Arrow-right Camera
News >  Spokane

Locke, Wife To Trace China Connections Governor, With Trade Mission, Spouse Have Meandering Roots In Fabled Land

Gov. Gary Locke and his wife, Mona Lee Locke, both are children of Chinese immigrants, but they have radically different family histories.

Next month, they will return to the land of their forebears. Locke is beginning a trade mission to Asia on Oct. 1, and his wife will join him for a side trip to his ancestral village in southeast China.

Locke’s family saga is one of impoverished villagers who came to the United States to earn money for a better life.

Mona Locke’s relatives were influential Chinese nationalists whose once-comfortable existence was jeopardized by changing politics.

She is still considering whether to visit the Shanghai home that was confiscated from her politically active grandmother, Rosa Lam, during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution and given back 10 years ago.

Class distinctions might have kept Gary, now 47, and Mona, 32, apart if their families had remained in China. As it was, the couple met on a blind date in 1993, when he was King County executive and she was a reporter at KING-TV. They married in 1994.

Though different in many ways, the family histories of the Lockes are still powerfully linked.

“When things are not viable, where do you look for hope?” asked David Bachman, a University of Washington China studies professor. “You come to the U.S.”

The governor’s great-grandfather came to America to help build railroads, like many other Chinese, said his father, James Locke.

Locke’s grandfather, Suey Gim, was born in the United States. He worked as a houseboy in Olympia at the turn of the century and then as a cook at Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, James Locke said.

But Suey Gim went home to find a wife and start a family in the village where his father was born. He was not able to bring his family to the United States until the 1930s.

The governor often speaks of his immigrant background to demonstrate that anyone can be successful in America.

During World War II, James Locke served in the U.S. Army. He also returned to the family village to marry a Hong Kong woman he met through friends.

After the war, the couple opened a restaurant in Seattle and raised three daughters and two sons.

Their eldest son, Gary, won a scholarship to Yale. He worked as a county prosecuting attorney and state legislator before becoming the first Asian-American governor in the mainland United States.

Mona Locke’s family enjoyed a long history of wealth and political prominence before coming to the United States.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, her great-grandfather, Lee Tai-soon, was an official in the Kuomintang regime, a nationalist party that fought for a shift from imperial society to a more democratic republic. Her grandfather, T.K. Lee, was president of China’s Central Bank, a position held by only the most loyal followers of the regime.

Grandmother Rosa Lam married into the highest echelons of power. When her union with Lee ended, she married Sun Fo, the son of Sun Yat-sen, a legendary political figure known as the father of the modern Republic of China.

Sun Fo ultimately had a political falling out with Chiang Kai-shek, who in 1949 was driven from the mainland to Taiwan by Chinese Communists.

Rosa Lam fled China for Hong Kong around 1948 with her son, Larry Lee, Mona Locke’s father.

Larry Lee came to the United States in 1959 to attend graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. An entrepreneur, he still lives in the Bay Area with Mona Locke’s mother, who was also born in China.

Rosa Lam, who lost all her Shanghai property during the Cultural Revolution, left China with virtually nothing. She moved to the United States and became a citizen in 1976.

In 1987, the Chinese government was embracing economic modernization and invited Rosa Lam to return to her home in Shanghai, where she was provided with a staff to maintain the family’s property.

She stayed in China until her death last year.

The repatriation of property under Deng Xiaoping was “very typical,” said Ron Chew, director of the Wing Luke Asian Museum in Seattle. By appeasing those it snubbed decades earlier, the Chinese government could start rebuilding alliances around the world, he said.

In hamlets surrounding the Locke family village, new bicycles for the children and some repairs were paid for by overseas relatives who still send money to their families in China, said Brian Lock, a distant relative of the governor’s who recently visited his family village.