PhD Dissertations: Ying-ying Chen, 2001

In the Colonies of Tang: Historical Archaeology of Chinese Communities in the North Caribou District, British Columbia

This study examines the history of the Chinese community in the North Cariboo District in British Columbia during the gold rush and its subsequent period, spanning eight decades from the 1860s to the 1940s. The study seeks answers to three questions: first, the reasons behind Chinese immigration to British Columbia in relation to the entire history of Chinese emigration; second, the cultural principles that determine the nature of the overseas Chinese community and settlement; and last, the effect of these principles on the survival and maintenance of Chinese communities through time.

The contextual approach is employed, amalgamating information from field archaeology, archival documents in both English and Chinese, and oral sources into a historical synthesis. The primary data of the thesis came from recent archaeological field projects conducted in the North Carbioo and extensive textual researches on both Chinese and English sources.

Results show a history of emigration of Chinese from the Pearl River Delta, Guangdong Province of south China from the 10th century AD onwards. Immigration to the North Cariboo was part of a larger picture of new immigration waves to North America, Australia, New Zealand, and British Columbia taking place in the middle and late 19th century, which were accelerated by contemporary internal disturbances in China and the lure of gold outside of China.

Traditional values of family and clan, together with an unwillingness to acculturate, a prejudice steeped deeply in Chinese culture, acted to shape a unique outlook for the immigrants and their societies. Thus, most immigrants were male sojourners, leaving family and clan behind in China. In the case of the North Cariboo, Chinese actively reinforced their identity through forming their own communities and building up isolated or semi-isolated settlements, regardless of whether or not there were anti-Chinese sentiments in the dominant communities.

A form of chain immigration involved people from 15 counties in the Pearl River Delta with a concentration on two counties of Kaiping and Taishan. The majority of immigrants belonged to two clans of Zhou and Huang. Power assignment within the Chinese communities varied from area to area. In the Quesnelle Forks, Barkerville, and Stanley areas, the lack of a dominant clan, large family or extended family groups gave ascendance to the Hong-men societies. This contrasts sharply with the Quesnel area, where the Zhou clan made up more than half of the Chinese population and seems to be the leading institution in the Chinese community. No matter how socio-political power was distributed, Chinese merchants were the real elites in all four communities.

Community life consisted of four categories of activities, the annual celebrations of traditional Chinese festivals and most society ceremonies, the occasional benevolent activities, and the daily gambling, opium smoking, and prostitution. These activities contributed to spatially define and culturally differentiate the Chinese communities.

Chinese communities in the North Cariboo went through three periods: formative, full development, and decline and disintegration. Though Chinese communities underwent change with each passing period, their social, political and cultural isolation remained unchanged. Their demise was primary determined by the decline in the gold industry and the Canadian government's policy toward Chinese immigrants.