【CC. NEWS 2023-6-1 Report】
Recently, our journalist Wang Lan interviewed Weng Guoning, the Chairman of the Confederation of Toronto Chinese Canadian Organizations (CTCCO). The following is the transcript of the interview.
Wang Lan: Hello, Chairman Weng! Senators Victor Oh and Yuen Pao Woo, Chinese-Canadian federal senators, are organizing a reflective and commemorative action called “Reflection on the 100-Year Chinese Exclusion Act, No Repetition of History” at Parliament Hill in Ottawa on June 24. Could you please share your thoughts on this?
Weng Guoning: I believe that all Chinese Canadians in Canada should unite and fully support the reflective and commemorative action organized by Senators Victor Oh and Yuen Pao Woo.
This is because the Chinese Immigration Act, also known as the Chinese Exclusion Act, enacted by the Canadian government on July 1, 1923, and the Head Tax Act (Immigration Tax Act) passed in 1885, are the only formal laws in Canadian history that restrict and prohibit immigration specifically targeting a particular race, which is the Chinese community.
Let’s review the history. At that time, Canada needed to be unified, and the construction of the transcontinental railway that connected all of Canada was a necessary condition. This was an enormous project over 140 years ago.
The railway had to traverse the Rocky Mountains, through rugged and uninhabited mountain ranges where there were no roads for people to travel on and not even basic living conditions. White workers who arrived there would run away within three days. The plan for the transcontinental railway was on the verge of failure. It was at this moment that those in power remembered the Chinese community.
From 1880 to 1885, more than 17,000 Chinese workers, mainly from Guangdong province, used large hammers and pickaxes to dig tunnels and construct bridges on steep cliffs. The most dangerous sections, such as from Port Moody to Yaletown (over 140 kilometers) and from Lytton to Sawa-na, (over 110 kilometers) were all built by Chinese workers, with about 4,000 workers losing their lives during the construction.
Historical records describe the Chinese workers as outstanding, but they were paid only one dollar a day, half of what white workers were paid.
The then Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald hailed as the “Father of Canada” and the “Father of the Pacific Railway,” solemnly announced in Parliament: “Without the tremendous efforts of the Chinese workers, the Canadian Pacific Railway could not have been completed as planned, and the resources of western Canada would not have been developed.”
However, when the railway was completed, our Chinese workers were not present at the inauguration ceremony. After all the hardships of building the railway, what did we receive in return? It was the despicable head tax and the subsequent Chinese Exclusion Act.
The Head Tax Act was enacted just as the transcontinental railway was being completed. It targeted these Chinese workers and their families who wanted to reunite with them. The head tax started at 50 dollars, then increased to 100 dollars, and finally reached 500 dollars. Five hundred dollars was equivalent to two years of wages for a Chinese worker, which could buy two independent houses in Vancouver at that time.
From 1885 to 1923, the Canadian government collected a total of 23 million Canadian dollars in head taxes from over 8,100 Chinese immigrants, which was equivalent to the total investment in the Canadian Pacific Railway at that time. From 1923 to 1947, the Canadian government implemented the Chinese Exclusion Act, which effectively.
Under these two evil laws, many Chinese families were torn apart, gazing across the ocean with sighs of despair, forever separated.
This is a tremendous injustice against Chinese Canadians!
This is a great shame for the Chinese diaspora in Canada and a disgrace to Canada.
Today, we must reflect deeply on why Canada produced such discriminatory laws against the Chinese. The main reason is that Chinese people were too obedient, enduring mistreatment without raising their voices, and unwilling to speak up. As a result, they couldn’t form a collective impact and influence as a Chinese community.
In reality, the number of Chinese people at that time was not small. In the entire province of British Columbia, there were over 40,000 people, with more than 10,000 being Chinese.
However, by remaining silent and isolated due to language and cultural differences, Chinese people couldn’t gain social attention. Those who made laws couldn’t hear their voices, so who would speak for them?
Wang Lan: This is truly unfair and tragic! So how were these two evil laws abolished?
Weng Guoning: The abolition of these two evil laws was the result of Chinese people bravely speaking up at that time.
During World War II, our predecessors, facing discrimination and being denied citizenship, despite strong opposition from their fathers, courageously volunteered for the military. Carrying suicide pills, they were airdropped into enemy-held territories in Asia, with little chance of return.
They did this to prove their loyalty to Canada and to change their own unequal status. The Chinese community at that time also donated millions of dollars to support the country.
Upon their victorious return, our heroes bravely raised their voices: “We fought for you, grant us the right of citizenship!”
At this moment, who could ignore their voices?
Canada is a reasonable country, so the discriminatory laws were quickly abolished, and Chinese people gained citizenship and voting rights. This was achieved by our predecessors with their lives and blood.
The redress of the head tax followed a similar path.
In 1984, Chinese people already had voting rights. M. Michel, who was running for federal parliament in Vancouver, knocked on the door to gain Chinese votes. Two Chinese voters told him, “If you are elected, speak up in parliament and return the head tax we paid.” They would vote for him.
After Michel was elected, he indeed raised the issue of refunding the head tax for those two voters in parliament. However, the head tax affected all Chinese people, so how could it be returned only to those two?
Nevertheless, the voice for the refund of the head tax emerged in parliament for the first time.
Later, led by Chinese community organizations, thousands of head tax payers and their families raised their voices, including our CTCCO, of which our association was a major force.
At that time, the chairman of our association, Wu Zhuosheng, was also the co-chairman of the Federation of Chinese Canadians. It was because his grandfather paid a $500 head tax in 1904 on behalf of Wu Zhuosheng’s father, Wu Jian, that they were able to reunite their family in Canada, and later Wu Zhuosheng was born in Canada.
Unfortunately, Mr. Wu Jian passed away at the age of 108 without seeing the government’s apology for the head tax.
Through the continuous efforts and voices of Chinese Canadians and community organizations, on June 22, 2006, newly elected Prime Minister Stephen Harper officially apologized on behalf of the government to the Chinese community. Survivors and their families received compensation of $20,000 each, totaling $12.5 million.
The matter is that simple, and the principle is equally simple.
Speak up when it’s necessary to speak up because Canada is a place that fundamentally values fairness and reason. But whether it’s about reasoning or negotiation, it requires voices. If you have the opportunity to speak up but choose not to, unfair laws will come without consulting you. Can you blame others?
We chose Canada, which means we believe in Canada’s democratic system. The foundation of this system is the participation of the people in discussing and hearing laws. Speaking up is the most basic and concrete action of political participation.
Therefore, at this moment, we must crow like a rooster, and never hide like a turtle.
Wang Lan: What position should we take to voice our opinions?
Weng Guoning: In my opinion, there is only one position, which is the public position, representing the interests of all Chinese immigrants in Canada.
Regardless of any country, political party, or organization, they must obey and represent the fundamental interests of the people and serve the people.
Historically, the head tax and Chinese Exclusion Act were targeted at the Chinese people, and only the Chinese “enjoyed” this treatment.
This “treatment” does not discriminate based on political party or religious ideology, as long as you are Chinese.
Today, some media outlets continue to attack and smear the representatives of the Chinese community, such as the baseless attacks and suspicions against the Chinese-Canadian mayor of Vancouver.
Therefore, at this moment, all Chinese immigrants in Canada must set aside all political party, organizational, and ideological differences, look out for the overall interests, unite effectively, and uphold the common interests of all Chinese immigrants in Canada, to present a unified voice.
I ask, which political party or government would dare to ignore the voices of millions of people?
I fully agree with Senator Yuen Pao Woo’s speech in Senate. We should not divide the Chinese people based on any criteria of acceptability or unacceptability. This would only lead to the division of the Chinese community and a form of discrimination.
No matter where you come from, no matter what religion or belief you hold, we are all descendants of the Chinese nation, the offspring of the Yan and Huang emperors. This is something that can never be changed, as blood is thicker than water.
Moreover, everyone’s beliefs and political views are not fixed. Wasn’t former Prime Minister Harper, a member of the Conservative Party, an outstanding member of the Liberal Party when he was young? He changed parties and became the Prime Minister.
Looking back at thousands of years of Chinese history, from the Qin Dynasty to the Tang Dynasty, from one dynasty to another, we have seen different leaders. But there is only one motherland, the ancient Chinese civilization and the vast land of China will forever exist, and this is an unchangeable fact.
The aforementioned is also the stance of the CTCCO because we are a Chinese community organization in Canada, and therefore, we can only and must represent the interests of all Chinese immigrants in Canada, nothing else.
Wang Lan: Some media outlets still have some misinterpretations of the CTCCO.
Weng Guoning: This is based on ideological bias or discrimination, as well as a lack of understanding due to cultural and language differences.
The most important thing is to comprehensively, objectively, and historically view the issues. We should not focus on one point and neglect the rest.
Regarding this, we are willing to communicate and exchange with friends and media outlets with different perspectives.
There are some matters that I have explained and corrected in the past, and I may need to clarify them again.
For example, during the pandemic, when people in our hometown were sick, we were anxious and bought masks to send back. What is wrong with that? Did any of the critics foresee the subsequent global spread of the pandemic?
In fact, the total amount of pandemic support we provided to Canada far exceeded our support to our home country. However, the pandemic began in China, but it is unfair to have a biased and subjective perspective when assessing the situation.
Recently, certain media outlets also made baseless attacks and smears against some leaders of our association, which were completely fabricated and not based on facts. We have already made a strong statement in response to these accusations.
To be honest, no one wants to see tensions and conflicts between their home country and the country they reside in. We are in a very awkward situation.
Because many of us do business in both Canada and China, and some specialize in trade between the two countries, such as import and export of goods for wholesale and retail.
If the Canada-China relationship worsens further, for example, if Canada imposes high tariffs on goods from China as the United States did in recent years, then what prospects do we have for doing business?
The state of Canada-China relations directly affects our immediate interests, and it is perfectly understandable for us to maintain good relations with various sectors in both countries while adhering to the laws of each country. “Harmony brings wealth” is the fundamental principle of Chinese business.
Based on this understanding, it is normal to praise both our country of origin and our country of citizenship, and there is no need to criticize one side to prove loyalty to the other.
In fact, our choice to come to Canada speaks for itself.
As early as the beginning of 2021, I made it clear that individual actions of individuals or companies that do not represent any country or government should not affect the bilateral relations between Canada and China.
I have always appreciated Canada’s traditional friendship with the Chinese people throughout history and its positive promotion in China, such as the great Norman Bethune, the Canadian missionary who made important contributions to medical education in China over 100 years ago, and the Canadian government’s wheat trade with China in the 1960s…
Please note that no one has asked me to do so, this sincere praise for Canada comes from the bottom of my heart.
Let’s talk about our permanent chairman Wei Chengyi, who arrived in Canada with empty hands, worked hard and packed rice bags, and slept on rice bags at night. Now, his chain supermarket enterprise group pays tens of millions of dollars in taxes to Canada every year.
There is also the FuQing Business Association in Toronto, whose member entrepreneurs have created tens of thousands of job opportunities for local residents.
They are law-abiding, diligent in their work, and contribute to society and the country. They deserve respect from all sectors of Canadian society.
I ask the media friends who smear them, how much have you contributed to Canada?
Last month, our association also responded to the call of the mayor of Markham and donated over 40,000 Canadian dollars to the people affected by disasters in Turkey and Syria. Such social charity donations have become a norm.
We do not prohibit criticism from media friends, but please pay attention to improving the quality of criticism. Repeatedly broadcasting videos and pictures of our meetings with certain country leaders, what does that prove?
Which country’s leader does not need to seek the support of the people? Our meetings with Prime Minister Trudeau are simply handshakes and photos, without any special significance.
Canada is a democratic country, so let’s not create jokes similar to the “The clear breeze knows not the words, Why does it flip through the pages, absurd?” of feudal dynasties in China.
Wang Lan: Recently, some Chinese-Canadian politicians have faced baseless attacks.
Weng Guoning: Yes, they are representatives of the people in their constituencies and representatives of the Chinese community in various levels of government.
We strongly oppose the baseless attacks on Chinese-Canadian politicians. As a country based on the rule of law, if there are any violations of the law, they should be dealt with accordingly.
However, it is unacceptable to spread unfounded accusations through media influence.
Imagine if there were Chinese-Canadian politicians in the parliament 100 years ago, would they have passed discriminatory laws like the head tax and the Chinese Exclusion Act?
Moreover, compared to our Indian brothers who are also of Asian descent, the number of Chinese-Canadian politicians is disproportionately low.
In history, the first Chinese-Canadian member of parliament, Douglas Jung, and subsequent member of parliament, Geng Tan, proposed and passed many bills that were beneficial to the Chinese community.
The current Chinese-Canadian Minister Mary Ng has consistently and timely voiced her support and protection for the Chinese community in critical moments.
This time, Senators Victor Oh and Yuen Pao Woo are working tirelessly to organize the Ottawa 6.24 Action. Senator Victor Oh has already exceeded the retirement age of 75 for senators, What are they seeking? It is for the rights and interests of all Chinese people.
Both Senators Oh and Woo, with their rich experience and keen political sense, have sensed the current dangerous trends. Therefore, we must cherish and fully support them with practical actions.
We should not only support and protect all Chinese-Canadian politicians but also strive to understand their challenges. Each position comes with its own difficulties, and it is unrealistic to expect perfection and blame.
Wang Lan: Many people are confused about the so-called foreign intervention or interference.
Weng Guoning: In reality, I am also not clear about what exactly is going on. It seems that everyone has been influenced by some media opinions and everything has become obscure and confusing.
But I can give examples to illustrate some facts. During the 2019 federal election, many Chinese families encountered volunteers from a certain party knocking on their doors for campaigning, using phrases like “if that party comes to power, it will be detrimental to the bilateral relationship” and similar statements.
In reality, this is nothing more than a campaign tactic to win votes. There is no apparent connection to any other country. Everyone votes according to their own will, and adults have their independent thinking and are not easily influenced by others. There is no need to report voting results to anyone.
That is why during the recent car rally, we displayed the slogan “My vote, my decision, no one interferes,” which reflects the actual situation.
Lastly, I want to say that the friendship between Canada and China has a long history. The good impression that the Chinese people and overseas Chinese have of Canada has been formed over time, and it will not easily change due to temporary events. There are no fundamental conflicts of interest between Canada and China, and a strained relationship is not in the fundamental interests of both countries and their people.
“As the boat nears the pier, a thousand sails pass by; in front of the sick tree, countless plants bloom in spring.”
Let us work together to embrace a better tomorrow!
Wang Lan: Thank you for accepting our interview.