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Friday, November 11, 2005

Chinese-Canadian Spies, 1943-1944; Remembrance Day Statement
As expected, being a Chinese-Canadian man myself, I felt to leave this last little mention for this final installment about Remembrance Day. I know very little about this particular subject, but it has somehow turned out to be a lot more important to me than I originally thought . . .

So through much of the 1800's, thousands of Chinese immigrants were brought over into Canada to help build the railroads. Now that whole subject is full of its own stories, but for today I'm going to skip that and get to the point. Basically, after the railroad was completed, there were a lot of Chinese people in Canada, especially British Columbia.

When Canada entered the war in 1939, the social situation was not especially kind to Chinese-Canadians; they weren't given the vote, and they couldn't serve in the armed forces. There were segregated schools, theaters, and swimming pools. There were anti-Chinese leagues throughout the city; common sayings of the time included "You don't have a Chinaman's chance," or "Chink, Chink, Chinaman." Still, many Chinese-Canadians wanted to serve and fight for their new country . . . in 1943, they finally got their chance.

I'm not sure of exactly what it was, but it could have been anything from a dire need for more troops or a final acceptance that these people wanted to fight . . . in any case, Chinese-Canadian soldiers were sent off to all different theaters of war, both in Europe and Asia. Where things get really interesting, though, is when one brings the Special Operations Executive into the story.

Plainly put, the Special Operations Executive or S.O.E. was a secret service of spies and special agents. And, when you need special agents working in China to fight the Japanese, well . . . . . well, they did have Caucasion agents dressed in bushgear in the forests, but having actual asians who could blend in and speak the local languages just worked. They trained local resistances, sabotaged the enemy, and played a large contribution to the mainland fighting in Asia.

What's especially remarkable is that hundreds of Chinese-Canadians volunteered for S.O.E. service - in fact, they were the largest group in the country to do so! Not all of them got to actually participate, many still training in Australia or India when the war ended, but the desire to serve said more than enough. These people were fully aware that if they were captured, the government would disavow any knowledge of their existence and immediate execution was more than likely . . . nevertheless, to serve was a very important matter. Roy MacLaren of the British Secret Service had this to say:

They embarked for their destinations halfway around the world without a care for the morrow. In volunteering for clandestine warfare, the spirit of adventure was as evident in them as it had been in those Canadians who went into occupied Europe. But for the young Chinese-Canadians, their service meant something more. For them, it was also an affirmation of equality. Their parents, or even grandparts, as well as themselves, had been second-class Canadians, deprived of the full privileges of citizenship. They were ready, even eager, to fill all the obligations of citizenship so that in return they might receive all those rights under which other Canadians took for granted.

After the war in 1945, the government of British Columbia gave the vote to anyone who had served in either world war, be they of Chinese or Japanese background. In the years to come, the rest of the country also slowly dismantled their anti-asian laws and rules . . .

* * * * * * *

I was out the other night for dinner with my brothers and our dad. We were celebrating my brother's birthday, but it also gave us all a chance just to see our dad again since we don't get to talk with him as much. In any case, as the meal went on, I mentioned all this Remembrance Day stuff I was writing, curious to hear what he had to say about my research into things like Chinese-Canadian spies or Lugou Bridge. For a while he didn't fully catch what I was talking about, but once he did he immediately took notice.

"Hey," he said, "you should talk to your grandma, she has so many stories about what things were like during those years."
"I don't know if I should," I replied.
"You really should," he said, "it's really amazing . . ." He went on to quickly recap how my grandparents basically fled into the central part of the country as the Japanese closed in. I had always wondered about that, since for the most part I only knew of them as coming from Hong Kong . . . and well, knowing what happened to Hong Kong, well, ya know . . . . .

Before we all changed the subject, he said one last bit that really stuck with me.
"I wanted to ask your grandpa (his dad) about more of this stuff, but I guess now it's too late . . . so yeah, you should definitely talk to your grandma about this some time . . ."

Later in the night as we drove home, I was talking to my brother about how I wished more people knew about these stories, like the things I'd been posting. He then told me about something that happened to him in class that morning. Basically, the prof' had told everyone that they should all take a moment's silence today to remember all these people who fought for our futures. Right afterwards, he heard a girl near him say to her friend, "I'll give a moment of silence, yeah . . . in bed sleeping . . ."
My brother told me he wanted to just hit her so much for that little joke she made. He felt it wasn't worth it in the end, but still . . .

These millions of people who died do not deserve these kinds of comments. Today, if you see this before 11am - or after, even - make sure you do spend some time thinking about these souls who were willing to put their lives on the line for something they believed in. So and I both sit here in front of our computers writing whatever's on our minds, wearing whatever we wish, enjoying whatever we want to enjoy, because of their sacrifice.

A funny thing about those hundreds of Chinese-Canadian S.O.E. agents. That entire time, they were never acknowledged for the efforts they made - this was the secret service, after all. At the time, they weren't allowed to be thanked for what they risked to end the war as quickly as they could; today, we can finally give them all the credit they deserve . . .

. . . . . and if any of you still have a grandparent or two who lived through those times . . . I ask you to listen to their story. These are things our world can't afford to ever forget.

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