Lily Cho on Eating Chinese: Ideas Evaluation


As put forward by Lily Cho, Chinese cafés are to be found in each town of Canadian cities. Whereas it would be ridiculous to get a township without a Chinese café, they are missing in important debates concerning foreign Chinese civilizations. In Eating Chinese, Lily Cho scrutinizes Chinese cafés and presents them as places that describe what it means to be Chinese and what it implies to be Chinese-Canadian for both foreigners and natives. Cho’s works in Eating Chinese is a luminous text perceptively written and grounded in perfect mastery of records. Lily Cho offers a path-breaking and massively comprehensible explanation of Chinese customs in which food reconciles the reception and analysis of the Chinese culture in Canada and other western states in general.

Regardless of the limitations about migration and prejudiced legislation at nationalized and local levels, Chinese migrants have long dominated the restaurant business in Canada. Although isolated by racism, the Chinese population in Canada is powerfully linked to their non-Chinese neighbors through the food they make and sell. Cho analyzes this amazingly omnipresent aspect of small-town Canada through menus in the restaurant, writings, sculptures, and songs. An inventive investigation of the study of Chinese culture in the book exposes the artistic spaces constructed by restaurateurs, patrons, chefs, waiters, and musicians. Therefore, this article tries to evaluate the various historical aspects discussed by the writer in the book.

Synopsis of Chinese Restaurants

In chapter one of Lily Cho’s works titled sweet and sour- historical Presence and Diasporic agency, she attempts to bring out the difference between two keywords that mean different things in both Chinese and English. The writer compares the two words with the relationship existing between postcolonial and Diaspora studies as well as the question of agency (Cho, p. 20). The space of the Diaspora according to the writer is not formless instead; it is represented by instability that flourishes in dispersal. Cho gives an example in which loaves were poisoned by the state through the owner of the bakery and yet there was no arrest for the real culprit but in its place, junior workers were convicted and jailed. After the poisoning incident, there were mass arrests and deportations aimed at frustrating immigrants and other low waged laborers. Furthermore, the colonial secretary enacted laws and regulations to beef up security. The laws were unfavorable to the citizens because the governor intended to increase the ratio between the colonialists and the natives. For instance, it was decided that for every 50 Indians, there would be 50 colonial soldiers. In Hong Kong, the colonial government promised the citizens to offer protection of life and property but afterward, only elites enjoyed the services of the government. The writer concludes the chapter on page 42 by arguing that Chinese Diaspora in Canada shows that migration to Canada is manifested by the consequences of European colonialism and relationships with Japan and Russia most notably because of the opium wars and the sequence of uneven accords that china was compelled to sign resulting from wars.

In the subsequent chapter titled on the menu- time and Chinese restaurant counterculture, Cho observes that employment for the Chinese population in Canada seems to center on representations of Chinese immigrants in big towns for instance Vancouver and Toronto. While locations such as Vancouver’s Chinatown continues to be essential sites for searching Chineseness in Canada, comparatively little interest has been paid to the more distinct but steadily present population of the Chinese populace in small cities across Canada. The episode further explores the small-town Chinese Canadian café and outlines the potential for Chinese diasporic agency in the content of the menus. The writer concludes the chapter by observing that Chinese cafés present or rather promote the Chineseness because the quality of food offered in menus satisfies the consumer needs. In this way, the Chinese advance their culture through the food they prepare and sell.

In chapters four and five, Cho presents the tribulations encountered by the Chinese in Canada. She however asserts that immigrants are not willing to give up. For that case, even small cities in most parts of Canada have as a minimum one Canadian Chinese café. Several such cafes can have two or more owners looking for big business since their positions in business are subjugated. Several urban areas that cannot sustain a solitary licensed café still have a blossoming Chinese food café. Nevertheless, big corporations engaging in restaurant businesses have been forced to shut down due to competition from Chinese cafes. With high migration from Asia, Canadian Chinese homes are mainly located in non-immigrant quarters while serving non-Chinese customers. Canadian Chinese cafés are inadequate in some regions and can frequently be found in the utmost environs of the cities. Due to the reputation of Canadian Chinese foodstuff, even a number of the older but reliable Chinese cafés may present Canadian Chinese foods as argued by Cho.

History of Chinese in Canada

Chinese contractors employed Chinese personnel in the 1800s during the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway connecting Montreal with Vancouver. Many of those employees who chose to live in Canada after the railway was finished established small cost-effective cafés or operated as chefs in mining and timber manufacture campsites, canneries, and in the homes of the aristocrats in metropolises and townships. They made changes to established Cantonese food that was well honored by neighboring customers and they were cherished as chefs in wealthier family units. This took place even though small size if any of them were qualified cooks.

The citizens never bought food from their racial grouping because they could make it for themselves but Chinese foodstuff was unique (Li, p. 73). In addition, the Chinese population was not greatly involved in farming. This offered them a chance to come up with an alternative source of revenue. As a result, the Chinese population concentrated on the café trade and was capable of emasculating the competitors and shaping the market. Even at the moment in several municipalities and settlements across the prairie regions and northern British Columbia, there could be spotted a Chinese snack bar despite the population’s size, serving Canadian and Chinese food or on sometimes-common Chinese and Western fare.

Cho observes that additional Cantonese migration to Canada started afresh in the 1960s, and increased in the 1980s in the prospect of China’s executive conquest of Hong Kong (Cho, p. 81). This led to scores of Hong Kong folks repositioning themselves to Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom, and principally Canada. This inclination to Canada was because of its migration guidelines and laws characterized by a far above the ground comfort, reputable Chinese society, and its connection to the Commonwealth. Presently Chinese Canadian population is the major noticeable marginal set in Canada and Chinatowns are in each main Canadian metropolis with those in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montreal is the leading (Li, p. 27). This latest indicator of Chinese migration has conveyed a demand for more genuine Chinese foodstuff.

Evaluation of Cho’s Ideas

The author starts with the principle that the distinctive Canadian-Chinese eatery that is still challenged in most parts of the state is not an endangered unit. However, her actual target pertains to intensifying the debate on the hypotheses that control Diaspora investigations. Cho intends to construe the implication of the biculturalism that surfaces in quasi-public spaces where a cultural majority is supported by foreigners whose status as a citizen is unstable thanks to government policies such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923. To do this, Cho consults the writings of Jürgen Habermas, the Subaltern research faction, and other logicians while basing her argument in particular to a variety of menus from Alberta Chinese cafés, songs by Joni Mitchell, Sylvia Tyson found in Chinese cafes and a modern painting fitting that imitates the aspects of a Chinese café (Cho, p. 37).

Even though Cho, a junior professor at the University of Western Ontario argues that her attention is on older Chinese society as opposed to the topical, more affluent, and urban migrants, her prominence on theory and her obvious disregard of historicism signifies that many early Chinese emigrants’ history remains a secret. Intermittently, she offers a scandalous scrap for instance, in 1931 one out of every three male chefs in Canada was Chinese. Alternatively, she takes in an exciting story such as the narrative about early 20th-­century lumber site chef who was believed to be a woman masquerading as a man. This observation is culturally unethical and exists to discredit her works. Chinese cafés signify not only the link between old and the new diasporas but are also spaces of the interface between Chinese and non-Chinese populations. Cho’s postulations fail to capture this aspect since her arguments are simply based on the lives of the Chinese. Cho explains that long after the railway was finished and the lumber sites were broken up, Chinese cafés continued to be one of the few constantly accessible spaces of the artistic interface between Chinese migrants and their host society. From her arguments, it seems that Chinatowns have turned out to be a suitable spatial symbol of the Chinese Diaspora in Canada. In this sense, the writer mistakes the liberty of Chinatown for the freedom of the Chinese Diaspora.

Cho likens the plight of foreigners, specifically Chinese to the struggle of women as expressed in feminism theory.

To some extent, it is true for all migrants particularly concerning economic matters where they are not given room for expansion. The writer puts the tribulations of the Chinese into hypothetical or rational discourse aiming to comprehend the life of the Chinese about racial inequity. Just as feminism, she observes Chinese societal responsibilities and experiences in the biased financial system. Feminist economics, ideas that Cho borrows heavenly denotes a rising branch of economics that utilizes feminist approaches and appraisals to rectify financial systems. Explorations under this title are frequently interdisciplinary, sensitive, and profane. It includes arguments concerning the relationship between feminism (Chinese in this case) and economics on several levels including utilizing typical financial techniques to under-researched women’s (Chinese) quarters to inquiring about typical economic principles in the reproductive segment to the intensely theoretical account of financial epistemology and method (Pollock, p. 7).

One outstanding issue that Cho employs from economists is how the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) does not effectively compute for unpaid labor mainly executed by Chinese for example cooking. The author has moreover uncovered the metaphorical approach to the typical financial system in Canada. She analyzes various essential conjectures of conventional economics as well as the Homo economicus model. She borrows Pollock’s ideas that offer a convincing argument that home employment for women (Chinese) outlines the basis of financial reality even though unremunerated and not incorporated in the GDP. In the same way as feminists, Cho postulates that the unacknowledged revenue of colonialists obtained from illegitimate actions such as weaponry business, human trafficking, bureaucratic corruption, spiritual emollients, and a range of other unidentified actions offer a wealthy income stream to colonialists, which further annuls GDP numbers. Cho has been active in generating an alternative form of measuring the economy for instance the Capability Approach. She finally suggests that all racial groupings should be equally incorporated into the financial system.


Cho tries to put forth the problems encountered by immigrants in foreign countries such as lack of equal opportunities and mistreatment in the labor market. Chinese go through several tribulations in the country although they soldier on with their activities. The culture of foreigners is not respected, making them be subordinated in all spheres that are, politically, socio-culturally, and economically. The majority of foreigners find it hard to sustain their businesses due to unfavorable laws and an equivocal business environment. Cho however, shows that foreigners are determined to go on since they have no option. With the emerging international system and ratification of international regimes, immigration laws have continually been reviewed hence alleviating the lives of refugees. In Canada, the exclusion act of 1923 was a misdemeanor to the Chinese since it interfered with their human rights. The Chinese society in Canada has succeeded in fighting for their rights, including the abolition of the 1963 Act. Since then, the Chinese have found themselves participating actively in nation-building both at economic and socio-political heights.

Works Cited

  1. Cho, Lily. Eating Chinese: Culture on the Menu in Small Town Canada, cultural spaces. University of Toronto Press, 2010.
  2. Li, Peter. Destination Canada: Immigration Debates and Issue. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2003.
  3. Pollock, Griselda. Encounters in the Virtual Feminist Museum: Time, Space and the Archive. Routledge, 2007.