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Dancer Yuanyuan Tan and actor Joan Chen honored for breaking the ‘Bamboo Ceiling’

China Institute co-chair Yue-Sai Kan gives the award to Yuanyuan Tan, a principal dancer of San Francisco Ballet, on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023 in South San Francisco. | Han Li/The Standard

Twelve notable Asian American women who have excelled in their fields were honored for their career achievements and for breaking the “bamboo ceiling,” including San Francisco Ballet’s principal dancer Yuanyuan Tan and actor Joan Chen.

China Institute, a 97-year-old New York-based nonprofit that focuses on U.S.-China relations, hosted the event in South San Francisco on Thursday night.

“At a time of rising anti-Asian hate, I want people to know that we Asian women have made tremendous contributions to American society,” said Yue-Sai Kan, co-chair of China Institute.

Kan, a prominent fashion icon who’s also a household name in China, said she was stunned that the Bay Area is home to so many outstanding Chinese American women. She said her visit spurred her to recognize and honor their contributions.

The dozen honorees came from a wide range of fields, including business, politics, arts and entertainment.

Tan, an immigrant from Shanghai, made history by becoming the youngest principal dancer of the San Francisco Ballet in 1997 at the age of 20. She attended Thursday’s event and immediately headed back for another performance.

Philanthropist Gorretti Lui and actress Joan Chen receive honors from China Institute on Jan. 26, 2023, in South San Francisco. | Han Li/The Standard

Another immigrant from Shanghai, Chen started her Hollywood career after gaining fame in China in the late 1970s. She rose to prominence by starring in the Oscar-winning film The Last Emperor in 1987 and has won top awards in Asia for her acting and directing works.

Other honorees include businesswomen Stella Li, Sarah Guo and Margaret Wong, cultural ambassador Phoebe Chen Huang and philanthropist Gorretti Lui.

Chrissy Luo from the Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Institute, who committed one billion dollars for brain research, and Hollywood actress Maggie Q of the Divergent film series, were also honored.

“I am humbled,” Chen said, “to be amongst so many wonderful, achieved special women.”

Retired San Francisco Superior Court Judge Lillian Sing receives an honor from China Institute on Jan. 26, 2023, in South San Francisco. | Han Li/The Standard

China Institute is launching a new Chinese Culinary Center to elevate Chinese cooking in America and the world. Celebrity chefs Martin Yan, Ho Chee Boon, George Chen and Larry Chu are among its advisers.

Retired San Francisco Superior Judge Lillian Sing, another awardee, praised efforts to improve the relations between the two countries through food.

“Chinese cuisine touches the heart and soul of everybody,” Sing said. “I don't care if you're Republican or Democrat. We all love Chinese food.”