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A Plea for the Chinaman

View a copy of “A Plea for the Chinaman: A Correspondent’s Argument in His Favour. Montreal Daily Star 21 September 1896

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The Mongolian Defended From the Charges Made Against Him by Member of Parliament From British Columbia.

To the Editor of the Star:

Sir.- Every just person must feel his or her sense of justice outraged by the attacks which are being made by public men upon the Chinese who come to this country. It is a shame because the persecutors have every weapon in their hands and the persecuted are defenceless - for the Chinamen are defenceless. They do not understand in a full sense all that their revilers charge them with and they have no representative men to answer the charges. Sir Henri Joly de Lotbiniere and Mr. Fraser are nobly fighting on their side, but neither of these gentlemen are Chinese, nor have they lived for any length of time amongst the Chinese, and so, of course, it is impossible for either of them to give back blow for blow. It needs a Chinaman to stand up for a Chinese cause. The people who are persecuting them send one of themselves, nay, a dozen of themselves, men who are just as prejudiced as their constituents, just as worked up over fancied wrongs and just as incapable of judging fairly. They are all, Mr. Maxwell, Mr. Charleton, Mr. Mcinness, Mr. Smith, etc., etc., equipped with self-interest which is the strongest of weapons.

It makes one’s cheeks burn to read about men of high office standing up and abusing a lot of poor foreigners behind their backs and calling them all the bad names their tongues can utter. They know that the Chinese cannot answer them and they go on fully armed, using all their weapons. It's very brave, I must say, to fight with the air. A fine spectacle for the world to look at. But I suppose they don’t care. They’ve got a party at home to cheer them.

I will now go over the ground a little. I speak from experience, because I know the Chinamen in all characters, merchants, laundrymen, laborers, servants, smugglers and smuggled, also as Sunday School scholars and gamblers. They have faults, but they also have virtues. Nations are made up of all sorts.

It is proposed to impose a tax of five hundred dollars upon every Chinaman coming into the Dominion of Canada. The reasons urged for imposing such a tax are that the presence of the Chinese affects the material and moral interests of the Canadian people, that the Chinese work cheap and therefore white men cannot compete with them, that they are gamblers and grossly immoral, that they introduce disease, cost the public much money and delay the development of the country.

The presence of the Chinaman does affect the material interests of this country, for he is a good and steady workman and has helped and is still helping to build our railways, mine our ores and in various branches of agriculture and manufacturing is providing a source of wealth to those who employ him. He does good to our laboring class for he acts as an incentive to them to be industrious and honest. I say honest, because he seeks to gain no advantage over other laborers, simply comes to compete with them-and competition is always good. The Chinaman stands on his merits: if he were of no benefit to this country he would soon have no reason to wish to remain here, for you may be sure, if incapable of performing the tasks required of him, he would not be given employment, for Canadians do not employ Chinamen for love; they take them for the use they can make of them.

As to working cheap, I believe if the matter was investigated, you would find out that the white men are willing to accept the same wages per week as the Chinamen, but they refuse to put in as much work for the wages. If the white man has to live, so also has the Chinaman, and I know that in Montreal the Chinese live well, and a great many of those I am acquainted with are former residents of British Columbia and have not changed their manner of living since coming East. I have seen on their breakfast tables great bowls of rice and dishes of beautiful light omelet, besides many European comestibles and I have noticed and have been told by themselves that they frequently order fowl and fish from the markets and the best of meats and vegetables. I am speaking of laundrymen, not merchants. Of course, the very poor ones are more frugal, but I can assure you a Chinaman lives merrily when he has the means. 

Now, as to the charges of immorality brought against the Chinese. There are ever five hundred Chinaman in Montreal, besides a transient population, and I have never heard during a residence here of many years of any one of these Chinese being accused of saying or doing that which was immoral, in the sense in which I understand the word “immoral.” It is true some of the Chinamen who have been contaminated by white men and American lawyers, become swindlers and perjurers, and help their contaminators, who are just like leeches, to bleed the poor Chinese laborers who are desirous of passing into the States, and from which by a disgraceful law they are barred out, but the main body of the Chinamen are straightforward, hard-working fellows. Their worst fault is that they are somewhat cynical with regard to the honesty of whitemen, but that is not surprising when we consider that nearly all the whitemen with whom they come in contact think of nothing but squeezing money out of them by some means or other. Even the law restricting them from entering America looks as if it was got up for the sole purpose of giving unprincipled lawyers and corrupt Government officers a chance to do some boodling. 

I am surprised at the moral tone of the Chinese population of Canada. These men, far away from their homes and children and womankind, are well behaved and self-respecting. Our magistrates’ hair would stand on end with surprise were a Chinaman to be brought before them charged with assault or the use of insulting language. 

When Mr. Maxwell speaks of the vices of the Chinese corrupting the whole body politic of British Columbia one has to smile. It is so absurd. Surely those who are “controlled by the higher influence of civilization” cannot succumb to those who obey “the lower forces of barbarism.” The Chinaman may be willing to attend Sunday school and learn all that you can teach him, but I am quite certain that it never enters his head to convert you to his way of thinking.

I am afraid Mr. Maxwell knew very little about what he was speaking when he took up the Chinese question. He knew that he wanted to get certain advantages for a party of British Columbians, and he put all his heart and soul into gaining his object, forgetting that there are two sides to every story, or if he did remember, assuring himself that no one else would. 

“I have but to say the word, and it will be believed,” said he to his constituents on the eve of his departure for Ottawa.

The influence of the Chinese people in a moral sense is null, and I have yet to meet the man or woman who will tell me that a Chinaman influenced him or her to do that against which moral sense rebelled.

The Chinese receive instruction gladly when it comes their way, but they do not ask for it, and as to imparting to others their opinions and beliefs, the pride or humility of the race forbids anything approaching that. The quiet dignity of the Chinese is worthy of admiration, and Mr. Maxwell ought to be ashamed of himself for sneering at them for being docile and easily managed. Perhaps he does not know that the Chinese are taught to treat the rude with silent contempt. A Chinaman does not knock a man down or stab him for the sake of an insult. He will stand and reason, but unless forced, though not by any means a coward, he will not fight. In China a man who unreasonably insults another has public opinion against him, whilst he who bears and despises the insult is respected. There are signs that in the future we in this country may attain to the high degree of civilization which the Chinese have reached, but for the present we are far away behind them in that respect. 

“No self-respecting people,” said Mr. Maxwell, “wish to have dumped into their midst the scum of eastern barbarism.”

I am sorry to have to again show up Mr. Maxwell’s ignorance of his subject. The Chinese who come to our shores are not “scum.” They are mostly steady, healthy country born from the Canton district. There are none of them paupers. They come here furnished with a modest sum of money and with the hope of adding thereto by honest labor. I can prove all I say.

And do you think Li Hung Chang, who knows all about the standing of his countrymen here would have met them as courteously as he did, and send them personally kind messages, had he considered them the “riff-raff” of China.

We are not impoverished by the Chinese immigrants, for they offer us good value for our money and if any of them fall sick they are not thrown upon our hands to be cared for; they are looked after by their own countrymen.

Of course, there are a few black sheep. There are exceptions in all cases, but the Government knows that I speak soberly and Mr. Maxwell fanatically when I say that the Chinese boys who come to Canada are in the main good boys, and he declares they are “the accumulated filth of Chinese gaols and dens of vice and crime.

The Chinese have many worthy characteristics; they are good natured-all the world knows that. They have a keen sense of humor-I could tell many good stories showing that up. They easily forgive those who insult or wrong them that as is proved every day. They are hospitable and are at heart gentlemen. In the spring of this year I visited New York’s Chinatown. I went alone, and though a woman and a perfect stranger was received by the Chinese there with the greatest kindness and courtesy. For two weeks I dwelt amongst them, trotted up and down Mott, Pell and Doyer streets, saw the Chinese theatres and Joss Houses, visited all the little Chinese women, talked pigeon English to them, examined their babies, dined with a Chinese actress, darted hither and thither through the tenements of Chinatown, and during that time not the slightest disrespect or unkindness was shown to me. I was surprised, for I was in the slum portion of the city of New York, and dreadful tales had been told me of what I should meet and see there. I had been told that Chinatown was a dangerously wicked place; I had been warned that if I went in there alone I would never come out alive or sound in mind or body. My warners were like Mr. Maxwell and his colleagues-they did not know the Chinese people. I went there and returned the better for my visit. I had proved to my satisfaction what I had always believed, that the Chinese people are a more moral and a much happier lot than those who are strangers to them make them out to be.  

Human nature is the same all the world over, and the Chinaman is as much a human being as those who now presume to judge him ; and if he is a human being, he must be treated like one, and that we should not be doing were we to fine him: five hundred dollars simply for being himself-a Chinaman. If a Chinaman breaks a law- a just law- a law which is a law to all Canadians, and which all Canadians are liable to be punished for, I would say at once that he should pay the penalty, but there is no justice in fining him just for what he is-a Chinaman. We should be broader-minded. What does it matter whether a man be a Chinaman, an Irishman, an Englishman or an American. Individuality is more than nationality. ‘A man’s a man for a ‘that.” Let us admire a clever Chinaman more than a stupid Englishman and a bright Englishman more than a dull Chinaman.

Why should Canadians in their own land fear to compete with foreigners, when they know that the foreigners are not liked, and if they, the Canadians, worked as well, there would be no chance for the Chinese whatever. If they really want to keep the Chinese out, let them do so by fair means, not by foul. Let the Canadians make an agreement with Canadians that Chinese labor will not be utilized in Canada. Then the Chinese would soon make themselves scarce; but so long as Canadian employers employ Chinese laborers, so long is a sign up telling all the world that Chinese labor is need and wanted in Canada, and it is only a desire on the party of Mr. Maxwell to please the rowdy element of the Dominion which leads him to pretend that the Chinese are not of benefit to the country in which they are sojourning. 

Some complain that they object to the Chinese because they will not set ties here nor associate with other races. That objection is also a pretence, for we all know that if such a notion as settling here ever entered the Chinaman’s head, our treatment of him would soon knock it out. “He does not associate with our race at all,” they cry. Well, we don’t and we won’t associate with him. “He comes here to make money, and with the intention of returning sooner or later,” says another. In that he follows the example set him by the westerners; there are many foreigners in China, and, with the exception of the missionaries, they are all there with the avowed purpose of making money. The ports of China are full of foreign private adventurers. After they have made their “pile” they will return to their homes—which are not in China.

I believe the chief reason for the prejudice against the Chinese, I may call it the real and only solid reason for all the dislike shown to the Chinese people is that they are not considered good looking by white men; that is, they are not good looking according to a Canadian or American standard for looks. This reason may be laughed at and considered womanish, but it is not a woman’s reason. It is a man’s. Woman do not care half as much for personal appearance as do men. I am speaking very seriously, and if you will send a commission to investigate the Chinese trouble in British Columbia—if the Government will—they will find the matter to be as I say. That the Chinese do not please our artistic taste is really at the root of all the evil there, and from it springs the other objections to the Chinese. It is a big shame, I feel, and I think it is the duty of all enlightened men to combat with and overcome this very real and serious prejudice. Do not the sages say that the beauty is a matter of opinion, and so if Wong Chang does not appear to our eyes as lovely to behold as Mr. Maxwell, there are those in his own land who would probably think the reverse. Besides, Wong Chang is here for utility and not for ornament.

I am convinced that an honest commission will find no real cause to further tax the Chinese. Indeed, if as conscientious as a commission can be, it will advise the fifty dollar tax already imposed be lifted.

Of course, there will be found many to stand up as witnesses against the Chinamen, but if watched closely it will be discovered that such witnesses belong to a class which is determined to find fault with the Chinaman, no matter what he does or does not do.

Will the Government of Canada pander to that certain class? Will it forget the debt of gratitude America and British America owes to China-China, who sent her men to work for us when other labor was not obtainable.

If it is loyal to that England, whose shores, as Mr. Fraser says, “are free to all comers, irrespective of race, creed or color,” it will answer decidedly, No.


Montreal, September 19.


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