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Escape to Gold Mountain

by David H.T. Wong

Escape to Gold Mountain is a daring experiment in making a neglected facet of Canadian history available in a format that has proven accessible and appealing to both adolescent and adult readers: the graphic novel.

Vancouver architect, writer, and artist David H.T. Wong presents readers with the history of Chinese North Americans from the 19th century to the present (a history largely of racism, legally sanctioned discrimination, and violence), in a book that blends rich narrative, history, and visual drama. Wong successfully distills the complex history of Chinese immigrants by fictionalizing the experiences of several generations of his own ancestors as they attempt to build a better life on the West Coast of Canada and the U. S., two countries referred to interchangeably as “Gold Mountain.”

In both story and art, Wong creates an alternative to the dominant history that places white settlers at the centre and Asian Canadians – along with African Canadians, Aboriginal peoples, and anyone else deemed “ethnic” or “foreign” –  at the margins. In Wong’s version, the Chinese are all depicted as three-dimensional characters, while the white settlers and politicians motivated by racism are caricatured as monstrous – which, judging by their actions, they were. This includes several panels depicting a boardroom of Canadian Pacific Railway officials laughing gleefully at how they plan to exploit Chinese workers.

There is perhaps too much emphasis in the preface and three introductions on what readers will learn throughout the book, but even as an explicitly didactic text, the novel offers readers the opportunity to visualize a chapter in Canadian history they might not otherwise encounter.