The Anti-Segregation Movement as Social Revolution
FOR ONE YEAR, FROM SEPTEMBER 1922 to September 1923, at least 3,000–4,000 Chinese in British Columbia joined an anti-segregation movement, defying both white authorities and powerful Chinese leaders to demand equal education in the public schools.1 Through civil disobedience, protesters challenged pro-segregationists determined to separate Asian and white children. In Vancouver, organizer Joe Hope (Liu Guangxu) described the stakes to 500 Chinese attending an Anti-Segregation Association speech day. Without equal education, he said, “Our people’s body could die. Our wealth could be stamped out. When our people’s roots are cut off, we have no choice but to resist.”2 To Chinese, rising calls for their exclusion felt like a fenghu, a political movement as potent as the winds and tides.3 In Da Han Gong Bao, Chinese declared that world history was on their side. Many protesters believed the Pacific world to be in the midst of egalitarian social revolutions, and these global events gave their cause a moral force more powerful than their white opponents’ votes and laws.4 Their opponents, who were both Anglo and Chinese, viewed these revolutionary trends as dangerous.5 Thus, a protest that started with a school boycott grew into a greater struggle over defining the limits of popular democracy.
Historians have studied the anti-segregation movement mainly in terms of domestic race relations, seeing clashes between the “Chinese” and “white” sides. In their readings, school segregation policies expressed an overwhelming white supremacy that Chinese resistance could at times temper but not entirely halt.6 This reading, while broadly correct, presumes a racial unity on