Denise Chong's non-fiction portrait of her family's generational split between China and British Columbia, The Concubine's Children, received the City of Vancouver Book Award in 1994, the VanCity Book Prize, and was shortlisted for a Governor General's Award. Born in Vancouver, Chong grew up in Prince George wondering about possible family connections in China. She urged her mother to help her discover her roots, leading them both back to China. She discovered her grandfather Chan Sam had left behind a wife in 1913 and that her grandmother May Ying had been bought, sight-unseen, as a concubine. The struggle to support two families, one on each side of the Pacific, is at the heart of the story. References to the Head Tax of 1885, race riots in 1887 and the 1923-1947 Exclusion Act are quite secondary. Chong's probing of the familial relationships between Chinese Canadian women has resulted in inevitable comparisons with Amy Tan's bestseller Joy Luck Club.

Chong, who trained as an economist in order to obey the wishes of her parents, left Vancouver to live in Ottawa soon after her book was published. She had previously worked as an economic policy advisor in the Department of Finance and in the Prime Minister's Office under Pierre Trudeau but had always nurtured a love for the arts. "Did we go into arts in my generation?" she told ricepaper magazine in 2004. "We didn't We didn't have any [Asian Canadian] role models either." Her own stage adaptation of her book was produced by Nanaimo's TheatreOne, along with the Port Theatre, for four performances in March of 2004, in order for Chong to continue her re-evaluation of her roots in general and her grandmother in particular, after her grandmother died in a fatal car accident. "I felt I had rendered a harsh judgment on her while she was still alive," Chong said. Directed by David Mann, the stage production of Chong's continuing family history is set during the burning of Nanaimo's Chinatown in 1960.

Following her book about the woman who was depicted around the world in a famous photo of a napalm attack in Viet Nam, The Girl in the Picture, Chong profiled Chinese dissident Lu Decheng, imprisoned for eleven years after he defaced Mao's portrait during the 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square, in Egg on Mao.Egg on Mao: The Story of an Ordinary Man Who Defaced an Icon and Unmasked a Dictatorship. Despite his family's impeccable Communist roots, Lu Decheng grew up intuiting all that was wrong with Mao's China. After eleven years in a Chinese jail, Lu Decheng escaped to Canada, followed by his family, to reside in Calgary.


The Concubine's Children: Portrait of a Family Divided (Penguin 1994 $27.99).

The Girl in the Picture (Penguin)

Egg on Mao: An Ordinary Man Takes Aim on Dictatorship (Random House 2009)

Egg on Mao: A Story of Love, Hope and Defiance (Vintage Canada 2011) 978-0-307-35580-5 $21.00

Lives of the Family: Stories of Fate and Circumstance (2013)

[Alan Twigg / BCBW 2013] "Chinese" "VanCity" "Women"