Rice Paper Memoirs

Chinese immigration experience explored in new book

MARQUETTE — A reception and book signing for “Rice Paper Memoirs,” written by Ishpeming resident Joy Lee Han, will be held from 1-4 p.m. Saturday, with a presentation about the book and author at 1:45 p.m., at the Ishpeming Salvation Army Community Center, located at 222 East Division Street in Ishpeming.

“Rice Paper Memoirs,” published in January by Birchview Press, chronicles Joy Lee Han’s experiences experiences growing up in China and immigrating to the United States during the 1950s.

“I went through lots of things, I was born and raised in China, went through the Japanese invasion, the Second World War, Pearl Harbor…all of those things,” Joy Lee Han said. “I was encouraged to write my book, my autobiography, by friends and family.” “They said I should write about my life because it’s so different from many other people’s experiences.”

Rice Paper Memoirs tells the story of Joy Lee Han’s upbringing in north central China, the terrors she experienced living through World War II and the Japanese occupation of China, as well as her journey to the United States, which began when she snuck across the border to Hong Kong at age 19.

Han, who had suffered from tuberculosis for three years in China, was able to come to the United States by boat after she entered Hong Kong. She said she spent the first year and a half of her time in the United States in a being treated in sanatorium for tuberculosis patients.

Rice Paper Memoirs chronicles not only Han’s unique experiences growing up in China and her journey to the United States — it also covers her college days in Texas; her 1956 move to Ishpeming in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula that immediately followed her marriage to Tsu Ming Han, a notable figure in Ishpeming’s mining industry who was born in China’s Henan province, and the raising of the couple’s three children in Ishpeming.

“A lot of people have always encouraged her to write her story,” Dennis Han, Joy Lee Han’s son said about the inspiration for the book.

Dennis Han said as Joy Lee Han was growing up in China, she made rice paper journals by hand, tying them together with string to bind them. She still has the journals, which chronicled her daily life as a young woman in China. The journals served as a source for the book and an inspiration for the book’s cover — which has the texture of rice paper, Dennis Han said.

The book also contains images of the original journals, as well as many personal photos.

“What is really remarkable about this book is that my mother saved photos of herself and her environment since she was a small child in China. (It’s) just amazing the things she kept,” Dennis Han said.

He also noted that she saved many artifacts from her experiences, including the ticket for the boat that took her from China to the United States.

In addition to the personal photos, maps and timelines accompany the memoir to help readers place the book into the historical and geographical context. Dennis Han explained the final product is a result of collaboration between his mother, himself, designers, as well as the book’s editor, who they serendipitously met while shopping for ink cartridges.

“(It was) pure chance that we met and it happened to be perfect,” Dennis Han said about their editor. “It just proved to be a really important collaboration that helped bring this whole thing together.”

Joy Lee Han’s book has been described as “a riveting work” and “a valuable piece of immigrant literature” by Russell Magnaghi, professor emeritus at Northern Michigan University.

Beyond the book’s historical and cultural significance, it also offers stories of strength, “extraordinary courage” and faith. Joy Lee Han said her memoir is a testimony of “God’s grace to me, to me and my family, how he delivered us.”

“It was quite a miraculous how God guided us,” she said.

Cecilia Brown can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is cbrown@miningjournal .net.