Occupying Chinatown Book

Paul Wong (2021)
ISBN: 978-0-9694777-7-8
Edition of 500
Hardcover: Black linen with silver deboss
approx. 110 colour illustrations

180 pages
29.85cm x 23.5cm x 1.59cm, 1kg

“Paul Wong’s Occupying Chinatown is deeply moving and subtly shocking. The life of Paul’s mother Suk-Fong is a kind of pilgrim’s progress of one young Chinese woman through a 20th century journey of deep despair and strange fulfillment. Her story focuses the life of a Chinatown, of alienation, of exclusion – all told in the context of one family’s struggle to communicate and make its bonds mean something, I am so glad that this book commemorates an exhibition which laid bare the eternal bonds of family, the personal cost of alienation and the salvation of identity.”
-The Rt. Hon. Adrienne Clarkson

Paul Wong’s Occupying Chinatown, is a beautifully detailed, limited edition hardcover book, fully bilingual in English and Simplified Chinese, focusing on several of Wong’s major artworks exploring Chinese-Canadian identity and his engagement with Vancouver’s Chinese communities. With full colour photos and documentation of Wong’s artwork as well as three original essays, Occupying Chinatown is an evocative exploration of language, amnesia, and cultural displacement, inspired by 900 letters sent to Suk-Fong Wong, Paul Wong’s mother, over the course of 65 years.

Within this remarkable 180 page cloth-bound book, Wong’s essay “Suk Fong, How Are You?” (淑芳你好嘛?) takes a closer look at the family histories contained within the letters, while Dr Christopher Lee’s essay “Reading Letters, Reading with Trust” (阅读书信,以信读信) reflects on the process of interpreting a selection of these letters with his students. Debbie Cheung’s “Private to Private to Public: A New Collective Experience of Chinatown” (推己及人:唐人街新的共同体验)  details Wong’s year-long residency at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Garden through which these private letters offered an opportunity for the local Chinese community to consider their shared stories and their rapidly changing Chinatown.

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“The inspiration for this book began a decade ago with the diagnosis of my mothers Alzheimer’s disease. What do you lose when you lose memory? You lose a thread of connection—history, language, culture, food, medicine. As my mother lost her memories I realized what was being erased were experiences of her generation. Of women who came to this country who often lived silenced. The book includes several dozen private letters translated from Chinese to English and includes documentation of many of the artworks they inspiredOccupying Chinatown is a record of not only what has been lost, but it also highlights what was previously unknown—the everyday. And with this book, that is what will now be remembered.”
— Paul Wong

Occupying Chinatown features original collages, reproductions and stills from several of Wong’s significant works including Father’s Words, based on his mother’s letters; Ordinary Shadows, Chinese Shade, a 1988 video work exploring Wong’s first trip back to China; Mother’s Cupboard /  媽媽的藥櫃, a series of prints featuring his mother’s treasured jars of traditional elixirs and ingredients; and Saltwater City – Vancouver / 咸水埠温哥华, a neon piece installed in several locations throughout Vancouver.

Thank you to the sponsors and funders:
The Canada Council, City of Vancouver, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, The Audain Foundation, and Rick Erickson and Donna Partridge.

Vancouver Art Gallery Review

Paul Wong’s Occupying Chinatown, a beautifully detailed, limited edition hardcover book, fully bilingual in English and Simplified Chinese, focuses on several of Wong’s major artworks exploring Chinese Canadian identity and his engagement with Vancouver’s Chinese communities. With full colour photos and documentation of Wong’s artwork as well as three original essays, Occupying Chinatown is an evocative exploration of language, amnesia, and cultural displacement, inspired by 900 letters sent to Suk-Fong Wong, Paul Wong’s mother, over the course of 65 years.

I am not an academic; this book is not an historical document. I am neither an ethnographer nor a documentarian, and this is not a memoir or a genealogical family account. Above all, I have approached this out of curiosity about what has been lost through silence. Occupying Chinatown has provided a conceptual frame for inspiring a prolific outpouring of artworks combining fragments of memory, language, and ephemeral histories. It has continued and will continue to allow me to look at everyday things as anything but ordinary.
— Paul Wong

Occupying Chinatown features original collages, reproductions and stills from several of Wong’s significant works including Father’s Words, based on his mother’s letters; Ordinary Shadows, Chinese Shade, a 1988 video work exploring Wong’s first trip back to China; Mother’s Cupboard / 媽媽的藥櫃, a series of prints featuring his mother’s treasured jars of traditional elixirs and ingredients; and Saltwater City – Vancouver /咸水埠温哥华, a neon piece installed in several locations throughout Vancouver.