Born and raised in San Francisco, Lai was trained as an engineer but blazed a trail in the field of Asian American studies. Long before the field had any academic standing, he amassed an unparalleled body of source material on Chinese America and drew on his own transnational heritage and Chinese patriotism to explore the global Chinese experience.
In Chinese American Transnational Politics, Lai traces the shadowy history of Chinese leftism and the role of the Kuomintang of China in influencing affairs in America. With precision and insight, Lai penetrates the overly politicized portrayals of a history shaped by global alliances and enmities and the hard intolerance of the Cold War era. The result is a nuanced and singular account of how Chinese politics, migration to the United States, and Sino-U.S. relations were shaped by Chinese and Chinese American groups and organizations.
Lai revised and expanded his writings over more than thirty years as changing political climates allowed for greater acceptance of leftist activities and access to previously confidential documents. Drawing on Chinese- and English-language sources and echoing the strong loyalties and mobility of the activists and idealists he depicts, Lai delivers the most comprehensive treatment of Chinese transnational politics to date.