Yip Sang, a Chinese-Canadian
The British and Chinese signed the Treaty of Nanking in 1842, each providing their respective subjects with the right to benefit from full security and protection for their persons and property within each other’s boundaries. Even though China did no openly allow emigration(移居), in 1860 a law was passed which stated that Chinese seeking to work in the British Colonies or other places were at liberty to do so. They had only to ship themselves and their families on board any British vessel at any of the open ports in China. In 1868, another treaty, this one with the United States, gave the Chinese the right to change their home and loyalty from one country to another for the purposes of curiosity, of trade, or as permanent residents, thereby opening the gates for emigration from China.
The gold boom in British Columbia in the 1850’s was the beginning of Chinese immigration from the U.S. into Canada. Many of these early immigrants from Fujian and Guangdong provinces to San Francisco. When they heard of the gold discoveries in British Columbia, many crossed the border into Canada by moving overland through Oregon or arriving by sea in Victoria. When the gold deposits were depleted(用尽,枯竭), these early settler stayed, moving into occupations like gardening, farming, domestic service, road construction, and railway building. By 1871, these were approximately 3,000 Chinese inhabitants in the province, only 53 of whom being women.
Since Chinese workers were know to be conscientious and reliable, several companies actively recruited them. As a result, it was estimated that 10,000 workers arrived between 1882 and 1884. In an effort to restrict the entry of Chinese immigrants, an act was passed in the Canadian Parliament confining the proportion to one person for every 50 tons of vessel tonnage(船舶的吨数). A head tax was also imposed. Records of those who paid the head tax are still available for viewing in the National Archives of Canada.
An article in the Illustrated London News in January 1875 gave some insight into the emigration process of the Chinese by conveying the ideas of changes they might undergo. The author thought the modifications(修改,改造) would be slight and principally external. He believed that, in an attempt to blend in, the Chinese would adopt American language, culture, and dress. However, because the Chinese brought with them a strong sense of their own identity, it wasn’t necessary for them to cultivate a North American way of life, nor did they feel an obligation to abandon their traditions. Much of the article would be considered insulting by today’s standards.
In the United States, there were two opposing points of view. On one side of the coin, the Chinese were seen as an inexpensive means of providing the manual labor necessary to develop the assets of the country, most often in hazardous occupations. On the other side, there were those who branded them as the “curse” of the nation. Some Americans applauded the Chinese but others condemned them as evil. Some were disturbed by what might happen if all the immigrants decided to stay. Their distress was unfounded however, as most Chinese had no intention of staying. Their greatest wish was to accumulate as much money as possible and return to China.
Guilds(行会,协会) were set up to provide lodging and employment for the emigrants, for a fee of course. The fee ensured that the worker would be paid a decent wage and that his employer would not deceive him. The accumulated fees amounted to a large sum, allowing the Guilds to help those who were ill or out of work. They not only saw that the worker received whatever was due to him, they also made him pay all his debts. The worker wasn’t allowed to return to his own country without a certificate from his agent stating he owned nothing.
Many Chinese were able to save a portion of their earnings to take with them to their family back home. Often, after workers returned to China, they would revisit North America to accumulate more money. Before being allowed to board a ship in China, however, they had to prove that they were going to their own free will and were under no labor contract. Before the ships set sail. The authorities would visit to guarantee that all on board had their ticket stamped and were not leaving the country against their will.
Yip Sang, born in Canton(广州旧称) in 1845, left China at the age of nineteen to seek his fortune in America. After arriving in San Francisco in 1864, he earned a living by working first as a dish-washer, then as a cook, and finally as a cigar roller. From the outset, he perceived that if he was patient and could represent the best of his race, his merits would be recognized.
Possibly the attraction of high wages rumored to be offered by Canadian railroad companies roused Yip San to leave San Francisco. He arrived in Vancouver in 1881 and worked on the western portion of the Canadian pacific Railroad from 1882 until 1884, first as a book-keeper, then as a time-keeper, and finally as a paymaster(出纳员), before being promoted to Chinese superintendent(主管) for the supply company. The promotion made him responsible for hiring on contract and transporting thousands of men from China to work on the railway line in British Columbia. He supervised(监督,管理) some six to seven thousand Chinese workers during the peak of the construction.
In 1885, he returned to China using the money he had saved from his CPR job. He remained there from 1885 until 1888, while there he married four different wives, a regular occurrence at the time for wealthy young men. He and his first wife, Lee She, had a son and a daughter. Lee She became gravely(严重的) ill after their marriage and urged Yip Sang to take another wife, one who could be able to take good care of their children. Wong She, Yip Sang’s second wife, was very young with “sensitive” eyes, but did not meet with the approval of Lee Shee. She insisted he should marry third time, and this time choose someone more suitable to care for the children. Dong She, wife number three, was more mature and had the capacity to supervise the household and the children. Dong Shee convinced Yip Sang to take a fourth wife, Chin She, whose primary role was to be Dong She’s companion. With his four wives, Yip Sang had 23 children, one of whom became the first Chinese Canadian doctor to be recognized in Canada. In 1888, Yip Sang returned to Canada with three wives——Lee She died before they left.
On his return to Canada he undertook a new enterprise. He became a merchant, opening an import-export business in the heart of Vancouver's Chinatown. Wing Sang Company specialized in goods imported from China. The company provided Chinese Canadians with merchandise(商品) not readily available in Vancouver and exported Canadian foodstuffs(食品) to China.
His formula of pouring as much money as he could afford into building and expansion couldn’t help but succeed. In 1889, Yip Sang bought land on Pender Street in Chinatown and began construction of a complex, which still stands today. Initially(最初) being a two-story building with a ground floor storefront and a second floor residence, it was probably the first in Chinatown to be built of durable brick. Customers of the store walked on wooden platforms covering the unpaved dirt streets to avoid tracking the dust and mud into the building.
With the tone of success, Yip Sang added to his building. In 1901, he widened the street to accommodate three more shops, each with a second story above. He also added a third floor to the original building in the same year. In 1912, to house both his growing family and his business, he built a new six-story brick building behind the old one and connected to it by a narrow corridor at ground level, and by an enclosed stairway extension on the third floor that stretched above the alley between the two buildings. Most of the new building was used to warehouse goods for the import/export business.
Yip Sang’s involvement(卷入) with shipping companies and his own business demonstrated his understanding of the freight industry and his ability to work fluently in both Chinese and English languages. In 1889, the CPR rehired Yip Sang to act as their Chinese Passenger Agent for their Canadian Steamship Line, a position he held until his death in 1927 at the age of 82.
The demand for salted herring(鲱鱼) in china, in conjunction with huge catches being brought in by the fishing fleet, spurred Yip Sang to build a fish packing plant in Nanaimo. The success of this plant led to the opening of a second plant on Vancouver Island soon afterward. Both plants were staffed by large numbers of Chinese workers and helped establish sizeable(相当大的) Chinese community in Nanaimo’s downtown core.
Consistent with Yip Sang’s devotion to growth and improvement, he promoted and fostered(支持) education. Not only did he found the Ok Kuo Night School, he also served as its principal for over ten years. His children went to public school, but they also received schooling at home from tutors hired from Hong Kong to teach them Chinese. Yip Sang took great pleasure in quizzing his offspring(子女,后代) about their lessons. His philosophy was that by moderating the children’s Canadian education with fundamental Chinese, the equation would result in well-rounded, responsible citizens.
As a keen advocate of education in Canada, Yip Sang also sponsored education abroad in China. The ling-nan University and Toi-shan Middle School in his hometown of Canton were established with his help.
Throughout his life, he maintained an active role in Vancouver’s Chinatown. He was one of eleven men, his contemporaries, who founded the Chinese Benevolent(慈善的) Association, one component of which looked after the ill, elderly or destitute(贫困的) Chinese in the absence of their families.
When he died at the age of 82, Yip Sang was not only one of the wealthiest merchants in Vancouver; he was also considered a pillar of the community. Yip Sang’s descendants(后裔,后代) continue to honor his values and remain active in the Vancouver Community.