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Images and Immigration: China and Canada

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image of Journal of American-East Asian Relations

Long before most Canadians ever saw a Chinese person, they heard from travellers, traders, diplomats, and missionaries of a country suffering from uprisings and wars, corruption and vice, intellectual stagnancy, and huge overpopulation. Such images influenced Canada’s immigration policy toward Chinese that began with the imposition of a head tax in 1886 and became an exclusionary policy in 1923. The perceived inability of weak and divided Chinese governments to regulate emigration thwarted Canadian efforts to devise less humiliating methods of restricting immigration. Sympathy for China in its war against Japan after July 1937 boosted China’s image in Canada. That, along with greater concern in Canada for human rights, contributed to the beginning of an easing of restrictions on Chinese immigration in 1947. For humanitarian reasons, after the formation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, Canada admitted a handful of refugees. An estimated 11,000 Chinese entered Canada illegally during the first decade of the PRC. By the 1960s, China was a world power and a significant market for Canadian products. Thus, when Canada reformed its immigration policies it judged potential Chinese immigrants, along with others, more on their skills than on their country of origin.

Affiliations: 1: University of Victoria, Email:


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