John Price. Orienting Canada: Race, Empire and the Transpacific

By McKenzie, Francine | Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

John Price. Orienting Canada: Race, Empire and the Transpacific


McKenzie, Francine, Canadian Ethnic Studies Journal


John Price. Orienting Canada: Race, Empire and the Transpacific. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press, 2011. 445 pp. Chronology. Notes. Select Bibliography. Index. $85.00 hc. $34.95 sc.

In 1951, speaking to an audience in Vancouver, Lester Pearson said: 'This is a part of Canada which is most interested in Pacific problems, but there should be no part of Canada that should not be interested in the Pacific" (253). Pearson's remark underlines the first of the two main premises of Price's study, that Canada's diplomatic history has overlooked and marginalized Asia. The second is that through understanding the intersection of race and empire, Canada can be situated in a transpacific context. Price's study challenges the dominant narratives and methodology of Canada's diplomatic history: Price disagrees with the portrayal of Canada moving from isolationism to internationalism; he disputes Eurocentric historical accounts; he integrates race and racism into foreign policy decision-making; and he grounds his study in stories of 'average' men and women, illuminating "the often unspoken relationship between race and empire" (2).

Orienting Canada covers approximately fifty years, from the 1907 race riots in Vancouver to the Geneva negotiations on the war in Indochina in the mid-1950s. The book has two main parts with 1945 as the dividing line. China, Japan, and Korea are the main Asian countries discussed. The British Empire dominates the first half. The United States replaces Britain as the imperial centre in the second half and communism is the touchstone against which the links between race and empire are traced. Throughout the book, Price weaves together three narrative strands: personal narratives that focus on the experiences of individuals and families; Canadian involvement; and a global/transnational account of events like the Second World War, the Cold War, and the onset of decolonization.

The first half of the book explores how Chinese and Japanese immigrants to Canada responded to conflicts between Japan and China, focusing on the period from the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in 1931 until the end of the war with the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the postwar Tokyo War Tribunals. The interactions of Japanese and Chinese immigrants--some of whom were Canadian citizens--with social groups, political movements, as well as governments, reveal how the line separating the domestic and international spheres was porous and developments at home and abroad influenced conceptions of citizenship and national identity. Price also highlights how racial ideas influenced foreign policy. He defines race in terms of social relations moderated by power (5). But the overall treatment of race is not complete. The history of how racial constructions took shape and evolved, as well as the core ideas that sustained racialized outlooks, remain somewhat opaque. …

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