By Casey Michie
A new exhibit titled “We Are Bruce Lee” slated to debut this fall at the Chinese Historical Society of America (CHSA) museum will offer guests an immersive look into the life and legacy of Bruce Lee.
The CHSA Museum, located in San Francisco’s Chinatown where Bruce Lee was born, was founded in 1963 and serves as the oldest organization in the United States dedicated to the “interpretation, promotion, and preservation of the social, cultural and political history and contributions of the Chinese in America,” according to their website.
Throughout the organization’s tenure, they have promoted Chinese legacy and culture in America through publications, museum exhibitions and public programs. While currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, CHSA has maintained a large online presence, and “We Are Bruce Lee” is scheduled to mark a return to in-person exhibits.
Jane Chin, project lead of the exhibit, notes that she hopes the opening of the exhibit will be a celebration, “We want to share the spirit of Bruce Lee as well as revitalize Chinatown by welcoming people back into the community. It’s an upbeat idea, where people can get out of their cocoon, where people can come together and celebrate the end of a hard year.”
The exhibit itself will offer guests a glimpse into the life of Bruce Lee, with “rarely displayed artifacts including drawings and handwritten letters, historic photos, memorabilia, video and film, artwork, and technology designed to create interactive, graphically stunning displays.” Through these rare artifacts, guests can learn and appreciate the incredible impact Bruce Lee had on the Bay Area community.
“It is so fitting to tell the story about a man born here in Chinatown,” Chin notes. “[Lee] was born two blocks from the museum, and in many ways it’s like bringing a native home.”
Bruce Lee was born in San Francisco in 1940 to parents on tour with the Chinese Opera. He spent his childhood and early working life in Hong Kong, where he was first introduced to martial arts and played multiple roles as a child actor. Upon his return to the United States, he began teaching martial arts and opened his first studio in Seattle. In 1964, Lee moved to Oakland, where he would establish another school at 4175 Broadway in the north of the city.
It was here in the Bay Area that Bruce Lee would hone his unique style of martial arts, a practice which broke from the rigid traditional form and instead emphasized improvisation. His style became known as Jeet Kune Do, or “The Way of the Intercepting Fist.” His studio in the Bay Area became known locally as a welcoming center for students of all cultural backgrounds interested in learning Lee’s brand of martial arts.
It was his unique style that caught the attention of Hollywood executives, eventually leading to multiple movie productions including titles such as “The Big Boss,” “Way of the Dragon,” and “Fist of Fury.” Lee not only played leading roles in the films, but also produced and choreographed for works such as “Enter the Dragon,” a film that turned an $800,000 production budget into a $300 million international hit.
Catastrophically, Lee’s life was cut short at the age of 32, when he experienced an adverse reaction to aspirin in the summer of 1973. His legacy, however, lives on as a beacon of perseverance and community both in the Bay Area and abroad.
“During these troubling times of economic and social strife, this exhibit will educate, inspire, and unite people of all backgrounds to embrace the very best qualities of themselves, just as Bruce Lee did throughout his tragically short life,” organizers of the exhibit said.
It is here that the exhibit gets its full name: “We Are Bruce Lee: Under the Sky, One Family.” The line is an homage to a quote of Bruce Lee, where he espouses a philosophy of a shared human experience.
Chin hopes these philosophies and teachings of Bruce Lee will inspire those who attend the exhibit, and that people can witness the Bruce Lee which lives within us all. Like Bruce Lee, we can internalize the idea that, “we all have power within us, and there is a lot we can tap into we don’t even realize,” Chin said.
The exhibit will be located at the CHSA Museum, which is housed in the landmark Chinatown YWCA building at 965 Clay St. Adult tickets are currently $15 for entry into the museum, and City College students can enjoy a discounted student day rate as well as a discounted membership rate.
Please visit the CHSA website for up-to-date information and scheduling regarding the exhibit.