Chinese/Canadian writing series builds bridge for cross-cultural understanding
By Michael Wu
As an immigrant to Canada from China, Shuyu Kong, SFU professor in the department of humanities and the Global Asia Program, has always been passionate about teaching Asian/Canadian literature and culture.
Outside of the classroom, she also co-directs the David Lam Centre which engages in Asia-related research and frequently works with local communities to promote understanding of Asian-Pacific cultures to the Canadian public. Thanks to an invitation from Diann Xu of the Vancouver Public Library (VPL) last year, Kong is currently in the midst of co-hosting a unique online series of events: the “Chinese/Canadian Writing Speaker Series”, with the David Lam Centre and VPL.
“Because of COVID-19,” Kong says, “people haven’t had the opportunity to communicate in-person, but it has given them more time to do private things like reading.” With the rising number of incidents of hate and hostility towards different ethnic groups, particularly, Black and Asian minorities in Canada and the USA, Kong says she felt that it was important to showcase the variety of Chinese Canadian writing and explore the possibilities of bridging different worlds through language, history and imagination.
The first and second events in the series, held in March and April, were a resounding success according to Kong and Xu. March’s event looked at the hidden history of Christian missionaries in modern China through the eyes of a Chinese Canadian writer, and April’s event hosted Toronto-based award-winning writer Ling Zhang, whose novella Aftershock (2010) was adapted into China’s first IMAX movie. Zhang's most recent novel, A Single Swallow (2017), which explores the pain of war from both Chinese and American perspectives, is a Kindle bestseller on Amazon.
Kong and Xu said both events have had substantial international reach with viewers from Canada, China, the U.S., Australia, and Singapore. “I wanted to do a series that discusses the identity, inspiration and purpose of cross-cultural writing,” Kong explains, “by people from outside China who provide new perspectives on Chinese history, who contacts with the outside world, and who have had their works read widely by the Chinese public.”
Kong also highlights reading and writing as a bridge that connects people in different places, especially for immigrants to connect back with their ‘homeland’.
The third and fourth events, “Writing Humanities for the Transcultural Reader” and “The Cross-cultural Story of Three Chinese Women Aviators” will take place on May 21 and June 18 respectively.
In “Writing Humanities for the Transcultural Reader”, which will be presented in Mandarin Chinese, Kong herself will be the main speaker with guest Ruoyun Bai, Associate Professor of the University of Toronto. They will speak about Kong’s new book, Stories Illuminating the Journey (2020), which combines personal travel vignettes with reflections on her favourite books, artworks, and films from all over the world.
“Although I teach Asian culture to my students as a humanities professor,” Kong says, “I wanted to share my knowledge of the literatures, arts, and cultures of Canada, Australia and other countries with Chinese readers as well. Humanities shouldn’t be restricted to just the classroom, and sharing literature is one of the best ways to cultivate our capacity to become world citizens. It’s also been my lifelong dream to write and publish a book in Chinese, since I did major in Chinese Language and Literature in China,” she laughs.
“The Cross-cultural Story of Three Chinese Women Aviators” is the fourth and final event in the series and the only one to be conducted in English. June’s event features indepedent researcher and writer Patti Gully, whose 2007 book Sisters of Heaven: China's Barnstorming Aviatrixes: Modernity, Feminism, and Popular Imagination in China and the West is currently being adapted into a film in China after its Chinese translation became a runaway success in 2012. Gully will speak with Songyu Lin, senior editor of Flower City Publishing House. Lin helped Gully publish her book and is a driving force behind the introduction of foreign books to China. She will also give her perspective on the kind of books that successfully appeal to Chinese audiences.
"Though there are Chinese Canadians featured in the series, we have people like Patti Gully who found success in China despite being a foreigner. That's why I named the series 'Chinese/Canadian', to show that the two are different, yet connected," Kong clarifies.
While May is Asian Heritage Month, Xu explains that the VPL’s mission is to engage and celebrate diverse cultures and languages in Vancouver all year round. Xu also highlighted that there are many other opportunities to engage with Chinese arts and culture at the VPL, like the VPL’s Chinese Book Clubs that she runs, which can be found here.
Likewise, Kong notes that the David Lam Centre has frequently partnered with local Asian community groups, including the Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society. And, as Kong points out, it goes beyond one month and one observance: “For me, it’s not really something that’s just a month, but all the time.”