Him Mark Lai: Dean of Chinese American History (November 11, 1925 - May 21, 2009)

The Roots Village Database is dedicated to the late Mr. Him Mark Lai. 

Him Mark Lai, Co-Founder of the “In Search of Roots” 尋根 program, was an American historian.  Born in 1925 in San Francisco, he has devoted most of his life to collecting, researching and writing about Chinese American history and communities. 

While his professional training and career has been as a mechanical engineer, Him Mark Lai’s true passion and avocation has been Chinese American history.  Him Mark has spent decades avidly searching for and collecting Chinese-sourced and English-sourced materials on Chinese American history.  His meticulous research has resulted in seminal works published and which have contributed to the richness and depth of Chinese American and indeed Asian American studies. The Chronicle of Higher Education has proclaimed Him Mark Lai as “the Scholar who legitimized the study of Chinese America.”  

Since 1991, Him Mark Lai served as the historical and geographical adviser for the In Search of Roots program, sponsored by the Chinese Culture Center of San Francisco.  He has developed and authored the reference materials that provide the historical context in which the Roots Interns learn of their ancestral heritage.  More importantly, through his intimate knowledge of Chinese American migration and history, Him Mark has been an invaluable resource in identifying and locating ancestral villages, a process made the more complex given the history of “paper names” and other complexities resulting from distance, time and diversity of the Chinese people. The 2008 class of the In Search of Roots program was the last to be able to work directly with Him Mark.