Seligman is a D.C.-based, retired corporate executive whose work in government, business and public relations has taken him to Taiwan, Beijing and Hong Kong. He has written many books on China and the Chinese. His latest, a biography called "Three Tough Chinamen," came out last month.
What got you into studying Chinese-American history?
I've always been interested in history. But the story of the Chinese in America, until recently, has largely been ignored. Most people think of 19th-century Chinese-Americans as the men who built the Transcontinental Railroad, but there were many other tales and many other interesting characters. Few of them are remembered today, and that's a real shame.
What has your experience of working in business both in the United States and China been like?
I spent eight years of my life in China. I was fortunate to be among the first Americans who went to live in the People's Republic of China after the U.S. and China established diplomatic relations in 1979. This was just a few years after the Cultural Revolution. I've been privileged to watch the amazing development of China. It still is not an easy place to do business, but there are many opportunities there for those who have determination and patience.
What is your book about?
This is my first biography. It's the story of three exceptional brothers who came to the U.S. in the 19th century and built their lives here. They were able to achieve a remarkable degree of success against tremendous odds. One of them graduated from an American medical school, another headed the most powerful Chinese organization in America, and the third led his community in the fight for citizenship. I think the real achievement in this book was that I was able to bring these men back to life and, through them, offer a window on the experience of a group of early immigrants America welcomed only grudgingly.
- Abby Hamblin