The Chinese in Canada Before World War I

Canada before World War One was characterised by the immigration of foreign communities, especially the Chinese, which resulted in suspicion and fear by locals that these foreigners had come to settle in Canada. As a result, the locals, together with the government, were not very welcoming, resulting in uncertainty and questions as to whether the treatment of these immigrants was fair and unbiased.

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The early Canadian society was racist; this was due to the threat of rising unemployed Chinese who were feared that they would settle in Canada permanently with their families. This was, however, not the case as most Chinese had initially sought to leave their families back at home.

Due to this growing fear, the Canadians introduced the head tax system through the 1885 Act to restrict and regulate Chinese immigration. The Chinese were required to pay ten dollars to acquire the right to own land in Canada, but by 1903 the head tax had risen to five hundred dollars in order to try and limit the number of Chinese that came to Canada (Stanley, J 2002). This was a direct racist attempt by the Canadians to stop the immigration of the Chinese to Canada as they were the only ones exposed to such kind of a head tax.

The Canadian society was also based on race and gender, especially towards women, where women were regarded and looked down upon as dependants who had no reason to acquire opportunities in employment. This generally resulted in men acquiring beneficial treatments in opportunities of employment. This largely resulted in numerous inequality towards women resulting in complaints towards the Canadian government regarding fair treatment and gender equality (Creese G, 2001)

Most of the control achieved by the immigrants was large as a result of the intermingling of the Chinese with the Canadian culture resulting in what would have been defined as a Chinese- Canadian culture (Stanley, J 1995). People allied to this culture could enjoy benefits such as joining the army, owning businesses and acquiring citizenship. There was also discrimination according to education, experience, job qualification and proficiency in other languages, especially French and English. The immigrants also gained control by coming up together and organising with other ethnic minorities to counter the harsh labour practices that were enforced by the Canadians (Creese G, 2001)

The impact that social groups, business owners, and the government had on shaping immigration was that they were responsible for legalizing Chinese immigration to Canada for the purposes of providing cheap labour, such as the construction of the Canadian Pacific railway (Stanley, J 2002).

As a result of using Chinese labour, a lot of money was saved as they offered cheap and alternative labour. The legalization was achieved by agreements such as the Burlingame treaty. This agreement was facilitated by the powerful business owner such as Andrew Onderdonk as well as influential diplomats acting on behalf of the government such as Anson Burlingame (Stanley, J 2002). The treaty of Nanjing made between Britain and other nations had a significant impact on the immigration to Canada as it gave Britain rights to china thereby favouring immigration from china to Canada by Chinese as Canada was regarded a colony of Britain then called British North America.

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The merchants were in a position to defend themselves in Canada more than the labourer because they could afford to pay the head tax imposed by the Canadian government giving them aright to own land in Canada, unlike the Chinese labourer who could not afford the growing tax which had been raised to five hundred dollars by 1903(Stanley, J 2002).

The merchants had also benefitted from the growth of the Chinese Canadian capitalism by 1858, starting with the establishment of a franchise owned by a Chinese, helping to forge close ties with the Canadians.

The merchants had also flourished from their growth in wealth from the trade in goods to both Canadian settlers and also the non-inhabitants helping them establish and foster close associations with Canadians, thereby making it easier to defend themselves, unlike the labourers.

A merchant class had evolved who took up businesses and entrepreneurship, thus helping to grow the Chinese Canadian economy.

Indeed with the racism ripe in the early Canadian society, immigrants, especially the Chinese who were racially discriminated community, began to fight for their rights in order for them to gain control. This was achieved by the formation of the craft union movement, which comprised labourers from different professions such as moulders, machinists, bricklayers and carpenters (Conrad M, and Finkel A, 1998).

Labour problems that were still evident in the First World War did not undermine the efforts of the immigrants in the pursuit of their rights to better working conditions as well as equal rights in the society; new trade unions were formed, problems were addressed, eventually leading to the unionisation of public services where all members of the society enjoyed equal rights including immigrant such as the Chinese (Conrad M, and Finkel A, 1998).

The emergence of the Chinese Canada culture and society was an ultimate indication of a fair Canada where immigrants such as the Chinese were no longer exposed to injustices such as racism. The Chinese and the Canadians co-existed and engaged in trade which had now been perfected by the Chinese merchants, intermarriages between Canadians and Chinese leading to the Chinese Canadian culture. Development of business and entrepreneurial ship characterized Chinese Canada which had now developed into a big market area. This was evident in such areas such as Vancouver. (Conrad M, and Finkel A, 1998).

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Stanley J, (2002) Journal of Canadian historical association.

Stanley J, (1995) schooling white supremacy and formation of a Chinese merchant British Columbia.

Stanley J, journal of bringing anti-racism into historical explanation.

Creese G, (2001) work, employment and society, Cambridge university press.

Conrad M, and Finkel A, (1998) History of Canadian people 2nd edition.

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