World Literature in English, 1998
Under Construction, May 8, 1998
Chinatown & Women:
Historical Background and The Concubine's Children

參加二次世界大戰勝利慶典的一群華人婦女    一九四五年

The Canton House (廣東酒家) in Nanaimo's Chinatown years after May-ying worked there (The Concubine's Children). 


Chinatown-- four stages: budding, blooming, withering, extinction or reviving

In the old days, Chinatown was regarded by the white community as a segregated, mysterious ghetto of prostitution, gambling, opium-smoking, and other vices, but it was considered by the Chinese people as a home where they could find pleasure, comfort, and companionship; it was a sanctuary where they were secure from threats and discrimination. (Lai xv)

Imbalance in Sex Ratio of Chinatown Residents
1921 census--sex ratio

Vancouver 10/1(5,790 males and 585 females) 

Edmonton 30/1 (501 males and 17 females) 

Regina 60/1 (246 males and 4 females) 

Ottawa 30/1 (273 males and 9 females) 

Halifax 60/1 (138 males and 2 females) 

Women's Situations
Although Chinese workers at the turn of the century worked in places like fish canneries and organized themselves, racism forced them out of wage labour, except for domestic work as cooks or houseboys. They were forced to open their own small business in small towns across the country. Until quite recently, Chiense men usually had no choice but to work in restaurants, laundries, grocery stores, coal mines, or on farms. In the family businesses, women could always be found workind side by side with their husbands or fathers day and night while still being responsible for raising large families. 

Through the years of Head Tax, the Exclusion Act, the Depression and the two World Wars, daughters speak of watching their mothers working endlessly.  They themselves often experienced a double load of work and school.  Social life was very limited. . . 

However, these hardships forstered a new and more intimate relationship between mothers and daughters. Many of the older women spoke little of no Enlgish and had few friends. In their isolation they turned to their daughters for comfort and help coping with the new society. Children acted as their mothers' eyes and ears--their communication link to the outside world. 

...Reading the words of these women, we were struck by the lack of bitterness or regret. What does come through, however, is their quiet resolve for a better life for their children and grandchildren. ...(Jin Guo  20)

Literary Treatments: The Concubine's Chidren, Disappearing Moon Cafe


  The Concubine's Children

The photograph May-ying affixed to the false papers she used to enter Canada in 1924.

May-ying and relatives in mainland China:
Half of the image of May-ying with Chow Guen.  In the original, they were posed as man and wife; he stood behind her chair.
Above: May-ying and newborn Ping.  Printed on the back is: 
"Made in Canada." 
Left: The concubine's eldest daughters, Ping and Nan, on Chinese soil 

May-ying, Chow Guen, Hing (Winnie) and her brother
Left: The photograph which stood on May-ying's dresser alongside the one of her youngest, Hing (right), taken in a Vancouver studio.  So taken was May-ying with dressing her as a boy that she commissioned a portrait; in the original, mother and daughter stood hand in hand. 

May-ying's 'family' portrait with Hing and newly-procured Gok-leng, the son she always wanted. 

Winnie and her father leave for the church.

Winnie and her mother



References & Acknowledgments:
Vancouver's Chinatown, Pender Street, 1929 (courtesy Vancouver City Archives)
taken from The Concubine's Children