Chao, Lien 1950-

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Chao, Lien 1950-

PERSONAL: Born 1950, in Hang Zhou, China; immigrated to Canada, 1984. Education: Wuhan Teachers' College, B.A., 1982; York University, M.A., 1986, Ph.D, 1995.

ADDRESSES: Home—Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Office—Maple Gallery, 1515 Danforth Ave., Toronto, Ontario M4J 5C3, Canada; fax: 416-240-1151. Agent—c/o Author Mail, TSAR Publications, P.O. Box 6996, Station A, Toronto, Ontario M5W 1X7, Canada. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Educator, writer, literary and art critic, and community arts advocate. Toronto District Board of Education, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, teacher for developmentally disabled adults.

AWARDS, HONORS: Gabrielle Roy Prize for Criticism, Association for Canadian and Quebec Literatures, for Beyond Silence: Chinese-Canadian Literature in English.


Beyond Silence: Chinese-Canadian Literature in English, TSAR Publications (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1997.

Maples and the Stream: A Narrative Poem, TSAR Publications (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999.

Tiger Girl (Hu Nü): A Creative Memoir (fiction), TSAR Publications (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

(Editor, with Jim Wong-Chu) Strike the Wok: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese-Canadian Fiction, TSAR Publications (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.

More than Skin Deep: Poetry in English and Chinese, TSAR Publications (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.

China-Canada Friendship Sculpture Garden (art book), Foreign Language Press (Beijing, China), 2004.

Contributor to periodicals, including Essays on Canadian Writing.

WORK IN PROGRESS: A Broken Rice Bowl, a collection of short stories in English and Chinese.

SIDELIGHTS: Chinese-born poet Lien Chao came to Canada in 1984 to further her education at York University in Toronto. She still resides in Toronto, where she works as a writer, teacher, and community art project developer. Chao also works as an English teacher for English-as-a-Second Language (ESL) students and for developmentally disabled adults.

Chao's writings include works in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and literary and art criticism. The award-winning nonfiction study Beyond Silence: Chinese-Canadian Literature in English explores the historical origins and diverse cultural contexts of Chinese-Canadian writing. Among the authors discussed by Chao are Denise Chong, Paul Yee, Fred Wah, Evelyn Lau, Jim Wong-Chu, Sky Lee, Winston Christopher Kam, and Sean Gunn, as well as several others.

A number of Chao's works are underpinned by autobiographical elements. Maples and the Stream: A Narrative Poem is an autobiographical work describing the author's experiences growing up during Chinese leader Mao Tse-tung's Cultural Revolution; the tragedy of an arranged marriage that ended violently; and her immigration to Canada to enter the world of academia—which offered more creative freedom than life in China. The "twenty-five bilingual narrative poems, roughly evenly divided between Chinese and Canadian spaces, are poignant recollections of a life from birth, youth, marriage, and divorce against the backdrop of China's turbulent politics, to the continuing process of forging a new life and identity as a Chinese Canadian academic in the field of Canadian literature," noted Jennifer W. Jay in Canadian Literature. Anchoring the poems are the recurring images of both the maple tree, with its inevitable seasonal changes, and water, flowing in the form of a stream. "The poetic form of this narrative consists primarily of highly readable free-verse condensation and the use of the title images as guiding metaphors for the sequence as a whole," observed Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas, writing in World Literature Today.

A painting by Chinese artist Pen Ma influenced Maples and the Stream. The painting consists of a solid field of red maple leaves interrupted by a stream wending its way across the surface of brightly colored leaves. "The painted image offers a pattern by which the poet can read her own life; the red maples signifying both Communist China and Canada, the stream her own life process as it swerves within and between both cultures," Twitchell-Waas commented. The poems were composed in English and then translated into Chinese, Jay reported, but they retain their strength in both forms. The poems covering the Cultural Revolution period "are particularly well done in terms of rhythm, pace, and imagery," according to Jay. These verses chronicle Chao's "search for selfhood and free expression," Twitchell-Waas observed, adding that Chao's "is not a placid story: it is one that shifts from idyllic childhood to painfilled, agonizing youth where dreams such as higher education and free artistic impression were forbidden and ground down." Individual choice and freedom are foreign concepts in such a world, noted Joanna M. Weston in the Danforth Review. Chao's experiences may have made her a realist, Weston added, "but we can only be thankful that she can still dream, and put the dreams on paper."

Tiger Girl (Hu Nü): A Creative Memoir is the fictional memoir of Hu Nü, a young girl who lives through the Cultural Revolution, much as Chao herself did. Though the work is "infused with a sense of immediacy," Hu Nü's memoir does not "rise above the direct surface level effect of its momentous sweep," observed Mridula Nath Chakraborty in Herizons. The author "leaves the reader wishing for a more nuanced connection between Hu Nü's life and the events that shape her entire generation," Chakraborty added.



Canadian Literature, spring, 2002, Jennifer W. Jay, "Canadian Identity: Maples and Chinatowns," review of Maples and the Stream: A Narrative Poem, p. 155.

Herizons, spring, 2003, Mridula Nath Chakraborty, review of Tiger Girl (Hu Nü): A Creative Memoir, p. 34.

New Scholars—New Visions in Canadian Studies, summer, 1997, Jeanette Lynes, "Chinese Canadian Literature Emergent," review of Beyond Silence: Chinese Canadian Literature in English, pp. 28-33.

Toronto Star, June 6, 2004, Fred Edwards, "No Clichés Wanted Here," review of Strike the Wok: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese—Canadian Fiction, p. D14.

University of Toronto Quarterly, winter, 2000-01, Eleanor Ty, review of Beyond Silence.

World Literature Today, summer, 2000, Jeffrey Twitchell-Waas, review of Maples and the Stream, p. 580; January-April, 2005, Fang Zheng, review of Strike the Wok, p. 92.


Danforth Review Online, (February 19, 2005), Joanna M. Weston, review of Maples and the Stream: A Narrative Poem.

Maple Gallery Web site, (February 1, 2005), "Lien Chao."