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Chinese Canadian teenagers 1910-1947

Overview of the set

This set of History Docs invites students to determine the extent to which Canadian-born Chinese youth adopted Canadian cultural and social practices from 1910 to 1947 after examining a variety of primary and secondary sources including photographs, pamphlets, interviews, editorial letters and secondary sources.

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Primary sources

1. “Stories of Chinese Canadians” |


2. Two teenagers’ experiences in Vancouver |

3. Social lives of Chinese Canadian youth |


4. Graduation portrait of Dr. Victoria Cheung |

5. School segregation in Victoria |


6. Extra-curricular activities |

7. Youth Sports |


8. Chinese students’ soccer club |

9. Chinese Youth Association members join British Columbia Youth Congress |


10. An open letter to Chinese youth |


Secondary sources

1. A young generation of Chinese Canadians |

2. Chinese Canadian youth school and sport participation |

3. Chinese Canadian youths in the 1930s and ’40s |

4. Chinese Canadian youths and World War II |

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Student tasks

Question: To what extent did Canadian-born Chinese youth adopt Canadian cultural and social practices between 1910 and 1947?

 When determining whether Canadian-born Chinese youth adopted Canadian social and cultural practices, you may want to consider their experiences with:

    • social clubs and sports teams
    • social and political organizations
    • educational institutions
    • the employment market
    • traditional familial, social and cultural practices.


Teacher notes

The following notes on topics addressed in the History Docs are intended to enhance teachers' understanding of the sources and ability to guide students in interpreting them.

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Historical context for teachers

Chinese immigration to Canada

  • Chinese immigrants began arriving in British Columbia in 1858 from the depleted gold mines of the California gold rush, and directly from China, to take part in the Fraser Canyon gold rush.
  • In 1881, 4350 Chinese were living in Canada; however, between 1881 and 1884, 17 000 Chinese workers were contracted to build the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR).
  • Chinese immigrants to Canada faced many hardships, including the difficulty of learning a new language, isolation from family, low pay, dangerous work and racial discrimination from the government and individual citizens.
  • They worked as miners, lumbermen, railroad workers, servants and cooks, farm labourers, and a variety of other low-paying, primarily manual labour-oriented jobs. Some worked as merchants or owned small businesses (e.g., laundries and restaurants) that catered to Chinese communities and various gold-mining and other frontier communities throughout British Columbia. 

Anti-Chinese laws

  • The Canadian and British Columbian governments passed numerous anti-Chinese laws between 1875 and 1923. In British Columbia, Chinese immigrants were disallowed from acquiring certain types of land, prevented from working in underground mines, excluded from admission to provincially-run homes for the aged and unwell, prohibited from being hired to work in the public service, and disqualified from voting. They were also barred from many professions in British Columbia because they were not included on voters’ lists—a requirement held by several professional associations for membership (e.g., law, accounting and pharmacy).
  • In 1885, the Canadian government passed the Chinese Immigration Act, 1885 that required every Chinese worker and family member entering Canada to pay a $50 head tax.
  • Despite the $50 head tax, large numbers of Chinese immigrants continued to come to Canada. The head tax was raised to $100 in 1900; however, this did not limit Chinese immigration as over 8000 Chinese entered Canada in 1903. The $100 head tax was raised to $500 in 1903—this was more than two years’ wages for the average worker. Throughout the head tax period, from 1886 to 1923, 82 379 Chinese entered Canada and paid the Canadian government over $23 million.
  • During World War I, an estimated 300 Chinese Canadians volunteered to fight for their country. In 1920, a dozen Chinese veterans who served in the Canadian Army during the war were given the right to vote.
  • The Victoria School Board created a separate school for all Chinese elementary school-age students in 1921, because of overcrowding, economics and the negative educational effects Chinese students had on their white peers. Chinese parents removed their children from the segregated school and put them in a Chinese public school for one year until the Victoria School Board permitted Chinese students to return to regular classes.

Chinese Exclusion Act

  • In February 1923, the Chinese Immigration Act, 1885 was repealed (cancelled) and replaced by the far more restrictive Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, also known as the Exclusion Act. This Act replaced the head tax with an outright ban on Chinese immigration to Canada, with the exceptions of students, representatives of the Chinese government and their staffs, and merchants.
  • The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923 also stipulated that every person of Chinese origin in Canada was required to register with the government and receive a certificate of registration within 12 months. The Act also specified that those Chinese who were temporarily leaving the country had to register before leaving, otherwise they would be treated as new immigrants upon their return.
  • The effects of the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923 were strongly felt by the Chinese community. While Chinese men living in Canada visited China whenever they could, they were, for the most part, isolated from their families. The 1931 census found that there were 1240 Chinese men to every 100 Chinese women in Canada.
  • In 1937, Japan invaded mainland China and many Chinese Canadians wanted to help China. Chinese adolescents created the Chinese Youth Association (CYA) of Victoria in 1938 to provide moral and physical support for China in its war against Japan (the Second Sino-Japanese War, 1937–1945). The CYA was active in political and social causes involving both China and local Canadian communities.
  • When World War II erupted in 1939, members of the Chinese Canadian community debated whether they should volunteer to fight for a country that treated them like second-class citizens. Many Chinese youths felt that serving their country could convince the Canadian government to enfranchise them (allow them to vote) after the war. 600 Chinese Canadians ended up volunteering, 600 served as pilots, soldiers, nurses and cadets throughout the war.
  • Many Chinese Canadians supported the war by purchasing Canadian and Chinese war bonds and boycotted Japanese goods. Eleven Victory Loan Drives were held to help raise money to pay for the war. In total, Chinese Canadians sent $5 million to China, helped raise $4 million in war relief funds and purchased $10 million in Canadian victory bonds.
  • In November 1946, the Committee for the Repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923 was formed by a variety of Canadians, including an 80 percent non-Chinese membership. After much deliberation and hesitation by the federal and British Columbia governments, the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923 was repealed in May 1947.
  • Chinese Canadians were enfranchised, educational benefits were extended to Chinese Canadian veterans and Chinese in Canada were free to enter professions they were previously barred from.
  • Between 1910 and 1947, a small but visible group of Chinese youth, who were born and raised in Canada, began to emerge in Canadian society. Some historians argue that this group of Chinese Canadians was the first generation to become Canadianized—to adopt the customs, values and traditions of Canadian society while abandoning many that were important to their Chinese-born parents. Others argue that this generation did not become fully Canadianized and instead struck a balance between Chinese and Canadian customs, values and traditions.