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  • Brokering Belonging: Chinese in Canada’s Exclusion Era, 1885–1945 by Lisa Rose Mar
  • Lawrence Lam
Lisa Rose Mar. Brokering Belonging: Chinese in Canada’s Exclusion Era, 1885–1945. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2010. 230 pp. Notes. Bibliography. Index. $27.95 sc.

The author has provided an engaging and insightful analysis of the pivotal roles of the Chinese brokers and how the process of brokerage has mitigated the adverse impact of Canada’s racial policies on this disenfranchised group during the exclusion era, 1885–1945. Drawing upon various sources of documents, especially the [End Page 162] underutilized Chinese language historical documents such as the Chinese language newspapers, the author shows how these Chinese brokers with their acquired Chinese and English capability, acting as leaders and intermediaries, operated, navigated, and negotiated with the Anglo constituencies. These interactions and transactions revealed that the politics of the Anglo and Chinese worlds were inextricably linked. The Chinese did not merely and passively react to the discriminatory policies and practices. Instead, in their responses to the largely anti-Chinese era, they took action to shape and re-shape their own immediate living milieu and the surrounding society. The examination of these brokers’ work shows that in spite of being defined and redefined by the Anglo hegemony as a uniquely Chinese race, marginalized and stigmatized inferior stock living in an ethnic ghetto, these brokers displayed ingenuity in responding actively to the “politically complex Anglo of prejudice” and reinserting “Chinese Canadians as part of a more integrated political history” (6). The author’s analysis has also raised questions about the depiction of the Chinese as sojourners which should have been indelibly linked to European hegemony in an Anglo settler society.

Brokering Belonging is composed of five chapters. Chapter 1—Negotiating Protections—documents the rivalry of two influential Chinese brokers and how they help the Chinese immigrants to evade the head tax by forming alliances with Canada’s ruling political party. Chapter 2—Arguing Cases—demonstrates these brokers, while being barred from practicing law, acted as “Chinese legal interpreters” in cases contending the discriminatory laws and justice system and appealing to the Canadian and British Empire courts for reification. Chapter 3—Popularizing Politics—examines the emerging new generation of Chinese brokers (charismatic brokers who’re intellectuals, labor leaders and civil rights activists) and how they, in addition to challenging the power of the traditional merchant brokers and legal interpreters, organized a year-long protest against the public school segregation and joined forces with other anti-colonial protests against the British colonialism in China and India. While the activities and organized and co-coordinated protests of these new Chinese had provoked backlashes from some Chinese and Anglo business leaders and elites, they had, nonetheless, effectively brought ordinary people into brokerage politics. Chapter 4—Fixing Knowledge—provides a fascinating analysis of how these brokers managed to portray the Chinese as committed and dedicated to become settled and assimilated into the wider society. It reveals vividly how these new intellectual brokers attempted to reshape and reconstruct the discourse about the Chinese in Canada and the United States by taking an active role in the very first major academic survey of East Asian Immigrants’ opinion in 1924 conducted by Robert Park, Chicago School of Sociology, University of Chicago. These brokers organized in a community campaign to strategically place themselves as interviewees [End Page 163] for the study, and successfully convinced the researchers to see the Chinese, not as sojourners per se, but as “a patient and diligent model minority” (8) and as “tragic marginal men” (8). Chapter 5—Transforming Democracy—examines the brokers’ continuing negotiations and interactions with Anglos during the Second World War. With the unpopular war policies, contested issue of conscriptions, the brokers lobbied and mobilized Chinese Canadians to take part in the Canadian labor unions. By joining forces with other labor unions to protest tax regulations and to demand equal pay, and to boycott military services, the combined efforts have resulted in persuading the Canadian labor unions to combat racial discrimination, and with the political changes in China (the rise of political power of the Communist Party), a new era of Chinese Canadians—aliens to citizens...


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pp. 162-164
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