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Lily Cho on the Chinese immigration experience

Posted on Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Lily Cho is an Associate Professor at York University.

Lily Cho is an Associate Professor at York University.

Lily Cho is an Associate Professor at York University. Her book, Eating Chinese: Culture on the Menu in Small Town Canada, examines the relationship between Chinese restaurants and Canadian culture. She is a member of the Toronto Photography Seminar. Her essays have been published in journals such as Interventions, Canadian Literature, and Photography and Culture. She is currently conducting research on two projects. Mass Capture: Chinese Head Tax and the Making of Non-Citizens in Canada examines the relationship between surveillance and citizenship. Asian Values: Fictions of Finance and Beautiful Money explores diasporic movement and theories of value in postcolonial Asia.

Lily Cho’s lecture will look at the Chinese Head Tax levied on Chinese immigrants to Canada between 1885 and 1923 as a practice of “mass capture”. Through an examination of the Chinese Head Tax, Lily Cho will explore the argument that mass capture is a technology that is central to the making of non-citizens in Canada. March 16, 5 p.m., McGill Faculty Club. Get more information about the lecture.

The focus of your research and writings has been the Chinese diaspora, particularly in Canada. Has Chinese immigration to Canada been constant throughout the last century? How come?

While the Chinese diaspora has been a significant presence in Canada, one that precedes Confederation, Chinese immigration to Canada has not been constant throughout the last century. From 1923 to 1947, Canada amended the Chinese Immigration Act to exclude the vast majority of Chinese migrants from entering Canada. That legislation is still often referred to as the “Exclusion Act.” This legislation separated families for decades and exacerbated the isolation of Chinese immigrants in Canada. Notably, this legislation was repealed only months after the inauguration of the Canadian Citizenship Act in 1947. Prior to January 1, 1947, Canadian citizens did not exist. There were British subjects who resided in Canada, but there was no such thing as Canadian citizenship.

With the beginning of Canadian citizenship, there was a national conversation about race and citizenship. In the first months of 1947, there were extensive debates in the House of Commons about the racial and ethnic identity of Canadian citizens. These conversations led directly to the repeal of the Chinese Immigration Act in May, 1947, and an end to the era of exclusion. If you read the debates in Hansard from this period, you will see that parliamentarians really struggled with the place of Chinese people in Canada in those first heady months of Canadian citizenship. I am fascinated by the very particular relationship between Chinese immigration and the emergence of citizenship in Canada.

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