Hong Yen Chang was the first Chinese graduate at Columbia University and the first Chinese lawyer in the United States. He was born in Xiangshan County, Guangdong in China, and died on August 4, 1926, in Berkeley, California. In December 2020, Columbia Law School honored Chang by naming its Center for Chinese Legal Studies to the Hong Yen Chang Center for Chinese Legal Studies. Rachelle Chong, Chang’s great-grandniece, thanked Columbia University and described the honor as "unexpected and enormous." Chong said Chang would be delighted in receiving the honor “as he spent most of his life bringing together American and Chinese lawyers, diplomats, politicians, and businesspeople in the furtherance of mutual understanding and peaceful interaction." Behind the honor holds Chang carving out his law career in the United States as there was discrimination against people of color.

Chang arrived in the United States in 1872 through the Chinese Educational Mission, an academic program that allowed overseas education for Chinese boys. After attending Phillips Academy Andover, Yale University, and Columbia University, Chang pursued to get into the New York Bar. Due to discrimination against Chinese people, Chang was not admitted. However, Chang got accepted later because the New York Court of Common Pleas gave him American citizenship in 1878, and the New York State legislature enacted an act in 1888. In 1890, Chang moved to California, hoping to get membership in the California State Bar and be a lawyer for the Chinese community in San Francisco. But because of the Chinese Expulsion Act, Chang’s admission was denied. Therefore, in his lifetime, Chang never practiced law in California. Instead, he joined the Chinese Diplomatic Service, became a banker, and taught Chinese navy trainees in Berkeley.

It was not until 2015 when Chang got admitted into the California State Bar. Discrimination restricted Chang’s career opportunities. According to Gabriel J. Chin, a professor at the UC Davis School of Law, Chang’s honor “is an important recognition of the long history of Asians and other people of color in the United States.” Chang’s story sheds light on the discrimination towards the Chinese in history and pushes us onwards to fight it today.