Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Register of the Choh Hao Li Papers, 1937-1987
MSS 88-9  
View entire collection guide What's This?
Search this collection
Collection Overview
Table of contents What's This?
The Choh Hao Li papers consist of 52 cartons and 2 boxes containing files spanning his career at the University of California, (1938-87) with the bulk of the material dating from the 1960s through his retirement from the Hormone Research Laboratory (1983). The papers represent his scientific, administrative, collegial and private life. Topics covered by the papers include research documentation (laboratory notebooks, paper drafts, tables, and correspondence about research with a variety of colleagues), acquisition of research materials --especially animal and human pituitary glands, work on advisory, editorial and other professional committees, clinical trials and requests for help from the public, and some materials on the direction of the Hormone Research Laboratory and University of California administrative files. There are also some biographical and personal items in the collection, including material on Li's visa status in the 1930s and 40s, as well as letters to and from his wife and children during his lengthy travels. Materials in the collection include: correspondence, laboratory notebooks, research notes, manuscripts, reprints, administrative files, annual reports, photographs, illustrations, and scrapbooks.
Born April 21, 1913 in Canton China, Choh Hao Li received a B.S. (Chemistry) from the University of Nanking and taught there for two years before coming to U.C. Berkeley in 1935. After receiving his Ph.D. in Physio-organic Chemistry from Berkeley in 1938 he went to work as a Research Assistant in Herbert McLean Evan's Experimental Biology Laboratory advancing to lecturer and then through Assistant and Associate Professor. In 1950 he was made full professor and became the first director of the newly created Hormone Research Laboratory (HRL). Li moved with the HRL to the University of California San Francisco campus in 1967. He officially retired in 1983, but as emeritus professor, from 1983 until his death in 1987, he headed the Laboratory of Molecular Endocrinology.One of 11 children of a Cantonese industrialist, Li grew up in a family that stressed education. All of his siblings attended college, many going on to advanced study, and at least three spending some time in the United States. His elder brother Choh-Ming Li, received a doctorate in Economics from U.C. Berkeley and later became the Vice-Chancellor of the Chinese University in Hong Kong and was considered for a UN education post. Another brother, Choh-Luh, was a neurosurgeon at the National Institute for Health (NIH), in Bethesda, Maryland, and a third brother, Choh Hsien, was director of Minneapolis-Honeywell Corporation's research division. Li met his future wife, Shen Hwai Lu (Annie), in 1931 at the University of Nanking. They married in 1938, after he had received his doctorate and convinced her to pursue graduate studies in the United States. She received her masters in Agricultural Economics from U.C. Berkeley when their eldest child was two. Mrs. Li reported that C.H. discussed the titles, introductions and conclusions of his papers with her, allowing her to make suggestions and briefed her on the daily happenings at the laboratory. He worked 6 or 7 days a week until he was in his in his mid-fifties and she convinced him to cut back to 5 days so that they could spend their weekends in the country. They had three children all of whom received professional degrees. Their son, Wei-i, became a doctor, and daughters Anne-si and Eva , a veterinarian and an environmental designer.Li graduated from Pui Ying High School in Canton in 1929, at sixteen years of age, and went on the University of Nanking where he received his bachelors degree in 1933. After teaching two years at Nanking (1933-35) he applied for admission to graduate schools in the United States. The University of California at Berkeley where his older brother Choh-Ming was attending was his first choice. However he did receive immediate acceptance into the U.C. program, because the Dean, Gilbert Newton Lewis was skeptical of Li's Chinese undergraduate degree. The University of Michigan at Ann Arbor did accept him. On his way East to Ann Arbor Li stopped at Berkeley to visit his brother and make one last try at admittance. Li showed Dean Lewis his first scientific paper in English, recently published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society (JACS). The paper's senior researcher, Ward V. Evans of Northwestern University, was known and respected by Lewis, and subsequently Li was admitted to the program on six months probation. Three years later, in 1938, Li received his doctorate degree.Anti-Asian sentiment was strong during the Depression, making jobs and housing difficult to find for a young Chinese man. Biologist Herbert Evans took an interest in the young chemist and offered him a tiny work space in the Basement of his Experimental Biology Laboratory (EBLl) in the Life Sciencees Building at Berkeley. At the EBL, Evans was beginning to explore the workings of the pituitary galnd and Li's chemistry background was essential for the success of the research. However, this cooperation between Chemistry and Biology was new and his biologist lab-mates reportedly did not know what to make of Li and left him to his own devices. It was during these early years with Dr. Evans that Li developed the techniques necessary to isolate hormones from the brain and identify their chemical structure. This research paved the way for a series of discoveries which greatly increased scientific knowledge and had a profound effect on the understanding and treatment of a variety of diseases and conditions. Beyond his academic and lab duties Li was very active in the wider scientific community serving on the Scientific Advisory Board for the Sloan Kettering Institute for Cancer Research, New York (1952-55), and as Scientific Advisor for the Children's Cancer Research Foundation, Boston (1963-73), in the United States. He was also active in promoting the study of science and specifically Biochemistry in China through his service on the advisory boards of two Chinese Institutions. He served on the Academic Advisory Board of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (1963 -87), and as Chairman of the Advisory Board (1971-77), then as Corresponding Member (1979-83) and finally again as Chairman (1983-87) of the Institute of Biological Chemistry of the Academia Sinica in Taipei, Taiwan,There are no documents relating to his editing of vol 13 (1987).
Since some of the materials in the Li papers contain medical information on named individuals all users of the collection must sign a confidentiality agreement, stating that they will not use the names of any individual in association with medical information. Carton 49-56 have further restrictions on use, consult with Special Collections staff on availabilty.