Chinese Immigration to Canada Research Paper

Centuries ago leaving China to go overseas was a great crime because only the enemy and deliberate criminal of the nation would choose to abandon and move away from the greatest civilization on Earth. (1) In 18th century there was even a law proclaimed by the emperor stating that a person who went abroad had to come home in order to be publicly beheaded. Leaving China was also regarded as un-Confucian. Sons were meant to stay in the home village, to keep the ancestral graves clean and the clan’s lineage unbroken. (1) But no matter how problematic it was to leave China, Chinese people for many centuries, have been emigrating and creating distinctively Chinese communities outside their Mainland China, even as they adjust to the laws and acculturate to the foreign cultures and in which they put down roots.

The Chinese community in Canada has a very old and reach history, the first Chinese baby boy who was a real Canadian was born in 1861. (2) The first appearances of Chinese in Canada can be dated to 1788, when Chinese shipwrights were employed at Nootka Sound to built the first European-type vessel in the Pacific Northwest, that was afterwards named North West America.

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However, Chinese people first appeared in large numbers in the Colony of Vancouver Island in 1849 as part of the huge “Gold Rush swept”. A decade later, “California’s gold veins were drying up as fast as anti-Oriental feeling was growing.” When the word of a golden strike filtered down in the Fraser River Valley in 1858, Chinese prospectors were among those who spread the rumor north.

Unlike the California goldfields, where Chinese were persecuted and humiliated, the Chinese in British Columbia were protected by edict of Governor James Douglas, who proclaimed that the Chinese had the same rights as all others, including “First Nations peoples”, to work and reside in the country (colony). Even though Chinese workers were officially protected by the British law they still had to face persecutions and humiliations, because all kinds of conflicts were continually appearing between them and the white people One such conflict even turned into the Rock Creek War in the Kettle River valley. (3)

The workers from China were the main labor force in bulidng the Canadian Pacific Railway that was constructed by Andrew Onderdonk in 1880. Decding to join the confereation in 1871 British Columbia stated one of condtiones to be that the “Dominion government build a railway linking B.C. with eastern Canada within 10 years.” As the governemtn of Canada wanted to cut back the spdenings, it chose to hire the immigratns from China to buil the railway.

However, after the building of Canadian Pacific railroad was finished in 1885, Canada had no need in the Chinese labor force anymore. As a result, the Chinese Immigration Act was passed that was putting a “Head Tax” of $50 on any Chinese immigrant coming to Canada. After the 1885 legislation failed to deter Chinese immigration to Canada, the government of Canada passed The Chinese Immigration Act, 1900 to increase the tax to $100, and The Chinese Immigration Act, 1904 furthered increased the landing fees to $500 (equivalent to $8000 in 2003 – as compared to the Right of Landing Fee, or Right of Permanent Residence Fee, of merely $975 per person paid by new immigrants in 1995-2005, and further reduced to $490 in 2006.)(3)

The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923, that is better known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, replaced prohibitive fees with an outright ban on Chinese immigration to Canada with the exceptions of merchants, diplomats, students, and “special circumstances” cases. (3)

During the Great Depression, life was even tougher for the Chinese than it was for other Canadians, for example they received much less relief payments than other Canadians. And as any additional immigration was prohibited by the Chinese Exclusion Act Chinese men had to deal with the hardships of life alone being far away from their wives and children. Census data from 1931 shows that there were 1240 men to every 100 women in Chinese-Canadian communities. To protest The Chinese Exclusion Act, Chinese-Canadians closed their businesses and boycotted Dominion Day celebrations every July 1st, which became known as “Humiliation Day” by the Chinese-Canadians. (6)

During the Second World War than 500 Chinese Canadian men served in the Canadian Army. However, only in 1947 Chinese Canadians gained the right to vote in federal elections. In 1959 the boarders of Canada got opened for the wives and children of the men who were at that time working in Canada and that contributed greatly to the developing of the Chinese community.

Chinese Indonesian s first arrived in Canada in 1960s during anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia. From 1970s – 1999, many more Chinese Indonesians settled in Canada. After the American intervention in Vietnam a lot of Chinese people from Vietnam, Laos, and Kampuchea came to Canada as refugees. Early Chinese Canadians have close relationships with them as a result of their Chinese heritage because they lived mostly in Quebec. There were also Chinese people coming form Latin America, nowadays they are mostly settled in Victoria, Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal. But the was fled from the Somoza that was ruled by a dictator and was effected by the earthquake in 1980’s.

As most countries that are experiencing a huge flow of immigration it took Canada quite a long time to lift the restrictions against the Chinese-Canadians and grant them full rights and powers of Canadian citizens. After the end of WWII Canada signed the United Nations Charter of Human Rights. The Canadian government had to immediately cancel the Chinese Exclusion Act, which was undemocratic and inappropriate for the UN. As stated before, in that same year, 1947, Chinese-Canadians were finally granted the right to vote in federal elections. But only after a pass of 20 years the points system for selecting immigrants was adopted and the Chinese began to be admitted under the same criteria as any other applicants. (3)

The years 1978 and 1985 were the years of great change in the immigrant laws that promoted the arrival of wealthy entrepreneurs from Hong Kong and Taiwan. “They had to show a net worth of at least $500,000 and investment in a Canadian business venture of at least $250,000.” The changes were introduced just as Hong Kong money was growing twitchy about the approach of the colony’s July 1997 handover to China. (1)

After many years of organized calls for an official Canadian government public apology and redress to the historic Head tax, the minority Conservative government of Stephen Harper announced as part of their pre-election campaign, an official apology. “On Thursday, June 22, 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper delivered a message of redress in the House of Commons, calling it a “grave injustice”.”

A number of well-educated Chinese arrived to Canada as refugees in search of rescue. Since the mid-20th century, most new Chinese Canadians come from university-educated families, one of whose most essential values is still quality education. These newcomers are a major part of the “Brain gain” the inverse of the infamous “Brain drain”, i.e., Canadians leaving to the United States of America, which Chinese have also been a part of. (3)

However, the majority of the Chinese who came to Canada from the mid-19th century, up to the 1960s, were from Guangdong province where the dialect was spoken. When the Chinese Exclusion Act was repealed after the Second World War, the wives and children of these early immigrants were allowed to come to join their husbands and fathers. Many of this group were from peasant backgrounds, they were the Lao Huaqiao. Many of them ran businesses and later their children inherited them and continued and family cases.

In Canada if you don’t speak English or French it is most likely that you speak Chinese that is shown by the latest survey conducted by the Canadian government. Chinese has become and number 3 language in Canada and the amount of people using it is growing rapidly. According to Nouvelles d’Europe from 1996 to 2001, the population whose mother tongue is Chinese grew 18 percent and reached 870,000 – about 2.9 percent out of 31.4 million of the population in Canada, a rise 0.3 percent over the original Chinese proportion of 2.6 percent. (4)

Canada is a country of diversity. In addition to Aboriginal people and the founding British and French groups, there are a wide variety of ethnic groups represented in the Canadian population, including large numbers of German, Italian, Dutch, Ukrainian, Chinese, Black, and Indo-Pakistani people, among others (Kelly, 1995; Renaud & Badets, 1993). Around 10% of the adult population of Canada is minorities, and the figure is expected to rise in the future (Kelly, 1995). Such studies and researches contribute toward understanding and “promoting positive relations” among the varied ethnic groups from different geographical and cultural backgrounds who are now calling themselves Canadian. (6)

In 1990s more than half of the immigrants who came to the country with a business related purpose were from Hong Kong or Taiwan. In recent decades, however, most new Chinese Canadians have actually been middle-class rather than super-rich. Indeed, in the past 50 years, more than half the Chinese who have immigrated to Canada have been in white-collar occupations. They have tended to settle on the outskirts of big cities, mostly Toronto and Vancouver. The last national survey had shown that the Chinese population is around 920,000 right now and keeps on growing.

The appearance of Chinese Diaspora was one of the great events in the modern Canadian history, and the story of its sojourners and migrant workers was one of “pain, courage, and enterprise”. Immigration is a very important aspect in the development of the country because it brings diversity, and Canada is the best example of this. Because highly educated and upwardly mobile, the recent arrivals have transformed and will keep transforming the Canadian society.

Work Cited

Chinese Canadian Genealogy,
Wikipedia – free encyclopedia Chinese Canadian
By “People Daily” online, Chinese becomes #3 language in Canada Multiculturalism in Canada: Context and Current Status VICTORIA M. ESSES and R.C. GARDNER, University of Western Ontario, News Review, Chinese’s Boat People: Human Cargo
Encyclopedia Entry for Chinese Canadian,
7. Pan, Lynn, The Encyclopedia of the Chinese Overseas, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999.
8. Suchen Lin, Christine, Hua Song: Stories of the Chinese Diaspora Long River Press; Bilingual edition (April 2005).



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