A Triumph of Scholarship
- Patricia E. Roy (Author)
The Triumph of Citizenship: The Japanese and Chinese in Canada, 1941-67. University of British Columbia Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Christopher G. Anderson
This is the last volume in an important trilogy that explores the political history of the Chinese and Japanese in Canada from the establishment of the colony of British Columbia in 1858 to the country's first centenary in 1967. As with A White Man's Province (1989) and The Oriental Question (2003), Roy continues to provide an artfully woven and richly embellished analysis that reflects research of an impressive breadth and depth. In the process, she has created the most extensive account of the evolution of relations between these two communities and both Canadian state and non-state actors. This is not, then, a general history of the Chinese and Japanese in Canada, but rather a history of the politics and public opinion that defined their treatment by the majority population. In carrying these themes forward to 1967, The Triumph of Citizenship develops an additional narrative as it traces how discrimination against these two groups, as well as efforts to undo it, influenced a post-war commitment to human rights in Canada, one that contributed to the institutionalisation of a much more inclusive understanding of Canadian citizenship. For these and many other reasons, Roy's work will be of interest not simply to historians and political scientists but to anyone seeking a deeper understanding of the evolution of the meaning of being Canadian.
Most of the book-about two-thirds-focuses on the Japanese experience, from the government's war-time policies of evacuation from coastal British Columbia and "repatriation" to Japan, which Roy had previously examined in her co-authored Mutual Hostages (1990), to subsequent efforts to remove various discriminatory barriers and receive compensation for property confiscated during the war. The rest addresses the situation of the Chinese, primarily in terms of their struggles to undo discriminatory policies that rendered them, like the Japanese, second-class citizens. Although the experiences of these two communities differed in important respects, with the evacuation and "repatriation" of Canadian-born Japanese constituting one of the most extreme forms of discrimination ever practiced in Canada, Roy identifies important parallels as she traces how members of each group increasingly organized to contest their treatment. In doing so, she shows how they forged alliances with a wide range of like-minded political actors (from churches, unions, civil liberties groups, the media, and political parties) and sought to mobilise public opinion in support of their bid for full political inclusion. Thus, as she has done throughout the trilogy, Roy details how Chinese and Japanese immigrants and their descendants were active political agents and not simply victims in their relations with Canadians. This, in turn, recognizes the influence that these communities had in shaping a Canadian citizenship and democracy anchored more firmly in human rights.
There is a growing literature that explores the appearance and consolidation of a human rights movement in Canada around the time of the Second World War. In part, it grew from the struggle against totalitarianism and in reaction to the Holocaust. It also developed in response to such domestic wartime issues as the status of Canadian civil liberties and the treatment of the Japanese in Canada. The Triumph of Citizenship contributes to this scholarship by showing how the Japanese and Chinese communities helped to define this movement through their demands for equality. Moreover, it explores the varied and complex ways in which Canada's majority population reacted to such demands. The path towards the acceptance of political inclusion was by no means direct, and Roy draws detailed and nuanced portraits of those who, even though they supported human rights, nonetheless had difficulty in recognising and accepting the full implications of non-discrimination. The clarification of how the numerous sides in this political relationship both affected and were affected by the others - how they have evolved over time - has been a signature strength of her analysis.
While there will doubtless be debates over some of the claims made in her book (for example, the weight given in her analysis of the evacuation of the Japanese to the idea that it was undertaken to protect the Japanese themselves and by extension Canadian prisoners of war has generated discussion since its first appearance in the 1990 volume noted above) and refinement of others (for example, considerably more research remains to be undertaken on the Chinese case), Roy's trilogy has established an extremely high standard for such scholarship and will long remain essential historical reading.
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MLA: Anderson, Christopher G and Roy, Patricia E. A Triumph of Scholarship. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 7 Dec. 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #200 (Spring 2009), Strategic Nationalisms. (pg. 188 - 189)
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