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WW II involvement improved status for Chinese Canadians

Overview of the set

This set of History Docs invites students to determine whether Chinese-Canadian involvement in World War II improved the status of Chinese Canadians living in Canada after examining a variety of primary and secondary sources including photographs, interviews, pamphlets, petitions, editorial letters, newspaper articles, political cartoons, and secondary sources.

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Primary sources

1. In opposition to enfranchising the "Orientals" |

2. Interview with Alex Louie |

3. Mr. Chow after World War II |

4. Interview with Victor Eric Wong |

5. A petition for the right to vote |


6. Reverend Lam urges franchise for ‘Young’ Chinese |


7. V–J celebrations in Vancouver’s Chinatown |

8. Chinese war vets get ‘citizenship’ |


9. Insult erased |

10. Douglas Jung and supporters |

Secondary sources

1. Westernization |

2. The Chinese in Canada |

3. The road to enfranchisement |

4. The triumph of citizenship |

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Student tasks

Question: Did Chinese Canadian involvement in World War II improve the status of Chinese living in Canada?

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 Canadian support for the war

  • Many Chinese Canadians had a dual interest in participating in World War II. In 1937, Japan invaded mainland China and many Chinese Canadians wanted to help China in their struggle. When World War II broke out in Europe in 1939, and in Asia in 1941 Chinese Canadians wanted to do what they could to support the Canadian war effort.
  • 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 purchased Canadian and Chinese war bonds to help raise money for the expense of the war, and they also organized boycotts of Japanese goods.
  • In total, Chinese Canadians took part in eleven Victory Loan drives purchasing $10 million in Canadian victory bonds, sent $5 million to China and raised $4 million in war relief funds.
  • In September 1939, Chinese Canadians were usually able to enlist in the Canadian Army in most of the provinces, although enlistment officers often discouraged them from doing so.

Discrimination in the armed forces

  • At the beginning of World War II, the British Columbian government pressured the Canadian government not to recruit Chinese Canadians into active service because they believed that if Chinese Canadians volunteered to fight in the war it would be impossible not to enfranchise [the right to vote] them after the war was over.
  • Most of the men who enlisted in the Canadian Army were either volunteers or were forced to enlist by the National Resources Mobilization Act (NRMA) passed in June 1940.
  • After relentless pressure from British Columbia Premier T. D. Pattullo, the federal government decided not to recruit Chinese- and Japanese-Canadians into the Canadian Army in September 1940. Although some Chinese Canadians had already been called up for medical examinations, they were not sent to military training centres. In January 1941, the ban on Chinese Canadian recruitment was extended by the Cabinet War Committee to all of Canada.
  • Chinese Canadians were also barred from enlisting in the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) until October 1942 because each volunteer had to be of “pure European descent.”
  • A Chinese Canadian Sea Cadet was also refused entry into the Royal Canadian Navy RCN in 1940 on the grounds that he was not white. At an interdepartmental meeting in April 1943, the RCN decided to “accept any British subjects, but not aliens.” Subsequently, Canadian-born Chinese and Chinese born in Hong Kong (then a British territory) were allowed to enlist in the Navy, if they were deemed acceptable.
  • In 1944, the British War Office asked Ottawa for Chinese Canadians to work in the Southeast Asia and Southwest Pacific Theatres. Due to their appearance and language Chinese Canadians could be dropped into Japanese occupied territories to work alongside Chinese guerrillas and act as spies. As a result, Chinese Canadians were finally called for service in 1944.

Exclusion ended

  • In November 1946, following the end of World War II, the Committee for the Repeal of the 1923 Chinese Immigration Act (the Exclusion Act) was formed by a variety of Canadians, including an 80 percent non-Chinese membership. After much deliberation by Ottawa, and hesitation from the government of British Columbia, the Exclusion Act was repealed in May 1947, and Chinese Canadians were enfranchised.
  • After the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act, educational benefits were extended to Chinese Canadian veterans and Chinese Canadians were free to enter professions from which they had been previously barred. It was not until 1967 that Chinese and other Asian immigrants were admitted to Canada under the same criteria as others.