Books – Chinese Canada

This is a page of book reviews for materials about Chinese Canada, both fiction and non-fiction. Also see the Books for Genealogists page. Hint: click on the picture to access the link.

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Chong, D. (2006). The concubine’s children: the story of a family living on two sides of the globe. Toronto, ON: Penguin Canada Books Inc. I had the opportunity to meet Denise at a writer’s workshop in 2016, and was immediately struck by her sagacity and focus, not to mention skills, in the art of the memoir. Talking to her immediately made me yearn to reread this classic, and I was struck anew with her prose. If you haven’t read The concubine’s children lately, try it again. You won’t regret it. (1995 edition is shown.)

Lives of the family

Chong, D. (2014). Lives of the family: stories of fate & circumstance. Toronto, ON: Vintage Canada. These are the stories of Chinese Canadian families in Ontario, Canada, in the mid-20th century. For a genealogist, facts are good, but it’s stories that fire the imagination, and when the author is as good as Denise Chong, you can’t help but learn along with being entertained.

Jade Peony

Choy, W. (1995). The jade peony. Madeira Park, BC: Douglas & McIntyre (2013) Ltd. Wayson Choy brings historical Chinatown vividly to life in this fictional novel of a family growing up in the 1930s-1940s. The novel is fiction, but it might well be any Chinese family in 1930s Vancouver, it is so accurately and poignantly drawn. It won the 1995 Trillium Prize and the 1995 City of Vancouver Book Award, and spent half a year on the Globe & Mail bestseller list. Nine years later, Wayson published…

All that matters

Choy, W. (2004). All that mattersAnchor Canada. The sequel to Wayson Choy’s The jade peonyAll that matters revisits the Chen family, but this time from the eyes of eldest son Kiam-Kim. Winner of the 2004 Trillium book prize, shortlisted for the 2005 Giller Prize, All that matters is both the sequel and the companion to The jade peony.

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Glynn-Ward, H. (1974). The writing on the wall: Chinese and Japanese immigration to BC, 1920. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press. This book was originally published in 1921 and is less an historical account than a badly crafted rant which says more about the author’s fear than much else. This is a hard read – it is racist in the extreme not only in its terminology but also in the reasoning. I keep it on hand as a reminder of the zeitgeist of the Chinese in Canada in the 1920s.

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Hern, F. (2011) Yip Sang and the first Chinese Canadians. Victoria, BC: Heritage House. A novel about the legendary Yip Sang, who came to America as a penniless boy, and died in Vancouver after having founded a dynasty.

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Huang, E. (1992). Chinese Canadians: voices from a community. Vancouver, BC: Douglas & McIntyre. The author collected interviews from 20 prominent Chinese Canadians from Adrienne Clarkson to David Lam. Reading through their accounts of life in Canada is inspirational and humbling, and the book itself is beautifully done.

Listen to the squawking chicken

Lui, E. (2014). Listen to the squawking chicken. Toronto, ON: Vintage Canada. A by turns loving and eyebrow-raising memoir from Elaine Lui, better known as LaineyGossip. People have been shocked by some of Ms. Lui’s revelations about her family life, and her upbringing. If you read it, let me know what you think.

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Ma, A. (2010). How the Chinese created Canada. Alberta, Canada: Dragon Hill Publishing Ltd. The author looks at the history of the Chinese in Canada from a personal perspective.

Manser, M. (1999). Concise English-Chinese / Chinese-English Dictionary. Hong Kong, China: Oxford University Press. For the absolute beginner in the Chinese language, this dictionary’s clear organization and explanations will not only provide the exact translations, but will also establish a logical framework for understanding Chinese characters. A must have. (Note: 4th edition is pictured.)

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Menzies, G. (2003). 1421: the year China discovered the world. London, UK: Bantam Books. The author, a retired submarine captain, theorizes that the New World was not first discovered by Columbus, but by Captain Zheng He. Is he, as the London Telegraph wrote, a visionary or a madman? It’s a compelling story.

SeaSterileMountains

Morton, J. (1974). In the sea of sterile mountains: the Chinese in British Columbia. Vancouver, BC: JJ Douglas Ltd. If you are interested in the history of the Chinese in Canada, there are relatively limited resources available (at least in English), and this book will pop up on reading lists. The author, a medical doctor and professor, conducted his research mainly by reading the newspapers of the day. It might be an indication of the times, it might be other factors, but I find the overall tone patronizing. I keep it on hand mainly as a reminder of the prevailing attitudes of the 1970s. Here’s another review that seems to agree with me.

black_candle

Murphy, E. The black candle. (1922). In my mind, this is the book that lost Ms. Murphy, aka Judge Murphy, aka The Famous Five member Murphy, her place on a Canadian banknote as a notable female of Canada. Like her counterpart Ms. Glynn-Ward (see review on this page), Ms. Murphy’s book is a thinly disguised rant about the Chinese in Canada.

Fun with Chinese Characters

Peng, T. H. Fun with Chinese characters. (1995). Singapore: Federal Publications (S) Pte Ltd. If you’re going to learn a language like Chinese, my recommendation is to try to make it as fun as possible. This is not the time to be proud: if you’re reading at a primary level in another language, take heart from the fact that you are reading in another languageHighly recommended, and there are several volumes to choose from.

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Ward, P. (1990). White Canada forever: popular attitudes and public policy towards Orientals in British Columbia. Montreal, PQ: McGill Queen’s University Press. The author, a history professor, studies the origins of racism on the west coast. For me, this is a good source to have on hand, but too much on the dry side for casual reading.

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Wong, M. (1994). The dragon and the maple leaf: Chinese Canadians in World War II. Toronto, ON: The Bryant Press Limited. A unique, short run book that is my primary resource on this topic. The appendix lists all known Chinese Canadians who served with the Canadian and Allied forces. You may get lucky, as I did, and find a secondhand copy for a reasonable price.

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Wright, R. (1988). In a strange land: a pictorial record of the Chinese in Canada 1788-1923. Saskatoon, SK: Western Producers Prairie Books. A book that illustrates “that for most Canadians, the Chinese…were seen as a curiosity, a useful labour force, a racial minority…” (pg. 1), and doesn’t attempt to stray too far from that perspective.

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Yee, P. (2005). Chinatown: an illustrated history of the Chinese communities of Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax. Toronto, ON: James Lorimer & Company Ltd. The author takes his curiosity about the Chinese in Canada to the other cities, collecting stories along the way.

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Yee, P. (2006). Saltwater City: an illustrated history of the Chinese in Vancouver. Vancouver, BC: Douglas & McIntyre. Tightly researched, well written and organized, beautifully illustrated, and with a comprehensive list of sources and a  reading list in the Notes section. I’m especially fond of this book because the author did some of his research by talking to members of my family.