Social and Familial Isolation

Social and familial isolation in a discriminatory society

The lives of the Chinese in Canada in the late nineteenth century remained very difficult. In fact the story of their integration represents one of the worst chapters in the county’s racial history. Frightened by their cultural differences and customs, Whites would deny the Chinese access to many public places including restaurants and cinemas.

Some Canadians came to believe that the Chinese had come to steal their jobs and went as far as threatening them physically. Others developed false or exaggerated notions about Chinese lifestyle. The Chinese were regularly accused of poor hygiene or of being disease carriers due to overcrowding in their country.

Chinese workers were paid less than white workers because many people concluded that they needed less money to live, accepted a less varied and lower quality diet, had poorer hygiene, were more prone to disease and were dishonest and corrupt.

As victims of discrimination, Chinese workers suffered from both social and familial isolation as the authorities denied them the right to bring family members in from China, sometimes with the secret hope that the Chinese would disappear from Canada by natural extinction.

As a case in point, Ho King, the owner of the Central Laundry in Winnipeg, left China in 1918 and only managed to bring his wife into Canada in 1959 after a separation of 41 years. The Chinese were also forced to live in separate neighbourhoods, dubbed Chinatowns.

In most Canadian provinces, many laws were in place to prevent Asian immigrants from hiring white women. The White Women’s Labour Law of Saskatchewan, as such, was very explicit about this.

The Chinese would become the target of insults and physical violence. In 1907, for example, a racist movement, the Asiatic Exclusion League, unleashed a violent demonstration against Asian merchants in Vancouver. Many shops were ransacked and their owners beaten to the point where authorities, in order to restore calm, banned the league. Even dead, the Chinese were not allowed be buried in the same cemeteries as the Whites.

On the political front, starting in 1871, Chinese and Southeast Asian immigrants were deprived of their right to vote. It was not until 1948 that the Chinese and Indian population eventually regained their right to vote.