The Concubine's Children
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The Concubine's Children

3.87 of 5 stars 3.87  ·  rating details  ·  954 ratings  ·  75 reviews
"Carefully balancing cool observation and compassion, Chong writes extraordinary history and gives voice to the Chinese immigrant experience."—ALA Booklist.
Paperback, 304 pages
Published January 1st 1996 by Penguin Books (first published January 1st 1995)
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Nov 08, 2008 Betty rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all North Americans and Chinese descendants
Recommended to Betty by: My friend Eileen
The Concubine's Children is a wonderfully crafted non-fiction book written by the granddaughter of the main characters. Chan Sam, a peasant, leaves his wife behind in China in order to go to the fabled "Golden Mountain" as Western Canada was refered to at the time (1913). He brings with him his Concubine, a beautiful but no-nonsense girl, to British Columbia, living in Vancouver's Chinatown. Expectations are high that Canada was a land of riches. All spare money was sent back to Chan Sam's wife...more
Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
Jul 19, 2012 Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone I could talk into reading it
Another incredible memoir. Very well-written. This is one of my absolute favorites.
Steven Langdon
"The Concubine's Children" was first published in 1994, and became a long-time best-seller in Canada, having a major impact on many people's awareness of the past state abuse and discrimination endured by Canada's Chinese-origin population -- especially Chinese women. With the harrowing details in her hard-edged account of some sixty years of the lives of three generations of Chinese wives and daughters (all of it factual and presented with unsparing but calm deliberation,) Denise Chong provided...more
Chan Sam, married to a woman in China, takes on a concubine and moves to the new world of Vancouver, with the hopes of making a fortune to send home to China. May-ying, the concubine has two daughters. The entire Vancouver family goes back to China. May-ying leaves her two daughters in China with Chan Sam's wife when Chan Sam and his concubine moves back to Vancouver. May-ying works hard at waitressing to provide Chan Sam with money to send back to China to support his wife and two daughters, an...more
This book was given to me as a gift and I cannot for the life of me understand why I hadn't read this earlier! A breathtaking memoir that spans a century. Chong writes so intimately, laying forth her family's history for all to see, the bad parts and the good parts.

There is a quote on the front cover from The New York Times Book Review that summarizes this book so perfectly that I have to repeat it here:
"Beautiful, haunting and wise, it lingers in the mind like a portrait one returns to often i...more
This is a family biography, the story of a family split by an ocean and by different ways of life. It’s a sad tale of prejudice, war, and brutality, as well as of love.

Chan Sam had a wife and land in southern China in the 1920s, but word was that one could make enough money at ‘Gold Mountain’- Canada or the USA- for a person to set themselves up for life. So Chan Sam went to Canada to make his fortune. He didn’t like being alone- there were very, very few women in the Chinatowns at the time. He...more
Fascinating and heartbreaking true story of Chinese immigrants in B.C.'s Chinatowns in the mid-1900s. This tale recounts the story of Chan Sam and his progeny. Chan Sam came to Vancouver to make his fortune at the turn of the century. After 11 years he is still waiting for his metaphorical ship to come in, while his wife and child remain in China. Anxious to produce a male heir, he takes a second wife, the titular concubine, who joins him in Canada. But this wife, May-ying, is no wilting flower...more
The memoir of a daughter born in the US (or was it Canada) to a Chinese man and his concubine. She unravels the history of her parents, both flawed in their own way, and her sisters that stayed in China with the 1st wife. An interesting read, although sometimes painful on the daughter's part, that explores the hierarchy and allegiances of the husband, 1st wife, and concubine.
This is the amazing story of a young woman who comes to North America (Canada)as a concubine. It is the story of the author's grandmother and is told with honesty and love. It exposes the injustices Chinese immigrants faced on the North American continent. A great story and a tribute to the author and her family. The story spans three generations, two continents.
So many biographies do not read well, this one reads like fiction - which I mean as a compliment!

Denise Chong grandmother May-Ying was the Concubine who moved to Canada from China to join her husband who she had never met. She lived most of her life in Vancouver, Nanaimo, and Victoria.

The history of British Columbia was as interesting as the family history.
Wow! This book traces the family history of Ms. Chong's maternal side, and how the family was divided between China and Canada. A great history lesson about Vancouver and Nanaimo's Chinatowns, Canada's treatment of the Chinese, and of the hardships faced in China. A must-read.
very interesting read and powerful in that I am extremely grateful not to have lived in such a government dominated society. Too bad more people do not read of the rise of communism and see similar parallels of what is happening in America. The culture of all must be equal and someone working their ass off to provide for family only to have a government say 'we are taking this, you shouldn't have so much when others have so little" thus requiring families to "sell" off children and family having...more
The Concubine's Children is a story about a Chinese family where half lives in China, the other half in Canada. It starts out with the author's great grandfather, and his dreams of bettering himself and his financial situation in Canada. It then follows the family through parts of their lives in Canada and China during the Sino-Japanese war, the Chinese Cultural revolution, the Great Depression that hit both Canada and America, and even the times of strong prejudice that the Chinese faced.

Story Description:

To me, China was what was left behind when the boat carrying my grandmother, pregnant with my mother, docked in Vancouver. China was the soil underfoot in the photograph of the two sisters who, as I thought then, would never meet the third, my mother. China was where you’d find yourself if you dug a hole deep enough to come out the other side of the Earth.

THE CONCUBINE’S CHILDREN is the story of a family cleaved in two for the sake of a father’s dream. There’s Chan Sam, who lef...more
Jul 19, 2010 Dina rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: memoir
It was a struggle on whether to give this book three or four stars; if I could I would give it three and a half stars. What kept it from being four stars was that I got a little confused sometimes between grandparents and parents and siblings, and also I got a little bogged down at times with the historical events of the time, although that was interesting. Nevertheless, this is an engaging story about a complicated family separated by distance and war. The struggles and pain suffered by everyon...more
This is a memoir written by the grandaughter of the concubine. In 1913, her grandfather left his first wife in China to earn a living in Canada. He bought a Chinese concubine, and brought her to Canada to be with him. He returned to China when he could and fathered a sought after son with his first wife. Despite his decade's long absence, he supported his Chinese family, often times with money earned by his concubine in Canada.

The concubine ended up being an abusive mother, alcoholic, and genera...more
Orla Hegarty
A narrative that captures a family divided between China and Gold Mountain (Canada) during most of the 20th century.

My own parents traveled to Canada in order to pursue different dreams and escaped from a different harshness of life left behind in their country of origin yet I am left feeling a kinship with Ms. Chong. She managed to weave together the story of her family and I find that strangely inspiring at a time in my life when I am just starting to do the same.

Anyone wanting to understand...more
Margrit Belfi
Heel goed de situatie beschreven van de politieke perioden in China en zeer zeker het leven van de economische vluchtelingen en het zware leven van May Ling
This was an interesting immigrant story about a Canadian Chinese family. Shows a lot of culture during the 1800s & 1900s.
I felt this book gave a down-to-earth look at clashing cultures, ideas and societies. There are no heroes in this book and no villians. Everyone makes mistakes that hurt, skew and shape the future. Everyone does their best to make it through life. Sometimes that's not a pretty picture. But it is Life.
This story is about a family torn apart by immigration. One half remains in China, one half immigrates to Canada. It's interestingly told and, living in Vancouver, I'm tempted to visit the graves o...more
I recall enjoying this book. It's been a few years since I read it. Culturally informative.
One of the best Chinese memoirs I've read. Denise Chong tells a beautiful but tragic story of her maternal line, the hardships her mother went through, all for the name of the other family in China. It really gives people a taste of what it was like for the first wave of Chinese immigrants into Canada and the conditions that they had lived in. Although my parents weren't part of this first wave, or even the second or third, I could imagine that there were still hardships. A memoir like this remi...more
Lori Lengkeek
This was a great book.Having been born in Vancouver I felt right at home with the descriptions and geography
I loved this real account of life from those times.Very moving story spanning generations.
Sep 18, 2013 Laurie rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: history buffs
This work of non-fiction is a page turner. The author tells the story of her maternal grandfather, Chan Sam, who leaves his wife in China to search for his fortune in Canada during the early twentieth century. Eventually he has a concubine sent from China to keep him company in the new world. The book chronicles the struggles and pain of a divided family on two different continents. What surprised me the most about the book was the Canadian government's racist immigration policies during that ti...more
4.5 stars
Surprisingly, it was a good read. I was forced to read this book by my school teacher but I actually found myself enjoying the story and insights. I am usually bored with books that narrate family histories, especially non-fiction books. Yet, the author's style of writing made it seem like a story rather than just a straight forward recount of the past. The plot itself was intriguing and was perhaps one of the main reasons why this book was so interesting.
Fascinating and true history of a Chinese-Canadian family, following the life of a beautiful Chinese girl who becomes the concubine of a well-meaning Chinese man and moves to Canada. The book was written by her granddaughter in such an intimate style, you feel you are sitting in her living room talking over coffee. However, every once in a while the writing is unclear. I don't think it was edited very well for clarity. I enjoyed the cultural references.
Another good read. :o) It was a bit difficult at first, owing to the fact that I had trouble with the foreign names of people and places, but once I got into it, I could at least make out wether the author was writing of a person or a village. Some parts were very sad, all the more so because this is based on true events. Good ending, though. Nice to see the author derive joy of the outcome, finding meaning in all that happened and, finally, peace.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story of three generations and two branches of a Chinese family--one branch in China, the other in Canada. I think one thing that surprised me the most was that in all my reading about China, I never have encountered a character like May-ying: a Chinese woman, born in China in the first quarter of the 20th century, who was a gambling alcoholic waitress. Not the typical concubine you find in Chinese lit or memoir!
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Denise Chong, writer, public servant, political advisor (b at Vancouver, BC 9 June 1953). Denise Chong, a third-generation Canadian of Chinese descent, grew up in Prince George. She earned a BA in Economics at the University of British Columbia (1975) and an MA in Economics and Public Policy at the University of Toronto (1978). Chong began her writing career as a journalist on the Ubyssey, the UBC...more
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