C.Y. Lee, born in Hunan, China, received a B.A. degree from Southwest Associated University, Kunming, China, and an M.F.A. with a major in playwriting from Yale University.
Before his American education, Lee worked during World War II as Secretary to the Sawba of Mangshih, a small principality on the China-Burma border. The experience resulted in a series of articles published in the New Yorker magazine and, later, a book entitled The Sawba and his Secretary (British edition: A Corner of Heaven). A television series based on the book was made and aired in Taiwan.
Lee wrote his first novel, The Flower Drum Song, in San Francisco while he was city editor of a Chinese language newspaper in Chinatown. The book was a New York Times best-seller; as FLOWER DRUM SONG it subsequently became a Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical and a Universal film.
C.Y. Lee is the author of nine novels and two non-fiction books published in English and many European and Asian languages. His works include Lover's Point, The Sawba and His Secretary, Madame Goldenflower, The Virgin Market, Land of the Golden Mountain, Days of the Tong Wars, China Saga, Gate of Rage, Second Son of Heaven and others.
Besides writing books, short stories and articles, Lee also worked with David Brown in 1960 as a script writer for 20th Century Fox studios.
He is the recipient of a California Commonwealth Club Gold Medal Fiction Award, a San Francisco Press Club and Union League Annual Award, a Writers' Guild Annual Award for Writing Achievement and a Box Office Blue Ribbon Award. He has received the key to the City of San Francisco.
A member of the Authors' League and Dramatists' Guild of America, a C.Y. Lee archive has been established at Boston University's Mugar Memorial Library. The annual C.Y. Lee Creative Writing Contest for the encouragement of Asian American literature and scholarship has been established at Cal State L.A.