is able to hold his own in street battles, even becoming somewhat intimidating to others through his husky physique. Lee has stated that his life was significantly improved by the influence from the teachers he met at the YMCA.

Upon returning home, however, he was often caught between two cultures: His mother had always wanted him to grow up in the Chinese culture, whereas his stepmother wanted him to become Americanized. Moreover, his father wanted him to follow his footsteps and pursue a military career. Lee did eventually enroll at West Point Academy.

Lee’s second book, Honor and Duty, tells a fictionalized version of the author’s life at West Point. Kai Ting, Lee’s alter ego, is exposed to demanding physical activity, harassment of incoming students, and the sometimes prejudiced view of his peers toward a Chinese...

(The entire section is 891 words.)


(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

Gus Lee came to writing late in life, at age forty-five, after careers in the military and as a lawyer. In 1989, his daughter asked him a question about his mother, and that simple question led to his first book, China Boy, in 1991. Born in San Francisco in a tough black neighborhood, the Panhandle, Lee found his childhood full of danger on the streets. At home he felt divided. His father and mother had come from mainland China in the early 1940’s and were wealthy and educated. His father had a military background and had fought for the Nationalist army. His mother had been educated by American Christian missionaries. Lee’s mother died when he was five years old, and his new stepmother had new ideas about the traditional Chinese ways. Lee had to fight in the streets, with the help of boxing courses he took at the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). He also had to battle at home with his stepmother, who wanted him to become more American.

His first novel, China Boy, uses many autobiographical events to tell the story of a young boy, Kai Ting, who is growing up in San Francisco. Skinny, weak, and timid, Kai Ting finds a friend at the neighborhood YMCA, learns self-defense, and returns to the streets with more confidence.

Lee describes the early days as being very stifled by rules at home. Lee rebelled against his controlling stepmother, reading his homework but refusing to concentrate. He got good grades but was...

(The entire section is 462 words.)


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Shen, Yichin. “The Site of Domestic Violence and the Altar of Phallic Sacrifice in Gus Lee’s China Boy.” College Literature 29, no. 2 (2002): 99-114. Examines Lee’s representation ofdomestic violence and its impacts on the characters in the novel.

Simpson, Janice C., and Iyer Pico. “Fresh Voices Above the Noisy Din.” Time 137 (June 3, 1991): 66-67. Discusses Lee and three other Chinese American writers: Gish Jen, David Wong Louie, and Amy Tan.

So, Christine. “Delivering the Punch Line: Racial Combat as Comedy in Gus Lee’s China Boy.” MELUS 21, no. 4 (1996): 141-155. Looks at Lee’s representation of humor as a way of expressing assimilation into American culture.

Stone, Judy. “Gus Lee: A China Boy’s Rites of Passage.” Publishers Weekly 243, no. 12 (March 18, 1996): 47-49. Interview includes biographical information.