Denise Chong

Political advisor and award-winning author Denise Chong (photo by Danielle Schaub).

Denise Chong is renowned as a writer and commentator on Canadian history and on the family. A 1987 visit to her mother's ancestral village in Guangdong inspired Chong’s best-known book, The Concubine's Children (1994). It is the story of her grandmother May Ying (the concubine) and her mother Hing, and their life in the Chinatowns of British Columbia. The book tells the story of relatives left behind in China and celebrates the contributions of immigrants to a country that may not have welcomed them warmly, but did allow them to make their way in life.

Chong’s second major book, The Girl in the Picture (2000), is the biography of Kim Phuc, a Vietnamese girl who was terribly burned in a 1972 napalm attack. A photo of her running naked down a road became an iconic symbol of the Vietnam War. Chong's book covers Kim Phuc's life and her eventual settlement in Canada.

Egg on Mao (2009) is the story of Lu Decheng from Liuyang, China, who ultimately settled in Canada. He was imprisoned for 16 years for a gesture—throwing paint-filled eggs at Chairman Mao's portrait during the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. His daring gesture continues to influence our view of human rights.

Excerpt: Egg on Mao

On June 15, after the evening meal, guards removed Decheng from his cell. Waiting officers violently slapped handcuffs on him. They shoved and dragged him out into the night. Several army trucks, with canvas-covered tops, were idling inside the prison walls. Soldiers, helmeted and carrying rifles fixed with bayonets, stood nearby. Decheng’s captors ordered him to kneel on all fours on the ground behind a truck. One after another, soldiers used him as a stepstool to climb aboard. Then, the last of them hauled him into the truck, throwing him face down between the benches on each side. With the soldiers now using him as a footrest and their boots pressing him into the gritty floor, Decheng was convinced the army was secretly taking him to be shot. He knew how the condemned went to their death: kneel on the ground, head bowed, then a bullet to the back of the head. Except that in his case, no one but the army would know that he had been killed, only that he had disappeared. Strangely, he felt devoid of emotion, holding on to the only certainty, death.

Twenty minutes later, the army truck jolted to a stop. The engine shuddered into silence. Decheng was hauled off, and soldiers trod on the prisoner as they climbed down from the truck. Suddenly, a bright light pierced the darkness. Decheng saw other army trucks disgorging soldiers, and among them two other handcuffed prisoners, Zhijian and Dongyue. They were lit, like him, by a camera crew filming their arrival.

Learn more: Denise Chong in The Canadian Encyclopedia
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