Brokering Belonging: Chinese in Canada's Exclusion Era, 1885-1945

By Lisa Rose Mar | Go to book overview

FIVE
Transforming Democracy
Brokerage Politics and the Exclusion Era’s
Denouement

BY THE END OF THE Second World War, Chinese power brokers’ efforts to construct a model minority myth had directly contributed to the Exclusion Era’s denouement. The myth’s ideas greatly influenced changes in policy making, and the war was a watershed moment for Chinese-Anglo relations in Canada and in the United States. However, popular interpretations of the Second World War as a “good war” that brought about a “triumph of citizenship” for patient Chinese minorities tell only part of the political story.1 Chinese Canadian mass protests also helped to transform Canada’s democracy. Wartime crises forced political brokerage to extreme limits, suspended the usual rules, and forced sudden social change. Canada’s war policies singled out Chinese Canadians for inequitable treatment, inciting persistent resistance. Traditional brokers failed to secure adjustments, so many Chinese turned to wider labor and anti-conscription movements. Together, mass protests and model minority rhetoric influenced the repeal of anti-Chinese policies, building a foundation for a new politics of minority human rights and equality.2

This chapter explores how Canada’s wartime policies led to Chinese Canadian protests that interacted with wider national struggles over redefining the rights of Canadians. It traces Chinese Canadian calls for “taxpayers’ rights,” “workers’ rights,” and “soldiers’ rights” as part of greater social movements for minority rights. Energized by the labor movement and its affiliated political parties, these global and local politics challenged Canada to adjust

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