Yong – The Journey of an Unworthy Son
by Janeen Brian
Thirteen-year old Yong recounts his dangerous journey from southern China to join the 1850s gold rush in Ballarat, Victoria. He tries with all his heart to be worthy son, obedient to his father’s decision to sail to Australia after drought and famine devastate their village.
But everything goes wrong on a journey Yong never wanted to make.
Shipwrecked on the Australian coast 400 miles from the goldfields, Yong, his father and the other villagers are cast into a world of strange foreign people, and a stranger landscape.
Can they trust the white man they pay to guide them to Ballarat? They have no choice. They set out in the cold and rain of winter, carrying their supplies in baskets on poles across their shoulders, the mud sucking at their frail rope shoes.
Yong is hiding secrets – one from the other Chinese travelers, and one from his father. This second secret makes Yong feel a deeply unworthy son. Its weight is heavier than the physical load he carries on the endless, hungry trek through the alien Australian wilderness.
Their guide becomes a hostile drunk, and sickness strikes the exhausted would-be gold miners. As they argue, tell jokes, sing their country’s songs, encourage each other to keep going, we almost walk beside them. Like them, we fear reaching Ballarat may be an impossible dream.
Yong begins the journey as a boy, an obedient son, but by journey’s end he will be a man, making his own honorable choices.
Through one boy’s story, beloved Australian children’s author Janeen Brian has brought alive some Australian settlers we know too little about.
‘Ties That Bind, Ties that Break’
By Lensey Namioka
Two generations after Yong’s journey, little Ailin is born into a China on the edge of revolution. Her family’s wealth is slipping away as farmers rebel against landlords. The Emperor is overthrown, no-one understands what the new Republic really is, and Ailin’s own rebellion almost tears her family apart.
This little girl will not have her feet bound. She will not live her life as a cripple, even though ancient custom demands all women submit to it. Her defiance makes her a social outcast, without any hope of marriage.
As the western world forces its ways on China – railways, steamships, trade – Ailin travels her own path to freedom. One large, unbound foot at a time.
Her journey is longer than Yong’s, but we are carried along by this gifted, lonely little hero, who seizes every opportunity offered by a new China lurching out of the past into an unknown future.
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