Social & Cultural Life: Chinese Benevolent Association

Chinese Benevolent Association parade float

Chinese Benevolent Association parade float

Mr. Lim died before I was born. Kiam remembered him as a gruff man who had poor hearing and spoke too loudly, like many labourers from Old China who worked beside pitiless machinery . . .

“You remember: we Chinese,” all of the Old China men drilled in my brothers and me, between their sips of tea and hacking up the bad waters, “Never forget, we together Chinese.”

from The Jade Peony, p. 232, by Wayson Choy




Although the Chinese had been enclosed to the borders of Chinatown, they had protection and self-governance with institutions such as the Chinese Benevolent Association. Founded in 1895 by six Chinatown leaders, the CBA provided mutual support and leadership within the Chinese Canadian community in Vancouver as well as providing social welfare and social control and spoke for Chinatown to the outside world.

Chinatown merchants often comprised Chinese Benevolent Association and had the financial and social influence that enabled enable them to deal with the world beyond Chinatown. Yip Sang, Alexander Won Cumyow, and Foon Sien were the early leaders of the CBA.

Over the years, the CBA had acted as a government within the borders of Chinatown, often adjudicating court cases, distributing food to unemployed Chinese, lobbied for the review of the Chinese Immigration Act, an appeal to grant Chinese Canadians the right-to-vote in 1947, and numerous petitions between 1947 and 1967 to solicit amendments to Canadian immigration laws to facilitate the reunification of Chinese Canadian families. The CBA celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2006. CBA is one example that indicates that although Chinese lacked the right to vote, Chinatown was not completely powerless or lacking in control of its own destiny.
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