That’s What Happened

When you hear or encounter discrimination because you are Chinese, you are facing the continuity of the past of B.C.

When I was doing the research for the Chinese-Canadian History display, a friend of mine came up to me and asked me why I was doing it. He is happy with the present situation; he enjoys the freedom and security of living in Canada.

“Why the past?” he asked, “Why particularly the bitterness and discrimination of the past?”

For a moment I was standing there speechless because in the first place I did not expect such kind of a question and in the second place the answer seemed so obvious to me that I didn’t know how to put it into words. Then the answer came gradually to my mind and I would like to share it with those of you out there who might want to ask the same question.

The present is nothing but the continuity of the past. Everything that is happening now at this moment is predetermined by the sequence of the events that happened in the past. If we do not know what has happened and why it happened in the past, we will not be able to fully understand what is happening now and we will be totally unprepared to deal with events that are going to happen in the future.

Read this,

“On the whole, it is concluded not advantageous to the country that the Chinese should come and settle in Canada, producing a Mongrel race, and interfering very much with white labor in Canada…. I do not think it would be the advantage of Canada for members of the Mongolian race to become permanent inhabitants of the country. I believe it would introduce a conflict between the working class which would result in evil.”

And read this,

“(Asians) are imposing a great social burden in this country. Chinese people … who cannot be absorbed properly into the country and who cannot find jobs suitable to them are being admitted under the Immigration Act…. These people are coming in so rapidly that they are not fitting in properly to the fabric of society. They are locating in ghettos, dozens to a house… They come in planeloads, 350 at a time, and there is just no way to assimilate them.”

Do you know who made the above two speeches? Do you know when they made them and where they made them? Give it a guess.

The first speech was made by Sir John A. Macdonald in 1887. The second speech was made by MP Ron Huntington (Capilano, BC) in 1975. Both of them were speaking on Canadian immigration policy in the House of Commons.

Do the contents of the two speeches share striking resemblance to each other? Does it surprise you that after a time lag of 88 years the same kind of absurd, unfounded fallacy still persists in people’s mind? You will not be surprised if you know the past history of the hostile sentiment of British Columbians towards the early Chinese immigrants.

Anti—Chinese legislation in B.C. can be traced as far back as 1860, approximately ten years after the first Chinese gold rusher entered B.C. In that year, 1860, ten-dollar poll tax on Chinese was proposed in B.C.’s House of Assembly but was defeated. From then on, numerous head—tax bills were being proposed but were all defeated.

In 1878, a bill levying $30 license on all Chinese was finally passed. In 1855, the Dominion passed its first Chinese head tax legislation and the amount of tax was set at $50. Meanwhile the workers in B.C. were organizing anti-Chinese movements. They formed the Knights of Labor to campaign against Chinese in Vancouver.

Politicians, eager to gain popularity among laborers, started to press for tougher anti—Chinese legislations. Many anti—Chinese bills were passed in B.C. only to be disallowed later by the Dominion. However, in face of the mounting pressure put on by the MPs from B.C., the Dominion increased the Chinese head tax to $100 in 1901 and $500 in 1904.

But all these did not satisfy the irrational hostility of the British Columbians. In 1906, violence against the Chinese broke out in Penticton. In 1907, a riot against the Chinese broke out in Vancouver. Literally every window in Chinatown was smashed in the riot. In 1923, a new Dominion Immigration Act was passed excluding Chinese from immigrating into Canada.

In those days Chinese were living as second-class citizens in Canada. There were anti—Chinese clauses in government contracts. There were certain professions which Chinese were not allowed to practice, and most outrageous of all, Chinese were not allowed to vote on public elections.

In 1947, with the end of the Second World War and the Chinese victory over Japanese invasion in China, the Canadian government began to allow Chinese wives and unmarried children to enter Canada to join their husbands and fathers. In 1949, the Chinese were given back the right to vote on public elections. In 1967, Chinese immigration was finally placed on an equal basis with other nationalities.

So you see, my dear friends, we have come a long way to be able to enjoy today’s freedom and security of living in Canada. I am not advocating the memory of the past bitter experiences. I am only advocating the awareness of the historical facts, so that next time when you hear or encounter some gross or subtle discrimination because you are Chinese, you will know darn well that you are not facing something new, nor are you, facing it alone.

You are facing, like I said, nothing but the continuity of the past.

© (This article was first published in 1976 in an UBC Chinese Students’ Association publication)

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