by Paul Yee
Paul Yee’s Saltwater City is an informative read that any reader wishing to learn about the history of Chinese-Canadians will enjoy. Yee begins with the story of early Chinese immigrants, pioneers who went through hard times. Through this story and others that quickly follow, Yee illustrates how these pioneers made things better for future generations.
The following chapters talk about the influx of new immigrants during the 1960s and 1970s who moved here for very different reasons than the pioneers. This wave of immigrants — from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Mainland China and around the world, contributed to the diversity of the Chinese community.
The massive new immigrant wave from Hong Kong during the 1980s dramatically changed the community. While reasons for immigration are diverse and unique to each individual, Yee demonstrates how Hong Kong immigrants in the 1980s were largely motivated by the handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China. Yee shares successful stories of several Hong Kong immigrants, such as David Lam, Hanson Lau, Lilian To, Thomas Fung, Gabriel Yiu, Jenny Kwan, and others.
I read Saltwater City to fill a gap in my historical knowledge. Having grown up in the “British Colony” (Hong Kong), the history of Chinese-Canadians was not part of my school curriculum. I had very little knowledge about things like Gold Mountain, railway construction and the head tax. Nationality was a bewilderment to me; was I British, Chinese (“Zhongguo ren” or “Huaren”), or a Hongkonger? Now, having read Saltwater City, I proudly call myself Chinese-Canadian.
Yee wrote Saltwater City in 2006 – 17 years ago. Vancouver’s Chinese community has changed a lot since then. Today’s Chinese community is very different than what Yee describes. Having said that, I still enjoyed reading this book, and would recommend it for newcomers from Hong Kong. Saltwater City would be a great read for newcomers to learn about the history of and changes in the Vancouver Chinese community.