This October, the Northwest Asian Weekly presents the Visionary Awards Gala, an event honoring visionaries in the APA community.
By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
The completion of the Seattle Chinese Garden would be Stella Chien’s dream come true.
Chien has played an integral role in the garden since its beginning. She loves flowers and gardening. But the main reason Chien wants to see the garden finished is because, after multiple wars, revolutions, and broken families, Chien just wants to see Chinese culture appreciated.
“Living through the war period made me a stronger person,” said Chien. “I lived a comfortable life, but I also experienced serious tragedies.
The tragedies made me strong, but mainly I’m proud to be Chinese, and I want Chinese culture to be well appreciated in the world.”
Chien was born in Manchuria in 1931. By the time she was 16, Chien had lived through the Manchurian Incident, World War II and the Chinese Civil War. The conflicts threw her family apart, separating her from her parents. In their place, she was raised by her grandparents, and spent her youth moving from city to city, fleeing conflict. After time in Nanjing, Beijing, and Shanghai, she finally settled in Taipei, where she attended National Taiwan University. After college, she and her husband moved to the United States in the 1950s to raise a family.
“My own family members suffered a lot over the years due to separation and war,” Chien said. “To me, a happy family with happy personalities is very important to have in order to live in a happy world. That has been my goal my whole life.”
In addition to raising her two daughters and working nearly two decades at Overlake Hospital’s finance department, Chien and her husband have spent their time in the United States promoting Chinese culture.
Although Chien remains humble about her life achievements, she and her husband — along with several other founding members — started the Hwa Sheng Chinese Opera Club in 1967, with some members continuing to perform today.
The couple also started the first Sichuan restaurant in the Seattle area and introduced Northern Chinese culture and food to the region. She became involved in the Seattle Chinese Women’s Club, and during her term as club president, planning began for the Seattle Chinese Language School. The Women’s Club and the Chinese Language School continue to serve the community today.
Chien started volunteering for the Seattle Chinese Garden over a decade ago after a friend introduced her to the project. The garden, one of the largest Chinese gardens outside of China and the first to accurately represent the Sichuan Style, was created to strengthen Seattle’s sister city relationship with Chongqing, China. Chien knew from the beginning that it was the perfect place for her to promote Chinese culture and satisfy her love for flowers and gardening.
To this day, she is still very involved with the garden.
“Stella came into the project very early on and has been incredibly devoted to it for the entire way,” said Jim Dawson, vice president of the Seattle Chinese Garden board. “She certainly sees it as a legacy project, both for herself and her late husband, John. For Stella and her family, it’s a legacy project, she sees it as a legacy project for the entire Chinese community and that’s why she’s been devoted to it.”
Both Dawson and board president Jonathan Geiger attested to Chien’s incredible knowledge of the many layers of Chinese culture and plants.
“The garden has that aspect of special significance to her even to the point that when John passed away, she contributed to the construction of our current entry path that leads to the Seattle Chinese Garden,” Geiger said.
Chien continues to support the garden in very active ways and she and her family have been some of the largest contributors in terms of funding.
“She is like a matron figure of the garden,” Geiger said. “She was digging trees the other day, and to see her physically getting involved is very inspiring to a lot of people and certainly me as the president. Frankly, she’s a role model and a reason why I put so much time into the garden.”
“Her passion and persistence are compelling to our board. She has a gentle but firm way of encouraging us to pursue,” he continued.
“She has been just priceless in talking to other people in support of the garden, coming to the events, speaking in support of the garden. She does it in such a humble manner and grabs everyone by the heart strings when she talk about the legacy,” Dawson said.
And for Chien, that legacy is what she’s focused on.
“If I won the lottery, I would donate the money to build the garden. It’s my dream to finish that garden and promote traditional Chinese culture,” Chien said. (end)
The Visionary Awards Gala is Oct. 18 at China Harbor Restaurant from 6–9 p.m. Tickets are available for $70 before Oct. 15 and $80 afterwards. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Nina Huang can be reached at email@example.com.