The Canadian Chinese Exclusion Act and the veterans who overcame it.

Author:Wong, Larry
Position:3H Paper

(Original title: Comparing Chinese exclusion and the veterans who overcame it)

The 1923 Immigration Act, often referred to as the Chinese Exclusion Act, was an accumulation of the Canadian government's attempt to frustrate the migration of the Chinese to Canada. Unlike the United States, which imposed the Exclusion Act in 1882, the Canadian government in the year 1885 levied a head tax of $50 for each Chinese entering the country. This policy was initiated by the province of British Columbia where many of the Chinese arrived from China and the United States.

The provincial government of the day was dismayed by the number of Chinese who came for the Fraser River gold rush in 1858 and the Cariboo Gold Rush in 1861 and again during the building of the transcontinental railroad from 1881 to 1885. When the railroad was completed, some 14,000 Chinese found themselves unemployed, much to the consternation of the white population. Most of the Chinese turned to low-paying jobs, for example, working as houseboys, laundrymen, and general laborers, but nonetheless they were perceived as a threat to the general economy, and the provincial government forced Ottawa to take action.

The solution was simple. The federal government was persuaded by the British Columbian government to impose a $50 head tax on each Chinese entering Canada as a means to discourage further migration from China. The Chinese however, much to the chagrin of everyone, kept coming, and in 1901, the tax was increased to $100. Again, the Chinese were able to finance the head tax. In response, the government increased the tax to a whopping $500 in 1903.

The Chinese Exclusion Act came into effect on the first of July, 1923. The Act was the only act in Canadian Parliament aimed specifically at a particular race. In the Chinese communities across Canada, no Chinese joined in the festivities of Dominion Day, no business was open, no Canadian flags were flown. The Chinese called it the Day of Humiliation.

There were exceptions to the Exclusion Act. Chinese students and ministers of the cloth were allowed and, of course, diplomatic staff and Chinese born in Canada. However, the Chinese born in Canada were never considered citizens; they were classified as aliens. The Chinese had been listed on electoral lists as far back as 1867 but lost the right to vote in 1874.

The Chinese communities across Canada were mainly a bachelor society and more so after 1923, being cut off from friends and families in China. The Chinese...

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