From C to C: Chinese Canadian Stories of Migration4 min read

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A while ago I had the opportunity to watch From C to C: Chinese Canadian Stories of Migration, a beautifully filmed documentary that looks back at the history of Chinese people’s migration to Canada. The film, produced and directed by Jordan Paterson with Simon Fraser University Teaching and Learning Centre, mainly focuses on the cruel decades of taxes and laws in British Columbia and Canada that prohibited Chinese people to live normally as residents of the country and how these laws affected them and their family back in China. These laws include the prohibition of Chinese employment on public works that remained in effect for 80 years (from 1878 to 1958), the disqualification for Chinese people to vote in 1875 (which in turn did not allow them to work or set up professional practice as accountants, lawyers or pharmacists), and the introduction of the Act to Restrict and Regulate Chinese Immigration into Canada in 1885, which required every Chinese person entering Canada to pay a head tax of $50.

From C to C: Chinese Canadian Stories of Migration

The head tax is given an intense analysis on the documentary, but for a good reason. The Chinese are the only ethnic group required to pay head tax before being allowed entry into Canada. The head tax cost rose in the coming years, but there was still a steady increase in the Chinese population in the country, which made the Canadian government to raise the head tax to $500 in 1905. At that time, $500 could buy a three-story house in Vancouver’s best neighborhoods – and all other immigrants only had to pay $25 for a landing fee. This law greatly affected Chinese families and men who could not send their other family members to Canada. It separated them for decades, or for some people, forever. The days of world war made it worse as communication between countries became limited.

The most interesting thing for me in this documentary, aside from the stories of the cruel laws and taxes which I learned a great amount of, is the Chinese watchtowers, or diaolou. Located mainly in Kaiping County of Guangdong province and its neighboring counties of Enping, Taishan and Xinhui, diaolou were erected and built to serve as defensive houses against bandits who kidnapped and robbed village people. It started back in the 16th century where fortified towers were constructed as a response to increasing raids by bandits, however 90% of the existing diaolou now were built between 1900 and 1931.

This was in part affected by Chinese migration to other countries such as USA and Canada; many villagers left their home to their wives and children who had to defend for themselves, especially after a rapid economic expansion after the first World War which attracted bandits to the villages. This condition called for the building of defensive watchtowers and hence the construction of 1648 diaolou in the span of 30 years. This construction was made possible by funds from overseas Chinese who labored in the Western countries. In the documentary, several diaolou are shown, and they are charming, breathtaking and powerful. They reflect a significant role of villagers who immigrated to North America and represent a charming mix of Chinese and Western architectural styles. This is an important part of the documentary, at least for me.

Bird’s View of Jinjiangli Village: Diaolou © Tan Weiqiang

The documentary itself is said to revisit Chinese Canadian migration histories in order to “promote a more inclusive vision of Canada for all communities”, and to ask us “how we can prevent exclusion from happening again.” It provides an enchanting way of telling the migration history of Chinese Canadian and a must watch if you’re interested in the history or the topic. It is a community-based educational initiative led by Simon Fraser University and S.U.C.C.E.S.S aimed at raising awareness of social justice issues among youth and the community at large. SFU Teaching and Learning Centre has won a Leo Award for best one-hour documentary program for From C to C, and the documentary has been nominated for the following Canadian Screen Awards:

– Best Picture Editing in a Documentary Program or Series
– Barbara Sears Award for Best Visual Research
– Best Direction in a Documentary Program or Series
– Special Award: The Canada Award

The film will be released for sale in April at McNabb Connolly.

Meanwhile you can watch the trailer and check out its website.

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