Province commissions book commemorating history of Chinese Canadians

The province of B.C. has set aside $100,000 for a book that celebrates the achievements of eminent Chinese Canadians.

The book, which follows an official apology to the Chinese Canadian community from the province in May 2014, is meant to highlight underrepresented aspects of B.C.'s history and make amends for a number of racist policies that were implemented against Chinese Canadians in the past.

UBC history professor Henry Yu said that the publication of such a book is meant to provide a more comprehensive history of Chinese Canadians in B.C.

“The focus should obviously be, in the legacy, addressing a lot of the anti-Chinese legislation, and a lot of things were done to the Chinese in terms of racist legislation, exclusion, head tax,” said Yu.

Still, Yu said that the book is meant to also celebrate the accomplishments and contributions of Chinese Canadians to B.C.'s history rather than solely focus on the discrimination that they faced.

“There’s a long history of anti-Chinese legislation, discrimination, and racism, but there’s also this long, enduring, and very under-told story of what the Asian Canadians were doing in British Columbia,” said Yu.

As an example, Yu explained that from the time the British first came to B.C. in 1788 with the John Meares expedition, there were also many Chinese on the ship who helped build the fur trading fort in Nuu-chah-nulth territory and establish the B.C. that we know today -- a fact that is commonly overlooked in history books.

According to Yu, the book and the project are highly important, as the history of B.C. that most people know today does not often focus on the broad spectrum of communities who lived here.

“We need a much more rounded common history," said Yu. "For instance, the long history of relationships between Chinese Canadians and First Nations was often ignored because 'pioneer histories' of British Columbia usually focused on European migrants."

The book will be approximately 150 pages long and bring to light interesting stories, photos and documents related to the history of notable British Columbians of Chinese descent. While the exact details of what the book will look like are still being established, Yu looks forward to seeing how it will present stories about Chinese Canadians as part of the larger history of B.C.

"We can create a ‘usable past,’ that we can help us live together moving forward," said Yu. "It’s not about just looking backward. It’s also about looking forward."