When Emily Tong was born, her mother initially wanted to give her away because baby girls were deemed worthless in traditional Chinese culture.
But around that time, Ms. Tong's father won the lottery. In addition, his import-export business, which had been experiencing difficult times, began to take off. That helped convince her parents, who had immigrated to Hong Kong from China's Fujian province several years earlier and who had given away two other baby girls, to keep young Emily.Now 45, Ms. Tong is one of many immigrants to the United States helping to foster improved business ties with China.
As president of the New York-based Jade Cricket Co., Ms. Tong consults with U.S. and Chinese technology and finance companies looking to take advantage of opportunities in the other country's market. Her clients include Bay Networks, a computer network company based in Billerica, Mass., that was recently acquired by Nortel, and Fujian Star Computers Group, one of the top computer companies in China.
But while a Wall Street syndication provides the backing for her China ventures today, Ms. Tong arrived in New York from Hong Kong at the age of 18 with just $200 in her pocket. After graduating from Hunter College and obtaining a master's degree in computer science from the University of Illinois, she spent 15 years with IBM.
Ms. Tong left the computer giant in 1993 to form Jade Cricket.
The company is named after Jiminy Cricket, a character from the fairy tale ''Pinocchio'' who helped achieve a puppet's dream of coming to life.
''It is my hope that Jade Cricket can be one of the Jiminy Crickets that help China's dream of attaining a strong capital market,'' said Ms. Tong, who has also co-founded two joint ventures in China. One is a partnership with Legend Computer Group, the largest PC company in China, and the other distributes Hewlett-Packard computers and seeks to develop Chinese software.
The Chinese government estimates that Chinese immigrants have invested $2 billion in the United States, but the real figure is probably three or four times that amount, said N.T. Wong, director of the China International Business Project at Columbia University.
''Chinese immigrants are the link between the two countries,'' said Siching Sung, president of China Business Link, a consulting firm in New York that helps U.S. and Chinese businesses enter the market in both China and the United States.
''But it is not easy for the majority of Chinese to come here to do business. A lot of people don't have the capital or understanding of U.S. culture. The companies that are the most successful are the ones that were started by immigrants who were educated in the United States or came here when they were young,'' he said.
The United States is perceived as the ideal country to have a business because of its free-market economy, said Mr. Wong. In the early days, most Chinese investments in the United States were in natural resources, he said.
''When export volume to the United States (from China) becomes very big, you need facilities, warehousing and a representative office. The wave of investments are now trade related,'' he said.
World Bank experts project that China's import-export volume between 1997 and 2000 may reach $700 billion, said the American Sino Trade Development Council.
China purchased more than $13 billion in goods from the United States in 1997, and this number is rising 10 percent a year, according to the U.S.-China Chamber of Commerce.
China needs to import a variety of hi-technology products and sophisticated management skills to improve its outdated facilities and technologies, the New York-based chamber said.
Companies started by Chinese immigrants to the United States, such as A-Web Internet Service, are helping Chinese companies build computer networks between their offices in China and the United States.
A-Web, based in New York, uses an intranet to link the offices by allowing them to log on to the same server and access data from offices around the world. Intranet cuts down the paperwork a company does because the same information is seen in every office, eliminating the need to fax purchase orders or account information.
Ben Lee, who immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong in 1982, founded A-Web in 1995. The company had $500,000 in revenue last year. A-Web is seeing an increase in the number of Chinese customers it serves, a trend that Mr. Lee expects to continue.
Sea King Co. helps to facilitate trade between the United States and China in the traditional sense.
The 20-man operation generated $10 million last year importing seafood, mainly shrimp, from Chinese ports such as Shanghai, Ningbo, Dalian and Guangzhou, as well as from South America.
The company also exports lobsters from Boston and fish from South America to China.
James Lee, president of Sea King, started the company seven years ago, following his family's tradition of working in the food industry. Like many other Chinese immigrants, Mr. Lee knew that he wanted to start a business when he left Shanghai in 1980 to study computer science at New York University.
His advice to immigrants coming here: don't worry, at the beginning, if your business is small. If you are on the right track, it will grow very fast.