HomeChinese AmericanStanford med student's new heist caper explores Chinese American identity

Stanford med student’s new heist caper explores Chinese American identity

Grace Li, 26, released her debut novel Portrait of a Thief this week, a heist caper filled with action and exploration of topics such as Western colonialism and the Chinese identity. 

Li, American-born and ethnically Chinese, started to put large efforts to finish her book when the COVID-19 pandemic began at the end of Li’s first year at Stanford medical school. Although the two career paths seem to be drastically different, she said her career choices are not contradictory, according to the LA Times.

“Despite the differences between medicine and writing, both require thinking deeply and thoughtfully about the world and the people in it,” she said. 

The book conveys a story about a Harvard art history student Will Chen who witnesses a robbery of a Chinese artifact and receives a $50 million offer to steal five Chinese zodiac fountainhead pieces that were stolen from Beijing’s Old Summer Palace, the USA Today writes.

Li first began writing The Portrait of a Thief after she was inspired by a true newspaper story about the heist of Chinese jade and gold artifacts from a museum in southwestern England, the LA Times reports. As a daughter of immigrants from China, Li said she was deeply struck by the article and that it sparked her research into robberies that target Chinese antiquities taken by invaders long ago and now displayed in Western museums.

The LA Times said although she incorporates heist genre archetypes, Li also utilized the large variety of personal stories and identities that come with the Chinese diaspora.  

“Everyone thinks that Chinese identity is a monolith,” Li said to the LA Times. “But there’s enormous diversity among Chinese Americans in terms of language, personal identity, socioeconomic status, and how they think of themselves in relationship to China. There’s no one idea of what it means to be Chinese.”

Ahead of the publication of the book, Netflix claimed the TV rights to the novel, according to The Stanford Daily. The LA Times reported that Li will play the role of the executive producer.

“I hope ‘Portrait’ invites conversation about the ways that history continues to influence the present day, as well as illuminate the complexities and joys of the Chinese American experience — all wrapped up in a story that’s as exciting as a heist,” she said about her debut to LA Times.

(Editor’s note: AsAmNews will receive a small commission if you use the bookshop button above to purchase the book)

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story, or making a contribution.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


Worth the Time

Must Read

Regular Features


Discover more from AsAmNews

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading