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October 27, 2021
  • Chung H. Lee

On August 8, 2021, 100 people gathered under a big white tent in the UH Mānoa quad – bordered by Hawaiʻi, Crawford and Dean halls – to celebrate the life of the late Chung H. Lee. He was already an established scholar (armed with a PhD from UC Berkeley and appointments in England) when he moved to Hawaiʻi in 1980 to teach hundreds of Economics students. Chung also served in UH leadership roles including chair of the department, director of the Center for Korean Studies and CSS associate dean.

His impact was huge. “For me, he was a true mentor,” said Economics Professor and Chair Sang-Hyop Lee. “He knew the exact definition of mentorship, which begins with building relationships and offering encouragement and wise advice.” Added CSS Dean Denise Eby Konan, “An extraordinary scholar, Chung Lee melded Asian thought with economic theory in revolutionary ways. He left an indelible mark on the Economics Department and the College of Social Sciences through integrity and compassion. He is dearly missed.”

Anne Lee has established a lecture fund in honor of her late husband to support the Economics Department’s seminar series, which brings distinguished lecturers to campus so students and faculty can broaden their understanding of Economics. She is appreciative of the kind words at the August 8 celebration for life. Three excerpts from eulogies:

“Chung was a leading light in the study of East Asian economic development, and was a pioneer in understanding the origins and implications of the post-war Asian economic miracle. He was one of the first prominent academics to underscore the importance of industrial structure and the problems that the chaebol (a large industrial conglomerate that is run and controlled by a person or family in South Korea) posed for the future growth of the Korean economy. He predicted the Asian Financial Crisis that devastated the Korean economy in 1997. Chung was one of the first academics to study economic integration in Northeast Asia, including the rise of China and the implications for Japan and Korea. As someone who lived through the Korean War and suffered under the North Korean occupation of Seoul, he was deeply committed to the cause of peace, and saw closer economic integration as a means to achieve it. With Chung’s passing, the economics profession has lost one of its most insightful scholars.” – Andrew Mason, UH Economics emeritus professor, paraphrasing Michael Plummer, director of SAIS (School of Advanced International Studies) Europe and Eni Professor of International Economics at the Johns Hopkins University.

“Chung and Anne Lee stopped in Honolulu in 1973 on their way back from Korea to Ohio, where they lived. Annie recalled that I took them to Hanauma Bay. It was during that time that we talked about the possibility of Chung coming to UH as a visiting professor. They spent the year in Mānoa, 1975-76. That led to further discussions of Chung possibly coming to UH Mānoa permanently. The department had a growing and thriving PhD program focusing on trade and development, and those were his areas of interest. But like all things at UH, it took a while to get all the arrangements worked out. When the offer finally went out to him in late spring 1980, housing prices were going through the roof in Honolulu. I felt badly for Chung and Annie, who had to give up a house in Ohio that was featured in a regional architecture magazine to buy a tract home in Hawaiʻi Kai. That house, like others in Hawaiʻi Kai, had a shake roof, which leaked when it rained heavily. I remember climbing up to their roof one time, cutting up some beer and soda cans into aluminum sheets, and sliding them under the roof shakes to stop the leaks. Chung never complained. Until the very end, he maintained that Lucky We Live Hawaii.” – Jim Mak, UH Economics emeritus professor.

“Chung was a serious and hardworking scholar and dean. But, sometimes, he was wild and crazy. Once we were getting off the elevator on the third floor of Hawaiʻi Hall with an empty hand truck. As I was wheeling it down the hall, Chung jumps on and start yelling ‘Yee-Haw!’ like a cowboy riding a wild bull. Halfway down the hall, a door from the conference room opens and a higher-up gave us stink eye, and said we were disrupting a meeting. We bowed our apologies and Chung waited until we were in our office before he let out more ‘Yee-Haws’ . . . There were many after-hour conversions with just the two of us. We talked about politics, world events, science and, our favorite debate, self-interest vs. altruism. While Chung always argued for self-interest, he always acted for the greater good . . . It was during one of those after-hour gatherings that Chung informed me that he had Parkinson’s disease and that he wanted to retire. I tried to convince him otherwise but he wouldn’t listen. He wanted to retire because he did not want to embarrass the College in any way.” – Richard “Dick” Dubanoski, former CSS Dean.

For more information on the Dr. Chung Lee Distinguished Lecturer Fund, see

This story was originally featured in the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa College of Social Sciences newsletter, October 2021.

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