My Chinese genealogy book list

I own all these books. I’ve collected them over the course of decades, discarding some, collecting more. There’s no really good book list out there for the would-be Chinese ancestry genealogist, so this has been my practice for years: every time I hit a bookstore, I immediately ask where the history section is, and if they have a section on Chinese Canadiana. If there’s a book there that either has my family listed in the index or that I think might be useful, I buy it. Then I do the same thing in the WWI and WWII sections.

Last updated 7 Jan 2022.

Chinese genealogy: non-fiction

Chan, A. (2014). Righting Canada’s wrongs: the Chinese head tax and anti-Chinese immigration policies in the twentieth century. Toronto: James Lorimer & Company. Beautifully illustrated and heavily researched, this is a must for any Chinese Canadian genealogy collection.

Chan, A.B. (1988). The Chinese in the New World. Vancouver: New Star Books. Full of facts, photos, and useful reference material.

Chao S-Y J. (2000). In Search of Your Asian Roots: Genealogical Resources on Chinese Surnames. Baltimore: Clearfield Co. I received a publisher’s copy and did a full book review here.

Chow, L. (2018). Blossoms in the Gold Mountains: Chinese settlements in the Fraser Canyon and the Okanagan. Halfmoon Bay, BC: Caitlin Press. Historian Lily Chow’s research into the Chinese of the British Columbia interior: Yale, Lytton, Kamloops, Vernon, Kelowna, and Armstrong.

Chow, L. (2000). Chasing their dreams. Prince George, BC: Caitlin Press. Historian Lily Chow’s research into the Chinese of the British Columbia interior: Yale, Lilooet, Barkerville, Ashcroft, Quesnel, Quesnel Forks, Stanley, and Prince George.

Chow, L. (1996). Sojourners in the North. Halfmoon Bay, BC: Caitlin Press. Historian Lily Chow’s research into the Chinese of the British Columbia interior: Hazelton, Essington, Cassiar, Yukon, Prince Rupert, Terrace, Smithers, and Kitimat.

Clement, C.B. (2019). Chinatown through a wide lens: the hidden photographs of Yucho Chow. Vancouver, BC: Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia. What can I say about this stunning book? Weighing in at 342 large format colour plates, the book is the culmination of the Yucho Chow exhibition in Vancouver, BC, curated by Catherine Clement. It tells the story of Chinatown through its photographs, focusing on the lost work of Yucho Chow. For more information here is the Yucho Chow website. I’m honoured in that Catherine selected a photo from our family: the wedding of Harold and Leila Chu.

Dawson, J.B and P.M. Dawson. (1991). Moon cakes in Gold Mountain: from China to the Canadian Prairies. Calgary, AB: Detselig Enterprises Ltd. Books tend to focus on the majority of Chinese settlement in Canada, which is highly concentrated in British Columbia. This book focuses on Chinese settlement in Alberta.

Evans, B.L. (2010). The other side of gold mountain: glimpses of Chinese pioneer life on the prairies from the Wallace B. Chung and Madeline H. Chung Collection. Edmonton: University of Alberta Libraries. A collector’s guide to the exhibition of materials of the Chung Collection at the University of Alberta.

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.

Ferguson, T. (1975). A white man’s country: An exercise in Canadian prejudice. Toronto: Doubleday Canada Limited. The story of the Komagata Maru, Canadian immigration, and the mores of British Columbia in 1914.

Hui, A. (2019). Chop Suey Nation: the surprising history and vibrant present of small-town Chinese restaurants from Victoria, BC to Fogo Island, NL. Madeira Park: Douglas & McIntyre.

Lee, J.J. (2012). The measure of a man: the story of a father, a son, and a suit. Toronto: McLelland and Stewart. (Oh, JJ. I owe you such an apology.) I interviewed JJ Lee in June, 2017. I had big plans to write up his story into a blog post and then, well, things happened with family and I never got around to it. READ THIS BOOK. You won’t regret it.

Li, P.S. (1998). Chinese in Canada. Toronto: Oxford University Press.

Lo, Andria, and Valerie Luu (2020). Chinatown pretty: Chinatown’s most stylish seniors. San Francisco: Chronicle Books.

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.

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.)

McIlwraith, D. and Hoe, W.J. (2020) The diary of DukeSang Wong: a voice from Gold Mountain. Vancouver, BC: Talon Currently, this is the only first person account of what it was like to be a Chinese building the Canadian Pacific Railway in British Columbia (1881-1885). This book is both a translated diary and a collected research piece: the what along with the how.

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, 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.

Pan, L. (1999). The encyclopedia of the Chinese overseas. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. If you’re going to invest in one comprehensive book, this would be the one to get.

Peng, T. H. (1995). Fun with Chinese characters. 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 language. Highly recommended, and there are several volumes to choose from.

Rutter, M. (2005). Upstairs girls :Prostitution in the American West. Farcountry Press. Why, you’re asking, is this title here? I bought the book solely for Chapter 4: The Chinese sex trade.

Scarpari, M. 2000). Ancient China: Chinese civilization from its origins to the Tang Dynasty. New York: Barnes and Noble.

Van Norden, Byan W. (2019). Classical Chinese for everyone: a guide for absolute beginners. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. A wonderful work for those of us who need to learn classical Chinese for genealogy.

Walker, James W. S. G. (1997).  “Race,” rights and the law in the Supreme Court of Canada. The Osgoode Society for Canadian Legal History and Wilfrid Laurier University Press. In this book, James Walker examines four Supreme Court cases where the Justices expressed what was then considered to be “common sense” regarding race as it pertained to decisions in law. In the preface, this book is termed a vivacious reconstruction, which may be stretching the excitement factor a bit, but if you’re interested in a 70-page study of the remarkable 1912 legal case of Quong Wing v. The King, where  a Chinese restaurant owner fought the law preventing him from employing white women, this is the book for you.

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.

Wickberg, Con, Con, Johnson and Willmott. (1988). From China to Canada.Toronto, ON: Mclelland and Stewart. Edgar Wickberg was a professor of history at the University of British Columbia. I use this book mainly for the excellent glossary of historic Chinese names and associations in English, Chinese, pinyin, and Wade-Giles; and for the tables of information in the appendix. These two sections alone are worth getting a copy of the book. For more, see this review on Wikipedia.

Wolf, J. and P. Owen. (2008). Yi fao: speaking through memory. Surrey, BC: Heritage House Publishing Co. This beautiful and tightly researched book helps fill in the missing history of yi fao, or Second Port, aka New Westminster. Until speaking with the author, Jim Wolf, I had no idea of the important of New Westminster to the early migration of Chinese to Canada before Vancouver was founded in 1886. (I’m guessing that Victoria, the first major port, would have been yut fao.)

Wong, J.C. (2007). Wong family feast: our recipes and stories. Please. A book about people AND food? Take my money.

Wong, L. (2018). The Woo-Woo: how I survived ice hockey, drug raids, demons, and my crazy Chinese family. Vancouver: Arsenal Pulp Press.

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. A must.

Woon, Y-F. (1999). The excluded wife. Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press. There are very few books that focus on the Chinese Canadian diaspora from the POV of the women. This is a non-fiction account of the life of Sau-Ping, whose husband emigrated to Canada. She endures 20 years of struggle, finally joins her husband in Gold Mountain, only to find he is a stranger.

Worrall, B.L. (2006). Finding memories, tracing routes. Vancouver; Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia. Nine short stories from Chinese Canadians.

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.

Yan, M. (2009). Chinese Emperors: from the Xie Dynasty to the fall of the Qing dynasty. New York: Fall River Press.

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.

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.

The Chinese experience: fiction

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. A lyrical and brave story centering around one woman’s desperate choices and the benefits and consequences for her and her family. 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.

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.

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…

Choy, W. (2004). All that matters. Anchor 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.

Choy, W. (1999). Paper shadows: a Chinatown childhood. Penguin Canada. When Wayson Choy was touring in support of his book The jade peony, he received a mysterious phone call from a woman claiming to know his real mother. A lyrical, beautiful work of creative non-fiction where Wayson explores his own experience as a paper son.

Grady, W. (2013). Emancipation Day: a novel. USA: Doubleday Canada. Not a book about the Chinese diaspora, true, but hear me out. In this book, Wayne paints an eloquent portrait of a black man who can “pass” for white, the decisions he makes, and the impacts his decision has on his family and community. A powerful about racism and fitting in.

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.

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. I had the pleasure of being interviewed for this book – I so wish Frances was still with us. She’d so enjoy my discoveries.

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.

Murphy, E. The black candle. (1922). [no publishing information] 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.

Rutherford, E. (2021). China. Penguin Random House, Doubleday Canada.

Books to Buy List

These are all the books I’ve read that I wouldn’t mind owning. I get them through libraries and archives and I think, “Yes, this would be great to have too,” because there will always be more books on my buying list than I have money to buy them and space to shelve them!

Barman, Jean. (2010). The West beyond the West: a history of British Columbia. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Harmsen, Peter. War in the far east: storm clouds over the Pacific 1931-1941. (2018). Havertown: Casemate Publishers. Despite the title, Peter gives a brief breakdown of the historic enmity between Japan and China, then focuses on the decade from 1931. Surprisingly lighthearted for a serious topic. Very well done if you want a feel for what Hong Kong and China was like in the years immediately preceding the Second World War.

Lai, David Chuenyan. Chinatowns: towns within cities in Canada. (1988). Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Lai, David Chuenyan. The forbidden city within Victoria. (1991). Victoria: Orca Book Publishers.

Teng, Emma Jinhua. Eurasian: Mixed Identities in the United States, China, and Hong Kong, 1842–1943 (2013). Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. For a review see this link from Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, Ohio State University.

Tsiang, Sarah. Warriors and wailers: one hundred ancient Chinese jobs you might have relished or reviled. (2012). Toronto: Annick Press. Graphic novel style book, and a very easy read.

Yu, Henry. Journeys of hope: challenging discrimination and building on Vancouver Chinatown’s legacies. (2018). Vancouver: University of British Columbia, Initiative for Student Teaching and Research in Chinese Canadian Studies. Beautifully illustrated and written bilingual book on the history of discrimination in Vancouver and the move to redress past wrongs.