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Reactions to the Exclusion Act

Overview of the set

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Primary sources

1. Chinese lobby in the Senate |


2. Canadian-Chinese relations |


3. Humiliation Day: Chinese resent Canadian regulations |



4. An argument in the Chinese Times (Dahan Gongbao) |

5. A Case for British Columbian Chinese |



6. Interview with Lee Bick |

7. Chinese meet to protest tax changes |


8. A petition for the right to vote |



9. Tears have been dropped |

Secondary sources


1. Chinatowns: Towns within cities in Canada |


2. Saltwater city |


3. The Chinese in Canada |


4. The Oriental question |

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Student tasks

Question: How did Chinese Canadians protest the Exclusion Act and other discriminatory legislation from 1923 to 1947?

Teacher notes

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Historical context for teachers

Restriction of Chinese immigration to Canada

  • Chinese immigrants began arriving in British Columbia in 1858 to take part in the Fraser Canyon Gold Rush. Between 1881 and 1885, 17 000 Chinese arrived in Canada, most of them recruited to complete the western section of the Canadian Pacific Railroad.
  • Between 1875 and 1923, the Canadian and British Columbian governments passed numerous anti-Chinese laws. In 1885, the Canadian government passed the Chinese Immigration Act 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. In 1900, the head tax was raised to $100; however, this did not discourage Chinese immigration as over 8000 Chinese entered Canada in 1903. By 1901, there were over 17 312 Chinese in Canada.
  • The $100 head tax was raised to $500 in 1903—this was more than two years’ wages for the average worker. Although the $500 head tax discouraged Chinese immigration for the first few years, within three years Chinese immigration increased to over 500 immigrants per year.
  • Throughout the entire head tax period, from 1886 to 1923, 82 379 Chinese entered Canada and paid the Canadian government over $23 million.
  • For decades, various members of the federal and provincial governments put pressure on the federal government to discourage Chinese immigration for a variety of social, cultural and economic reasons.

Exclusion Act introduced

  • In the spring of 1922, two Members of Parliament from British Columbia introduced a bill in favour of the exclusion of the Chinese that received widespread support in the House of Commons.
  • Before the bill became law, Chinese communities across the country formed committees to try to defeat the exclusion bill. Money was raised by various student clubs and theatre groups. The Chinese Association of Canada, representing several of the largest Chinese communities across the country, organized a representative committee to go to Ottawa to lobby (petition) against the bill.
  • Chinese communities appealed to various people and groups in China to stop the bill from being passed, including Sun Yat-sen (president of the Kuomintang Government in China), hoping he could influence the Canadian government’s decision on the bill.
  • In February 1923, the Chinese Immigration Act, 1885 was repealed (cancelled) and replaced by the far more restrictive Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, which became known as the Exclusion Act. This Act replaced the head tax with an outright ban on Chinese immigration to Canada, except for 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 of the Act coming into force. The Act also required all Chinese who wanted to leave the country to register before doing so. Those who failed to register would be treated as new immigrants upon returning to Canada.
  • Despite these efforts, the Exclusion Act came into effect on Dominion Day (now called Canada Day) on July 1, 1923. Chinese Canadians referred to the day as Humiliation Day, and closed their businesses and boycotted Dominion Day celebrations.
  • The Chinese government’s representative in Canada, Consul Tsur, warned that the Exclusion Act would create negative feelings in China toward Canada, and threatened that China might boycott the purchase or trade of Canadian goods.
  • The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923 had negative consequences for Chinese communities across Canada. Chinese men living in Canada could visit their families in China, but they could not bring their wife or children to live with them. The 1931 census found that there were 1240 Chinese men to every 100 Chinese women in Canada. The Chinese population in Canada also rose to 39 857 by 1921, and to 34 627 by 1941.

End of the Exclusion Act

  • The Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association (CBA), which was formed in 1885, worked throughout the Exclusion Act period (1923 to 1947) to protest laws and bills that negatively affected Chinese citizens, with varying degrees of success.
    • In 1920, a law was passed that forbade white women from working in restaurants owned by persons of “questionable morality” (Chinese).
    • In 1926, a proposal was made in British Columbia to forbid Chinese from owning real estate, and required labourers to pass an English examination. Throughout the 1920s, several proposals were made to create separate schools for Chinese.
    • In 1935, the Vancouver health department proposed Chinese cooks working in western-style restaurants pass a physical examination at their own expense.
  • Throughout World War II, Chinese Canadians contributed to the war effort in a variety of ways. As many as 600 people served as pilots, soldiers, nurses and cadets. Chinese Canadians took part in eleven Victory Loan drives, purchased $10 million in Canadian victory bonds, sent $5 million to China, and raised $4 million in war relief funds They also organized boycotts of Japanese goods.
  • Many Chinese Canadians had a variety of reasons for supporting the war. In 1937, Japan invaded mainland China and many Chinese Canadians wanted to help China in its war with Japan. Others wanted to support the Canadian war effort in Asia and Europe out of loyalty to Canada, while others believed that supporting the war might help repeal the Exclusion Act and earn them the right to vote after the war.
  • In November 1946, the Committee for the Repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act, 1923 was formed by a variety of Canadians, including a membership of 80 percent non-Chinese. 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 from which they were previously barred.
  • Historians differ regarding the degree to which they consider Chinese Canadians active protestors against the discriminatory policies of the Exclusion Act era of 1923 to 1947. Some argue that many Chinese actively opposed the Exclusion Act, while others believe that the Chinese community was too divided and weak to organize any serious opposition.