Images and Immigration: China and Canada

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations
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Long before most Canadians ever saw a Chinese person, they heard from travellers, traders, diplomats, and missionaries of a country suffering from uprisings and wars, corruption and vice, intellectual stagnancy, and huge overpopulation. Such images influenced Canada’s immigration policy toward Chinese that began with the imposition of a head tax in 1886 and became an exclusionary policy in 1923. The perceived inability of weak and divided Chinese governments to regulate emigration thwarted Canadian efforts to devise less humiliating methods of restricting immigration. Sympathy for China in its war against Japan after July 1937 boosted China’s image in Canada. That, along with greater concern in Canada for human rights, contributed to the beginning of an easing of restrictions on Chinese immigration in 1947. For humanitarian reasons, after the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Canada admitted a handful of refugees. An estimated 11,000 Chinese entered Canada illegally during the first decade of the PRC. By the 1960s, China was a world power and a significant market for Canadian products. Thus, when Canada reformed its immigration policies it judged potential Chinese immigrants, along with others, more on their skills than on their country of origin.

Images and Immigration: China and Canada

in Journal of American-East Asian Relations



DawsonKing192-97; John D. Meehan Chasing the Dragon in Shanghai: Canada’s Early Relations with China 1858-1952 (Vancouver UBC Press 2011) 30. Unless otherwise noted this account draws from King’s Diary “Mission to the Orient” vols. 2 and 3; King to Laurier 6 June 1910 no. 13399ff W. L. M. King Papers LAC; King to Cole 3 July 1911 no. 15223-4 ibid.; Province 26 July 1911.


R. L. Borden Diary 19 June 1913LAC; Robertson to Mitchell 29 June 1914 vol. 40 Robert L. Borden Papers ibid.; Chinese Times 29 Sept. 1914.


J. A. G. RobertsModern China: An Illustrated History (Phoenix Mill, UK: Sutton1998) 148; China unsuccessfully protested that a British Columbia law to prohibit Chinese from employing white women and the action of the Victoria School Board in sending Chinese children to segregated schools affronted China’s dignity and prejudiced good will. Yang Shu Wen to Oliver 4 Apr. 1919 and Kichang Sun to Vancouver City Council 17 Apr. 1919 copies in vol. 74 Vancouver City Council Correspondence City of Vancouver Archives; Timothy J. Stanley Contesting White Supremacy: School Segregation Anti-Racism and the Making of Chinese Canadians (Vancouver: UBC Press 2010) 39-40. Sao-ke Alfred Sze to Curzon 22 Nov. 1920 vol. 181 RG25A2 Department of External Affairs Records (hereafter cited as DEAR) LAC; Victoria Daily Times 8 Feb.1921; Oliver to Koliang Yih 14 Apr. 1920 Oliver to lieutenant-governor 21 Feb. 1921 Premiers’ Official Correspondence British Columbia Archives (hereafter cited as BCA); Vancouver Daily World 29 Mar. 1920. After the consul and local Chinese protested an amendment in 1924 deleted specific references to the Chinese and protected women from employment in any situation with undesirable “moral conditions” Lo Chong to King 3 Dec. 1924 no. 83528ff King Papers; External to Chinese consul general draft n.d. vol. 727 RG25D1 LAC.


Oliver to Nichol 10 Apr. 1922MfC10692 DIMM; HCD 8 May 1922 1509-77.


Edgar Wickberg ed.From China to Canada: A History of the Chinese Community in Canada (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart1982) 157-58. The Immigration Department believed that most Chinese registered by the 1926 deadline. Jolliffe to Neill 21 Jan. 1930 MfC10264 DIMM.


Keenleyside to Skelton 20 Feb. 1936vol. 722 RG25D1; “Canada and China: A Summary” 21 Mar. 1936 vol. 155 J4 King Papers; Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration to Controllers of Chinese Immigration 26 June 1936 MfC10661 DIMM.


Karen J. LeongThe China Mystique: Pearl S. Buck Anna May Wong Mayling Soong and the Transformation of American Orientalism (Berkeley: University of California Press2005) 28. One scholar claims that The Good Earth had the greatest “influence in creating Western images of China and the Chinese” of any single work of its time. Mackerras Western Images of China 80.


Crerar to King 17 Feb. 1942and King to Crerar 18 Sept. 1942 no. 273822ff King Papers.


Keenleyside to King 3 Oct. 1942vol. 3193 DEAR; Keenleyside to Robertson 17 Nov. 1942 MfC4785 DIMM; Robertson to King 29 Oct. 1942 no. C192730ff King Papers; King’s approval is on a copy in vol. 3193 DEAR; Joliffe to Keenleyside 10 Dec. 1942 MfC10661 DIMM; Keenleyside to Odlum 5 Mar. 1943 vol. 3193 DEAR; Price Orienting Canada 74-75.


Odlum to King 9 Oct. and 1 Dec. 1943vol. 3193 DEAR; Ottawa Journal 13 Oct. 1943; Odlum to King 30 Dec. 1943 file 826734 DIMM.


PriceOrienting Canada82-83; Extract from despatch from Canadian embassy Chongqing 7 Aug. 1945 no. C192765 King Papers; Odlum to King 9 Oct. 1945 file 5068-B-40C DEAR; King to Robertson 3 Jan. 1944 vol. 3193 ibid.; Meeting on Chinese Immigration in Robertson’s office 6 Dec. 1943 MfC4785 DIMM; Robertson to King ca. 17 Jan. 1944 no. C192756 King Papers; Robertson to King 2 June 1944 no. C192751 ibid.


Foon Sien to King 29 Aug. 1945vol. 3193 DEAR; Ottawa Morning Journal 31 Aug. 1945. Such an agreement would lead to pressure from India.


Heeney to Pearson 3 June 1949and Heeney to chairman Security Panel 20 June 1949 DCER 1949 1769-72. The suggestion that the Communist regime might put pressure on the relatives of Chinese in Canada was prescient. Chinese Canadians reported that Communists were demanding money from their relatives in China HCD 28 Nov. 1951 1401 and threatened retaliation against Chinese in China if their Canadian relatives did not buy bonds issued by the Communist government ibid. 6 Apr. 1954 3885.


Heeney to Pearson 13 Oct. 1949DCER 19491783-84; Gibson to Foon Sien 19 Oct. 1949 vol. 125 DCIR; Cabinet Minutes 23 Nov. 1949 vol. 2643 RG2A5; Minister of mines and resources to Cabinet 10 Dec. 1949 vol. 83 RG2; Robertson to Gibson 27 Dec. 1949 vol. 125 DCIR; Harris to Cabinet 1 Feb. 1950 and Cabinet Conclusions 8 Feb. 1950 vol. 166 RG2/18. About 150 Nationalist diplomats and their families and a similar number of students businessmen and missionaries sought temporary admission. The minister responsible noted that European political refugees readily found employment but Chinese refugees were not normally admissible and would have difficulty finding work. Moreover if they engaged in political activities in Canada the Chinese Communists might retaliate with anti-Canadian propaganda and endanger the safety of Canadians in China. Cabinet accepted the minister’s recommendation to give them temporary renewable entry permits but not to encourage them to come. Gibson to Cabinet 16 June 1950 vol. 166 PCR; Cabinet Conclusions 1 Feb. 1950 <> (acc. 25 Apr. 2013).


Press Release 21 Nov. 1973vol. 48 Frank Howard Papers LAC.


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