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6 Famous Asian People with International Success

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Often overlooked in Western pop culture, there have been several notable Asian icons excelling across various industries over the past several decades. From cinema, politics, fashion, business to sports, here are six influential Asian figures who made their mark within their respective fields:

1. Bruce Lee

Born in San Francisco, California, Bruce Lee was more than an actor or martial artist – he remains arguably the greatest global icon of martial arts cinema and a key figure in pop culture. During his youth, he was a child actor in Hong Kong who later returned to the United States to teach martial arts. Bruce Lee became a major box office draw in The Chinese Connection and Fists of Fury. Shortly before the release of his film Enter the Dragon, he died at the age of 32 on July 20, 1973.

Lee’s legacy paved the way for broader depictions of Asian-Americans in Hollywood and bred a new type of action hero in the cinema world with the likes of Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Steven Segal, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. The influence of East Asian martial arts cinema can be found in many film genres ranging from comedies to action – all of which are rooted in the phenomenon that was Bruce Lee.

 

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2. Jack Ma

A true rags-to-riches story, Jack Ma is a Chinese magnate, investor, politician, and philanthropist. Ma grew up poor in communist China where he failed his university-entrance exam twice, and was rejected from dozens of jobs, including KFC, before achieving success with his third internet company, Alibaba.

Before Alibaba, Ma was hired as an English teacher. He had a natural connection with students and loved his job – though he only made $12 a month at a local university. At the World Economic Forum in 2016, Ma revealed that Harvard had rejected him 10 times.

One infamous YouTube video provided an inside look to Ma’s drive and vision behind Alibaba. The grainy clip shows a young Ma pitching to 17 of his friends in his apartment to invest in his vision for an online marketplace – the site allowed exporters to post product listings that customers could buy directly. Alibaba went public in September 2014 and currently has a market cap of $435B.

As of June 2019, Jack Ma’s net worth is estimated to be $35.6MM. A man of many talents, he is one of the most famous people in China and a huge driving force in the Chinese tourism industry, along with their business, technology, and financial sectors.

 

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3. Ali Wong

Starring in the Netflix hit comedy “Always Be My Maybe”, Ali Wong is capturing mainstream notoriety. Born “Alexandra Wong” in Pacific Heights, San Francisco, Wong has been a staple on the comedy circuit for over a decade and is also an actress and writer.

Wong served as student body class president in 2000 at San Francisco University High School. During her undergraduate years at UCLA, Wong discovered her love of performing as a member of the university’s LCC Theatre company – the largest running Asian-American theatre company in the United States.

Currently residing in Los Angeles, California, Wong is married to Justin Hakuta (a Harvard MBA graduate turned entrepreneur) and the couple have two children.

 

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4. Jeremy Lin

The story of Jeremy Lin started in Torrance, California in August 1988. Born Jeremy Shu-How Lin, the current Toronto Raptors point guard attended high school in Palo Alto prior to playing collegiate basketball at Harvard University.

Lin went undrafted and bounced around the then D-League (now G-League) before splitting time between the Golden State Warriors and Houston Rockets in 2011. In 2012, Lin joined the New York Knicks and led a winning turnaround, prompting his meteoric rise to fame and the global craze known as “Linsanity”. Lin is the first American of Chinese or Taiwanese descent to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA) and represents a success story for the few Asian players to have played in the NBA.

In addition to playing for the Warriors and Rockets, Lin has also played for the Los Angeles Lakers, Charlotte Hornets, Brooklyn Nets, and Atlanta Hawks before joining the Raptors en route to becoming the first Asian-American to win an NBA title with the Toronto Raptors in 2019.

 

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5. Alexander Wang

Born in San Francisco, California, Alexander Wang is a world-renowned fashion designer. His lines are now stocked globally in more than 700 stores and other venues including luxury department stores such as Bloomingdale’s, Barney New York, and Saks Fifth Avenue.

At age 18, Wang moved to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design. Wang’s foray to fashion began after he dropped out of Parsons in 2004 to start his own label, initially creating a knitwear collection based on six unisex silhouettes. His label soon became known for its sleek women’s ready-to-wear collection. Wang debuted his first runway collection for Autumn/Winter 2007 at New York Fashion Week.

Today, Alexander Wang remains influential as ever in the fashion world, producing both men- and womenswear main line collections, a diffusion line – T by Alexander Wang, which features men and women footwear and accessories.

 

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6. Tammy Duckworth

Born in Bangkok, Thailand in March 1968, Tammy Duckworth is an Asian-American war veteran and politician. Further to becoming the first Asian-American congresswoman for Illinois and the first member of Congress of Thai descent, Duckworth also became the first disabled woman to be elected to the U.S. House of Representatives.

Growing up, her father worked for the United Nations and traveled frequently, resulting in Duckworth spending her childhood years in numerous countries. Upon graduation, she went on to join the military where she was deployed to serve in the Iraq War in 2004. During the mission, Duckworth lost both her legs after a rocket-propelled grenade struck the lower half of her body.

Despite the adversity, Duckworth transformed into an activist and became the director of the Illinois Department of Veteran Affairs where she heavily advocated for better healthcare facilities for war veterans.

 

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