The Chinese Knot and Other Stories


126 pages
ISBN 978-1-894770-43-9
DDC C813'.54




Reviewed by Carol A. Stos

Carol A. Stos is an assistant professor in the Department of Modern
Languages and Literatures at Laurentian University.


In this debut collection of short stories, Lien Chao draws the reader into the lives of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Canadians in Toronto. Not unexpectedly, many of her female protagonists are grappling with the strangeness of their transplanted lives, learning to find their way in a different culture, another language, across the distances of time and place, often facing discrimination or racial stereotyping. But Chao’s characters are whole people, not just “Chinese immigrants:” They suffer for love, they experience and live through intensely personal crises, they question and reaffirm their own identities as women, they learn and evolve. Sometimes they just endure, but these women are all engaged in issues that go beyond their immigrant or new Canadian status.

“Under the Monkey Bars,” the story of Wei Ming, a middle-aged woman from Henan province who has been living in her multiethnic Toronto neighbourhood for more than a decade, offers a lesson in feelings of cultural alienation and racial prejudice challenged by the courage to act in the face of discrimination. But it is the cultural differences among Chinese immigrants from different regions of China that she reflects on, and it is the racial prejudice exhibited by a young man from Henan province toward black and South Asian children in her neighbourhood playground that she confronts.

Luanne Lu, the ESL teacher in “The Chinese Knot,” deals with recent and would-be immigrants who ask for help in fraudulently obtaining welfare and fast-tracking their immigration application on the basis that “Chinese should help Chinese!” But the focus of the story is on affairs of the heart: the breakdown of her friend Jennie’s marriage, memories of her own failed relationships, the refuge she offers to one of her students whose husband is threatening to divorce her, and the happily married couple she meets on the subway.

Chao’s stories write another strong and distinct thread into the Canadian tapestry, reminding us all that we are richer for our differences and able to come together in spite of them.




Chao, Lien, “The Chinese Knot and Other Stories,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 21, 2024,