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Chinese Exploitation And Discrimination In Canada History Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

European colonial period is characterized by the conquering of foreign land, the exploitation of resources and slaves, and the imposition of European culture. From European colonialism arose many atrocious acts such as the Triangular Slave Trade and the decimation of many indigenous populations. Ideologically, the concept of orientalism emerged from European colonialism where it became lens in which the West sees the people of the East as weak and inferior. European explorers sought to make sense of their travels by drawing from classical knowledge, religious sources, and mythology (Glyn, Meth and Willis 2009); it was a corrupt archive on the cultural identity of the colonized based on sweeping generalizations and stereotypes that crossed several cultural and national boundaries (ibid). The information isolated the colonized and separated them as the “other” from Europeans (ibid). The creation of a general inferior identity allowed colonial powers to legitimize their colonization and exploitation of these people (ibid). Although Great Britain and other powerful countries in Europe actively colonized much of the modern Third World and created many obstacles for their future development, other non-colonizing countries do are not guilt-free. Loyal historical colonies like Canada have had a similarly exploitative relationship with Third World citizens, including its blatant discrimination against non-European settlers such as the Chinese. Contrary to the popular belief that Canada has always had a benevolent relationship with people of the Third World, Canada carried forth the orientalist view from European colonialism and used them to justify its discrimination against and exploitation of Chinese immigrants from 1880 to 1947. Under the pretense of orientalism, Canada exploited Chinese labour in building their national railway, created racism immigration policies to keep the Chinese out, and withheld fundamental rights on the grounds of ethnicity.

Canada exploited Chinese immigrants as a solution to the labour shortage in building the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) from 1881 to 1885. Throughout the four years and even following it, Chinese suffering outweighed their benefits while Canada was able to complete its railroad on time for a considerably cheaper price. The completion of the CPR was extremely important to Canada because it was a physical means to unite the different regions of Canada together as a country (Baureiss 2007:15). Canada had a lot at stake in the CPR project where a delay in its construction could lead to British Columbia’s secession from the union of Canada (ibid). In order to meet the completion deadline, the CPR contractor, Andrew Onderdonk, was granted permission from the federal government to import Chinese labourers to compensate for the insufficient Canadian labour force (Wang 2006:11). The Chinese immigrants were allowed entry only for the purposes of building the railroad; Canada was not in favour of having permanent Chinese settlements and primarily hired men who would presumably return home to their families upon completion (ibid). With the extra labour force of approximately 15 000 Chinese labourers working on the Western portion of the CPR, the railroad was completed on time (Yu 2009:16).

Canada also benefit from the low wages that they paid the Chinese immigrants. In the construction of the CPR, white Canadian labourers were paid an average wage of $1.50 to $1.75 while the Chinese labourers were paid $1.00 with the mandate to purchase their provisions solely from the company store (Baureiss 2007:15). Although the two groups performed the same tasks, Canada justified the difference using the orientalist stereotype that the Chinese could survive on a lower wage than the white Canadian labourers (Whiteley, 1929: 342). The railway company saved money in paying cheaper wages and also earned profits in selling provisions to Chinese labourers (ibid).

Orientalism created an unequal power relation between Canada and the Chinese immigrants where the Chinese served to benefit Canada. A tragic example is the 4 000 deaths of Chinese labourers working on the CPR as a result of poor working conditions, disease, landslides and accidental explosions (Toronto Star 1986:F.2) For those who survived, Canada did not make an attempt to include or integrate the Chinese into Canadian society because they were not truly welcome and were expected to leave anyway (Wang 2006:12). However, nearing completion of the CPR many Chinese labourers were dismissed early and found themselves with insufficient funds to finance their return fare back to China (ibid). Many descended into poverty as they lost employment with the railway company and others resorted to labouring in mines (ibid).

The sole reason that the Chinese were allowed entry into Canada was to advance Canada’s own interests in completing the railway in the most efficient and cost effective manner; in complete disregard for the well-being of the Chinese, they opened the gates for the destitute in China in order for Canada to exploit their cheap labour and then abandon them. Canada initially decided to import Chinese because orientalist beliefs dictated that the Chinese were stereotypically inferior in hard labour (Wang 2006:12); Canada would be able to exploit their inferiority and still use them to complete the railroad efficiently. Although this orientalist perception of the Chinese is inaccurate, the fact that Chinese immigrants were imported into a disadvantaged position forced them into the powerless stereotype as they were subject to Canadian interests. They were allowed entry into Canada in accordance to the amount of labour needed by Canada, and they worked at any offered in order to survive. In purposefully pushing a number of Chinese immigrants into the orientalist stereotype, Canada was able to prove the orientalist knowledge as true and thus justify their exploitation of cheap Chinese labour. As exemplified in the CPR project, Canada’s relationship with the Chinese people from the then developing country of China is in no way benevolent or good-willed; on the contrary Canada used and promoted orientalist perceptions of the Chinese in order to rationalize the exploitation of their labour.

Canada subsequently discriminated against the Chinese systematically through a racially exclusive immigration policy. The orientalist stereotypes of the Chinese fuelled Canada’s institutionally racist immigration policy as they primarily focused on defending against the sojourner image of “transitory labourers, who had come [to Canada] to find a fortune and return with it to China” (Baureiss 2007:22). Believing in this sojourner stereotype, Canadians felt threatened by the Chinese labourers’ competitive edge and feared for their job security (ibid). Moreover, in 1903 Prime Minister Wilfred Laurier publically supported the racist and orientalist ideals in his statement to the House of Commons where he said “in my opinion there is not much room for the Chinaman in Canada” (Winter 2008:122). In response to the wantlessness for the Chinese, Canada passed racially discriminatory regulations through the 1885 Act to Restrict and Regulate Chinese Immigration into Canada which necessitated a $50 payment for entry know as the head tax (ibid). However the head tax seemed to reinforce the sojourner stereotype as Chinese men arrived in Canada to work and often sent large sums of their salaries home to their families rather than spending it on the Canadian economy (Baureiss 2007:22). The orientalist stereotype fuelled further intolerance for the Chinese, even though it ignores the fact that the head tax was designed to discourage permanent Chinese settlements in Canada; it was presumably too expensive for a Chinese family to afford the head tax for all family members (ibid). In response to the growing intolerance for the Chinese, Canada took intensified measures to stop Chinese immigration, the head tax was raised to $100 in 1902 and then $500 in 1904 – the equivalent of two years worth of wages for an average worker (Wang 2006:12). With the hike in price for the head tax, many men who immigrated ahead of their families “lost hope of bringing their wives or children to Canada and for many years [the Chinese] community became a bachelor society” (Plaitiel 1988:A8). As men working on a dollar a day could not afford to bring their families to Canada, Chinese immigration was significantly curtailed and the Canadian government profited $23 million generated by approximately 81 000 Chinese immigrants (Winter 2008:122), however Canada’s intolerance was not satiated.

In 1923 Canada replaced the head taxes with the Chinese Immigration Act that prohibited Chinese immigration altogether for a total of twenty-four years (Winter 2008:122). The act gave many Chinese workers the ultimatum of being separated from their family permanently or giving up their immigrant status to return home (Wang 2006:12). The immigration policies set forth by the Canadian government are not only racially discriminatory, but it spread the general orientalist view of unworthiness and undesirability in the Chinese ethnicity. The orientalist stereotypes of the Chinese initially caused Canadians to unwelcome the Chinese but the implementation of head taxes seemingly reinforced the stereotypes, without consideration towards the actual circumstances and created a completely intolerant society. The exclusion of the Chinese in Canada was justified by the orientalist stigma that the Chinese are an unwanted ethnicity in Canada, and thus legitimating any means to eliminate them; the head tax that created a financial burden on the Chinese, separated families between countries, and prevented a second generation of Chinese Canadians were valid. Moreover, the eventual total refusal of Chinese immigrants was substantiated based on the orientalist sojourner identity created for the Chinese immigrants dictated them as morally inferior and self-interested. Canada’s creation of an orientalist lens in which to view the Chinese – through blatantly racism immigration policies – contradicts its perceived identity as being benevolent and accommodating to people of the Third World in development.

In addition to barring the entry of Chinese immigrants, Canada systemically discriminated against Chinese immigrants already within Canada by legally withholding fundamental human rights. For example, the Chinese were excluded from political life and did not have the right to vote (Baureiss 2007:23). Although they were initially granted voting rights like immigrants of other ethnicities, the right to vote was disallowed to the Chinese in British Columbia in 1985 in provincial and municipal elections (ibid). Later, the federal government also refused to give the Chinese voting rights in federal elections (ibid). Prime Minister John A. Macdonald further justified disenfranchisement of the Chinese by stating that “…the Chinese have no ‘British instinct’ and their mind [is] not suited for democracy” (Baureiss 2007:23). Macdonald’s statement crystallized the fact that the Chinese are denied rights based on the knowledge about their race as communicated by orientalism; the Chinese are inferior because without ‘British instinct,’ their intelligence is too elementary for democracy.

The Chinese in Canada did not have access to equal opportunity and were further excluded from numerous jobs based on racial grounds. Initially, the exclusion from participating in politics led to disqualification from certain prestigious or powerful professions that included law, pharmacy and accounting (Baureiss 2007:27). Similar to the discriminatory immigration policy, the denial of equality rights to the Chinese stemmed from the oriental stereotype of the sojourner. Since the sojourner stereotype dictated that the Chinese immigrants would all leave after amassing their wealth, Canadians rationalized that it was unnecessary to grant them equal opportunity rights because they would return home and not remain in Canada permanently (Baureiss 2007:23). As a result, in 1878 British Columbia passed a resolution that prohibited Chinese immigrants from working in the provincial public sector (Baureiss 2007:26). Subsequently, the Chinese were also denied positions in many skilled occupations such as boat-makers, mechanics and merchants (ibid). Disqualification became widespread in so many different professions because of restrictive legislation that the Chinese were marginalized to a very limited number of industries such as agriculture, retail and services trades and certain elements of lumbering and fishing – low-paying professions that required very minimal education or training (ibid:27). In an effort to combat the “greedy” and “self-interested” sojourner, there were a limited number of tasks that the Chinese were eligible to perform within these designated industries. For example, the Chinese were only welcome as cheap farm labourers and could not buy or lease their own land by law (ibid). Being surrounded by these restrictions made the service industry the only major avenue available and the Chinese were generally marginalized to become laundrymen, grocers or homemakers (ibid).

Through orientalist knowledge, the Chinese were perceived as weak and incompetent compared to white Canadians, validating their exclusion from franchise and from many more respectable professions. The acceptance and creation of an orientalist identity justified that any measures – including those that violate the fundamental human rights the Chinese should be entitled to – were justified so long as they cater towards protecting the employment opportunities of white Canadians. In essence, orientalism was a tool for Canada to rationalize the second-class treatment of the Chinese and the refusal of several inalienable human rights. The blatant institutional racism that Canada created under the pretense of orientalist knowledge not only shattered down its perceived kindness but it reveals the hostility that Canada showed to the Chinese.

Canada’s discrimination and exploitation of the Chinese people directly contradicts the belief that Canada is benevolent towards people of the Third World and Third World countries in general. Canada accepted and further enhanced the orientalist views of the Chinese to exploit their cheap labour in constructing the CPR. Subsequently once the Chinese were no longer useful, Canada justified discriminatory immigration policies to stop Chinese immigration with orientalist stereotypes. In regards to the Chinese immigrants in Canada, the government systemically withheld fundamental political and equality rights from them and justified the second-class treatment with orientalist knowledge of inferiority. Historically, Canada has evidently not been as benevolent towards people of the Third World as it portrays itself to be. Although conditions have significantly improved since the nineteenth century, Canada still has not lived up to the high standards of benevolence and generosity as immigration policies remain exclusive in many other ways. Canadians may see themselves as peaceful and kind to the multicultural people of the Third World but whether it becomes the truth or not depends on what actions Canada decides to take. Canada can choose to make it a priority to root out orientalism or to simply lower the standards of Canada’s role in helping and empowering people of the Third World.


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