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Synopsis

In 2006, the Prime Minister apologized to the Chinese people for the legislated discrimination created by Canada’s head tax laws in the first half of the twentieth century, acknowledging the far-reaching and long-term consequences it has had on their families. A Cowherd in Paradise is the story of one such family.

The book chronicles the remarkable lives of Wong Guey Dang (1902–1983) and Jiang Tew Thloo (1911–2002). Ah Dang was born into an impoverished family and sold as a child. In 1921, his adoptive father paid a five-hundred-dollar head tax to send Ah Dang to Canada. Eight years later, driven to create a family of his own, Ah Dang returned to China, where he chose Ah Thloo as his bride from a matchmaker’s photo.

As a child, Ah Thloo worked as a cowherd and from the age of six was responsible for her family’s fortune—their water buffalo. Ah Thloo not only became a wife and mother, but also grew to be a courageous defender against invaders and a champion of the weak.

Married for over half a century, the couple was forced to live apart for twenty-five years because of Canada’s exclusionary immigration laws. In Canada, Ah Dang became a successful Montreal restaurateur; while in China, Ah Thloo struggled to survive through natural disasters, wars, and revolutions. A Cowherd in Paradise is the moving tale of one couple’s search for love, family, and forgiveness.

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A Cowherd in Paradise
Average rating
5 / 5
Passionate story of overcoming adversity
April 7th, 2015
May Q. Wong's first novel is a remarkable work of research and passion. Telling the story of her family's unimaginable hardships, challenges and tragedies, as seen through her own eyes and those of her mother, father and others, A Cowherd in Paradise takes the reader on an emotional rollercoaster that makes this book hard to put down. The heroine in this story is clearly that of Ah Thloo, Mrs. Wong's mother; a woman 50-years ahead of her time who was willing to push-back against spousal abuse at a time and a society where wives were commonly considered chattels of their husband, all the while focussing on the prosperity and safety of her family. An eternal optimist, Mrs. Wong's mother's telling line was her positive spin on "having fish" in the first floor of her home in China during times that monsoons would flood her hamlet. A Cowherd in Paradise is also an insider's peek at the sociological metamorphosis that China has undergone in the 20th century. It's just too easy to fixate on the negative images of latter-day Tiananmen and the perspective afforded by western news sources. Mrs. Wong's mother tells of celebration and adoration of actually seeing Mao Zedong in another time in Tiananmen, when the average Chinese citizen freely and openly rejoiced in a better life under Mao's regime. While in no-way being recriminating, A Cowherd in Paradise also touches on what now seems inconceivable in our Just Society of Canada: the Chinese Immigration Head Tax. At the time that Mrs. Wong's father immigrated to Canada (early 1900's), he paid $500, an amount said to be equivalent to "buying two houses". Mrs. Wong could have easily risen to denunciation and finger wagging over the head tax, however, as her book is really about the unbreakable bond of love and family which stretched from rural China to Victoria, BC, she merely reported the facts and left the sentient readers to be embarrassed over the head tax all on their own.
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