Chinese Canadians

Helpful Terms

  • Model minority myth: a demographic group whose members are perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the population average, particularly common in Chinese immigrants. May include characteristics such as: diligence, discipline, strong family values, respect for authority, thriftiness, morality, self-sufficiency, respect for education. (Wikipedia article)

  • Perpetual foreigner: in which naturalized and even native-born citizens are perceived as foreign (Wikipedia article)

  • Orientalism: a way of seeing that emphasizes differences of Eastern peoples and cultures as compared to that of the West, in derogatory ways (Wikipedia article).

  • Asian American: A term coined by historian Yuji Ichioka in 1968 during the founding of the Asian American Political Alliance "inter-ethnic-pan-Asian American self-defining political group," a replacement of the terms Oriental/Asiatic/Mongoloid (Wikipedia article)

  • Coolie (苦力/咕喱): 18th century would refer to migrant Indian or Chinese laborers to European colonies (Wikipedia article)

  • Honorary whites: a term associated the rights and privileges of offered to Whites peoples to those who would otherwise have been treated as non-Whites peoples upon certain conditions (Wikipedia article)

  • Yellow peril: derogatory metaphor that East Asians are a threat to the Western world (Wikipedia article)

  • Banana/Twinkie (香蕉人/香蕉仔): derogatory slang for ethnic Chinese with Westerner characteristics, yellow on the outside but white on the inside (Wikipedia article)

  • Jook Sing (竹升): derogatory Cantonese slang for ethnic Chinese from Western nations, becoming outcasts for being sufficiently Chinese nor Western (Wikipedia article)

  • Fresh off the boat (FOB): derogatory term used to describe ethnically Asian circles have yet to assimilate into the host nation (Qualitative Sociology)

  • Hyphenated identity: implies a dual identity or sociocultural group, historically has been used in derogatory ways (Wikipedia article)

  • Sinocentrism: ideology that the nation of China is the cultural, political or economic center of the world (Wikipedia)

  • Whitewashed: derogatory term used to describe ethnically Asian circles assimilated too far into the host nation (Qualitative Sociology)

  • White adjacent: a person coming from a marginalized background within society in terms of race, and at the same time, receiving benefits similar to those identified as white (Daily Sundial Opinions)

  • Native informant: the person who translates their culture for the researcher, the outsider

  • Healthy immigrant effect: immigrants' health is generally better than that of the Canadian-born, although it tends to decline as their years in Canada increase (Statistics Canada)

  • Sinophone (華語語系/華夷風): the study of Sinitic-language cultures born of colonial and postcolonial influences

Scientific Racism

Science was used to bolster claims of race, particularly becoming prominent from the 19th century on (Wikipedia article). For instance, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840) coined the term "Caucasian" and proposed five races according to pseudoscience of craniology, the study of physical characteristics of skills, concluding that the Caucasian was the superior:

    • Caucasian (white)

    • Mongolian (yellow)

    • Malayan (brown)

    • Ethiopian (black)

    • American (red indigenous)

Chinese Ethnicity and Chinese Nationality

Chinese ethnicity and Chinese nationality are different. There are different interpretations on how exactly this works.

The history of China as a nation is debated on the basis of how continuation ought to be viewed, particularly the popularized view claiming 5000 years of Chinese history. What is commonly known as China, The People's Republic of China, was established in 1949. The Republic of China, which has continuation to the island known as Taiwan, was established in 1912. Present-day Chinese nationalism could not be tenably established prior to the establishment of the Republic of China, but is traced towards the end of the rule by the Manchu peoples during the Qing Dynasty. Some Chinese Canadians even supported the expiring Qing Empire by participating as a part of the global Chinese Empire Reform Association.

The Chinese when conceptualized as an ethnicity was by no means uniform in the past, as evidenced by numerous references to foreigners (外族) in historical literature. It is common to equate Chinese ethnicity to the Han Chinese people, with origins from the Han dynasty as the dominant ethnic group of China. However, the ethnicity race in China was not necessarily uniform. Prior to the raise of modern Chinese state, there had also been distinctions between northern and southern Chinese peoples. It is also common to identify as a decent of the two mythological characters in Yandi (炎帝) and Huangdi (黃帝), or simply as "Yan Huang Zisun" (炎黃子孫).


Anglo-Saxonism is racial belief system developed by the 19th century advocating for the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race (Wikipedia article).

Upon the discovery of the new world of the Americas, The papal bull by Pope Nicholas V of 1452 was issued, authorizing Afonso V of Portugal to subjugate "all Saracens, pagans, infidels and enemies of Christ" (Wikipedia article). Colonialism and imperialism were thus mandated by God. Following the Portuguese and Spaniards, the British followed suit and eventually made their way to the Americas, carving up vast amounts of land around the world for their own colonies towards their own gain.

By the 19th century, the British and Americans had adopted an exceptionist view of themselves. American exceptionalism, coined "Manifest Destiny" by 1845 as the United States annexed Texas, predicted a "divine destiny" for the United States (Wikipedia article). As historian Reginald Horsman put it, "American expansion was viewed in the United States less as a victory for the principles of free democratic republicanism than as evidence of the innate superiority of the American Anglo-Saxon branch of the Caucasian race" (JSTOR page).

British historian Richard Evans provided a talk on attitudes of the British during the Victorian Era (Gresham College Page). According to a quote by a British headmaster, the English believed themselves to be "one of the chosen peoples of history who are appointed to do great work for mankind" (Google Books). A British priest and professor believed that "the glorious work which God seems to have laid on the English race, to replenish the earth and subdue it" (Google Books).

This coincided with increased British trade and Anglo-Saxon Protestant Missionary activity during this period, notably with the two invasive Opium Wars fought in China. The aftermath subjected the Chinese Empire to Western imperialist powers by the "most-favored-nation clause," forcing the concessions to be extracted and known as the "unequal treaties" (United States Office of the Historian). This was a landmark of the symbolic subjugation of the Chinese race to the Anglo-Saxon race, the beginning of what is known as the "Century of Humiliation" (Wikipedia article).

Select Events in Chinese Canadian History

  • 1788 Captain John Meares recruited dozens of Chinese workers to assist him in present-day British Columbia (British Columbia)

  • 1858 first wave of Chinese immigrants began arriving in British Columbia for the gold rush, but Chinese were not allowed to prospect in areas other than on abandoned sites due to racial discrimination, with others working in various industries for cheap wages (Library and Archives Canada)

  • 1863 Hongmen society establishes a lodge, the first major Chinese organization in British Columbia (British Columbian Quarterly)

  • 1867 Canada Constitution Act marking the formation of Canada as a country (Wikipedia article)

  • 1872 Chinese first banned from voting in Canada (Library and Archives Canada)

  • 1874 Chinese-Canadians and Indigenous people prohibited from voting

  • 1880 Construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway begins, with Chinese persons consisting of three-quarters of the total railway workforce (Library and Archives Canada)

  • 1885 Chinese Immigration Act where Chinese immigrants were forced to pay a head tax, until it was removed in 1923 in exchange for barring all Chinese immigrants (Canadian Encyclopedia)

  • 1866 Vancouver City Council disqualified the Chinese to vote at municipal elections on April 6 just as the city was incoporated, not restored until 1949

  • 1887 Vancouver anti-Chinese riot targeting a camp of Chinese workers (Wikipedia article)

  • 1891 D'Arcy Island in British Columbia becomes a leper colony for disposing of Chinese immigrants to die until 1924 (Toronto Star)

  • 1892 Attack by Calgary mob of over 300 men blaming Chinese community for smallpox outbreak (Wikipedia article)

  • 1900 Chinese head tax doubled to $100 (British Columbia)

  • 1903 Chinese head tax increased to $500 (British Columbia)

  • 1907 Vancouver anti-Oriental riots targeting Chinatown (Wikipedia article)

  • 1908 drug laws enacted particularly due to the use of opium in the Chinese population, resulting in a higher portion of criminal charges on the Chinese (Wikipedia article)

  • 1910 The Immigration Act gave powers to the government to exclude people on the basis of race with the newly created status of "Canadian Citizen" (Wikipedia article)

  • 1911 Sun Yat-sen's visit to Victoria Hongmen society for fundraising became the largest financial contributor to the Canton Uprising (University of Victoria Library)

  • 1912 the White Women’s Labour Protection Act makes it illegal for Chinese men to hire White women (Cambridge University Press)

  • 1918 Spanish flu pandemic where the Chinese Canadian community was particularly vulnerable (anti-oriental sentiment, poor living and working conditions), the establishment of the Montreal Chinese Hospital by sympathetic Catholic nuns (Wikipedia)

  • 1919 Toronto mob of 400 attack and ransack Chinatown stores (Simon Fraser University)

  • 1919 Several thousand soldiers and civilians ravaged businesses owned by Chinese immigrants in Halifax (Halifax)

  • 1922 Victoria school segregation protests in response to the District School Board’s decision to implement racial segregation in its schools (Canada's History)

  • 1923 The Chinese Immigration Act barred Chinese from immigrating to Canada, making July 1 known as "Humiliation Day" among Chinese Canadians (Library and Archives Canada)

  • 1930s The Great Depression in which the Chinese people were given less relief by the government (Library and Archives Canada)

  • 1941 Canadians defend Hong Kong against invading Japanese forces during World War II (Veteran Affairs Canada)

  • 1945 The end of World War II with the establishment of the United Nations (Library and Archives Canada)

  • 1945 Kew Dock Yip becomes the first Chinese Canadian lawyer, graduating from the Toronto Osgoode Hall Law School (Wikipedia article)

  • 1946 Sai Wan War Cemetery military cemetery is built in Hong Kong for Commonwealth casualties during World War II (Veterans Canada)

  • 1947 Chinese granted the right to vote and Chinese displaced persons allowed into Canada as the Chinese Immigration Act is repealed (Library and Archives Canada)

  • 1948 Larry Kwong, a professional hockey player playing the center position, becomes the first Chinese Canadian and first from Vernon British Columbia to receive ice time in the NHL, logging one minute in a single game for the New York Rangers (Canadian Encyclopedia)

  • 1948 Norman Kwong begins his career in the CFL as fullback, the first Chinese Canadian to play on a professional Canadian football team, where he goes on to win multiple Grey Cups (Wikipedia article)

  • 1950 Canada participates in the Korean War as a part of the United Nations front against North Korea and the People’s Liberation Army of the People's Republic of China (Veteran Affairs Canada)

  • 1953 the end of the Korean War

  • 1955 demolition of part of Toronto's Old Chinatown of St. John's Ward due to the construction of Nathan Phillips Square and Toronto City Hall

  • 1957 Douglas Jung becomes the first Canadian Member of Parliament of Chinese and Asian descent in the House of Commons of Canada (Wikipedia article)

  • 1967 Restrictions for immigration on the basis of race replaced by a points system (Library and Archives Canada)

  • 1980 Chinese Canadians protest against racist TV program produced by CTV which charged that foreign students from China were taking up a large proportion of Canadian university spots (CBC Archives)

  • 1980 Parliament passed a motion recognizing "the contributions made to the Canadian mosaic and culture by the people of Chinese background" (Chinese Americans book)

  • 1984 Redress campaign seeking official government apology and compensation of Chinese head tax initiated (Chinese Canadian Women Timeline)

  • 1987 an all-party parliamentary resolution to recognize the injustice and discrimination of the head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act (Chinese Americans book)

  • 1988 Canadian Multiculturalism Act (Wikipedia)

  • 2002 Asian Heritage Month is established for the month of May (

  • 2003 Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and anti-Asian incidents

  • 2006 apology for Chinese head tax issued by the Canadian government (Press Release for Canada)

  • 2014 British Columbia premier apologized for racist historical policies in the province (Chinese Americans book)

  • 2020 COVID19 Coronavirus disease and anti-Asian incidents

Chinese Canadian History by Memorable Dates

  • January 1: The Canadian Citizenship Act came into force to introduce Canadian citizenship as an entity independent from British subject status, overturning anti-Asian measures in 1947

  • February 1887: arsonists burn down laundries during an anti-Chinese riot in Vancouver

  • February 16: British colony of Malaya including Singapore surrenders to the Empire of Japan in 1942

  • February 18-19: Anti-Chinese riots in Halifax in 1919

  • March 13: Larry Kwong makes his debut for the New York Rangers as the first Chinese Canadian NHL hockey player in 1948

  • April 2: Part of Toronto Old Chinatown demolition begins in 1955

  • April 6: voting rights for civic elections removed from the Chinese in Vancouver in 1886

  • April 15: British troops advance during the Six-Day War in Hong Kong New Territories, resulting in death of hundreds of Chinese by the hands of British colonial troops, under former the jurisdiction of Newfoundland governor Sir Henry Arthur Blake

  • May: Asian Heritage Month designated in Canada since 2002

  • May 13: Chinese workers of British fur trader Captain John Meares arrive on Vancouver Island in 1788

  • May 14: federal Chinese Exclusion Act repealed in 1947

  • June 16: Canadian Parliament passed a motion recognizing the contribution of Chinese immigrants in 1980

  • June 22: Prime Minister Harper offers full apology for the Chinese Head Tax in 2006

  • July 1: Humiliation Day, Chinese Exclusion Act established in Canada in 1923

  • July 21: Canadian Multiculturalism Act enacted by the Parliament of Canada in 1988

  • August 15: Japan declares surrender as Hong Kong returns to British colonial rule in 1945

  • September 7-9: Vancouver anti-Asiatic riots in 1907

  • September 30: CTV Television documentary W5 anti-Chinese episode airs, eventually leading to the formation of the The Chinese Canadian National Council in 1979

  • October 13: Canada with Pierre Elliott Trudeau as prime minister officially recognized the People's Republic of China in 1970

  • October 18: former governor general of Canada James Bruce orders the Imperial Old Summer Palace be burned down in retaliation in 1860

  • October 24: former governor general of the Province of Canada James Bruce at the Convention of Peking forces Qing to concede more land to the British colony of Hong Kong in 1860

  • November 7: photograph of last spike of the Canadian Pacific Railway was taken while excluding the Chinese in 1885

  • November 11: Remembrance day to commemorate our Chinese Canadian veterans

  • December 8: British colony of Malaya surrenders to the Empire of Japan in 1941

  • December 25: British colony of Hong Kong surrenders to the Empire of Japan in 1941