Denise Chong begins her memoir with her grandparents. Her grandfather, Chan Sam, was one of the many Chinese who left their homeland to seek their fortune in the Americas. After many years alone in Vancouver, Canada, Chan decided to have a second wife, a concubine, sent over from China. May-ying arrived in Vancouver in 1924, using a false Canadian birth certificate procured for the occasion. Thus began the family history detailed in The Concubine’s Children: Portrait of a Family Divided.
Throughout his life Chan Sam maintained two families—his Chinese family with Huangbo, and his Canadian family with May-ying, by whom he had three daughters. Two of May-ying’s daughters, Ping and Nan, remained in China after a visit; Chan returned to Canada for the birth of their third child, foretold to be the son Chan longed for. They were disappointed with a third daughter, Hing, who later took the American name Winnie. May-ying’s disappointment was so great that for a time she dressed Hing as a boy, and later “adopted” a son, Leonard. On one of his visits home Chan conceived a son with Huangbo, but the boy, Yuen, had horribly deformed feet that “looked to be on backwards.”
The Canadian branch of the family provided for much of the Chinese family’s needs. As commanded by her husband, May-ying worked as a waitress in Chinatown tea houses, but she grew to enjoy the waitressing life and its freedom. She drank and gambled at mah-jongg...
(The entire section is 466 words.)