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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Ethnicity and community : southern Chinese immigrants and descendants in Vancouver, 1945-1980 Ng, Wing


This study seeks to understand Chinese ethnicity as a process of ongoing cultural construction engaged in by Chinese people in Vancouver from 1945 to 1980. Drawing evidence primarily from the ethnic press and voluntary organizations, it uncovers a diversity of cultural positions articulated by different groups of Chinese with respect to their ethnic identity and sense of community. This interior discourse on Chineseness unfolded in part because of changing demographic conditions within the ethnic group. After the Second World War, the older settlers who had arrived in Canada before the exclusion act of 1923 were joined and gradually outnumbered by their Canadian-born descendants and new immigrants. This development ushered in a contest for the power of cultural definition among various generations of local-born and immigrant Chinese. The emergent diversity of ethnic constructs in the Chinese minority after 1945 also reflected the continuous influence of China and the new opportunities Chinese people began to enjoy in Canada. The former unitary outlook of the ethnic group regarding the close relationship of overseas Chinese with their home country was displaced, but not by any simple cultural re-orientation to Canada. Particularly among the immigrant Chinese, the concern forthe native place, the care for family members in Mainland China and Hong Kong, the desire to promote some form of Chinese culture in Vancouver, and a residual interest in Chinese politics remained salient dimensions of their ethnic consciousness. At the same time, the dismantling of discriminatory legislation and other racial barriers in the larger society afforded Chinese people for the first time the option to nurture an identification with Canada. In the 1970s these two fundamentally different cultural orientations were reconciled, as the discourse on Chineseness took on a new paradigm. Under state multiculturalism and with the rise of ethnic sentiments, members of the Chinese minority advanced their claims to be "Chinese Canadians" within the officially enshrined Canadian mosaic. Despite popular subscription to this category, immigrant and local-born Chinese invested this label with different meanings. The underlying diversity of Chinese ethnic construction was once again unveiled.

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