Sid Tan: Charlie Quan was a Canadian hero, not a "chink"

By Sid Tan

Magnificent Charlie Quan Sang Now, a champion of the mighty Lo Wah Kiu (old overseas Chinese), is dead. The body gave out at 105 years, but his mind and spirit never betrayed him.

Charlie is my hero. A dutiful son, devoted husband, father, patriarch, pillar of the Quon Lung Sai Tong clan association where the centenarian could be found in regular afternoon sessions of mah jong. He lived his life quietly, raised a fine family, and contributed to his community and adopted country Canada where he rests with his wife, Own Yee Lee.

We all stand before history. Charlie will be judged kindly as an immortal spawn of the Lo Wah Kiu. These Chinese pioneers and adventurers not only endured the hardships of the land’s climate and geography but struggled against racism—62 years enshrined in Canadian law. He knew what being called “chink” meant and didn’t like it.

“Chink” is an offensive English word when applied to people of Chinese descent. It would be fair to say almost every Canadian of Chinese heritage has heard and read this word and variations used in an offensive manner.

Charlie and I talked about many things, mostly food while eating. Naturally, strategy, messaging, and moving forward redress efforts always came up. Until I was asked by the family to help with the eulogy, it never sunk in what redress and symbolic recompense meant to him. Simply, it was about being a "chink".

Charlie Quan’s family made the choice of paying a $500 racist—"chink"—tax for him to enter Canada. It was enough to buy more than two housing lots in Chinatown at a time Europeans were being offered free land on the prairies. Upon arriving, Charlie was detained for a month at the immigration centre near the Burrard Street waterfront. He felt humiliation when made to stand naked for inspection much longer than he felt necessary. He called the place the "pig pen".

In 1923, the targeted tax was replaced by targeted exclusion, which separated him from his wife and family for 20 years. The legislation was enacted on Dominion Day—July 1—now Canada Day. For years the day was called Humiliation Day by the Chinese in Canada.

Except for two brief visits to China, Charlie’s life was a bachelor society. He worked, paid his taxes, and with the repeal of exclusion in 1947, gained the rights and duties of citizenship.

I knew Charlie for too short a time in a decades’ old common cause. He was always there, stepping up for head-tax families when most needed. That’s what heroes and champions do. Well into his 90s, he led the movement to a partial redress.

Charlie put a big idea into simple words and passionate action. He was the first to received his $20,000 ex gratia payment. When I visited him at his club the next day, he was beaming, took me aside, and said, “Chink no more. I get my money back.”

We were so happy for him that I did not comprehend the profoundness of his statement. Now, after reflecting on our time together, it was clear to Charlie the apology meant little without individual recognition and symbolic compensation.

He knew the Chinese would always be “chinks” to the remnants of the colonial racist ideology that regulated the Chinese in Canada to second-class citizens for more than a hundred years. Financially comfortable and in that Lo Wah Kiu way of his, he explained he didn’t need the money but it would be fair to get it back.

Simply, if you take a dollar unjustly from my family or me and then apologize, does that mean you don’t have to give the money back?

To this end, Charlie Quan was concerned Chinese Canadians, both pioneer families and recently immigrated, would always be viewed as "chinks". To him, the word was a reminder of times when the Chinese were viewed as “heathens without souls”, a race lacking unity and incapable of strength and fight to demand justice and deserve honour.

Governments have always been arrogant and dismissive to head tax families and are again to a redress based on “one certificate, one claim”.

A few months before his death, Charlie wanted to leave a message for his comrades and the movement, calling for an inclusive just and honourable redress for families affected by head tax and exclusion. We recorded what is known as the Quan Manifesto, which some five years earlier I personally delivered to then-heritage minister Beverley Oda and then-secretary of state Jason Kenney.

We mourn Charlie Quan and must say goodbye. With many Canadians, I will celebrate the man, his long life well lived and generous and guiding spirit. A man with the heart of a warrior and the soul of a poet. A life with no quitting, fence-sitting and freeloading. A man who fought for the return of an unjust tax and got it. How Canadian is that?

Charlie Quan Sang Now, a quietly inspiring man, put polish and shine on the history of the Chinese in Canada. A proud Canadian etched into Lo Wah Kiu history, now being recognized as a distinguished thread in the Canadian fabric. My dear old friend Charlie—always remembered, always loved.

Predeceased by his wife, Own Yee Lee, Charlie Quan is survived by his loving daughter-in-law Chung Yit Quan, his two sons Gary and Wesley, his six grandchildren, and his eight great-grandchildren.

Sid Chow Tan is national chairman of the Chinese Canadian National Council and active in many issues, most notably W2 Community Media Arts Society and the DT East broadsheet, a publication of the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood Council of which he is a founding director.

Comments (41) Add New Comment
Condolence
Charlie Quan was a pillar to our society and good citizen role model, he withstood and endured rights of Chinese minorities rights and our future generations to come...We appreciate and thank Charlie for his contribution and what represent amongst us all, God blessed.
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TrueConservative
"...Chinese would always be “chinks” to the remnants of the colonial racist ideology..."

The last time I heard anyone use the word was sometime around 1967, some eleven-year-old I knew at the time. Never since. I've never heard an adult use the word. Not ever.
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Sid Tan
@TrueConservative

I was about 17 in 1967 and was quite common. I'm guessing it's about how one views the world. I call it as I see it! Not sure why you brought up - you feel the words should not be uttered?
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GOT
I would second the comment by "True Conservative". I would add that it seems deliberately and unnecessarily confrontational for Mr Tan to use language like this in his article, and attribute his own prejudices against 'the remnants of the colonial racist ideology' to the late Charlie Quan. I don't think it's appropriate to use the unfortunate passing of Mr Quan to apply the 'racist' label to everyone who isn't of Chinese background. The exclusion laws were put in place at one time for reasons that included racism, but may also have included social and economic reasons in the young dominion. The laws were eventually repealed by a more recent generation of 'colonials' when they were indeed seen as being racist - and the social and/or economic issues were no longer relevant. I'd welcome an in-depth study of head tax - who specifically paid it and for what reasons? Was it ever used by a Chinese family to 'buy' an indentured servant, for example? I've heard stories of Chinese farm workers having to labour for years to pay back the head tax that a relative paid on their behalf. When the going rate for farm labourers was $40 per month in 1925 (http://socserv.socsci.mcmaster.ca/maclabour/images/articles/T1-29-453.gif), 'buying' labourers for $500 for five years or more would be a relative bargain (no pun intended)...There is more to the head tax story than has been told - and I suspect that not all of the suffering was at the hands of 'colonial racists'. That said, it is obvious that Charlie Quan was a highly respected and beloved man. Canada was fortunate to have him as a citizen.
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Hello
@TrueConservative&Sid Tan......I think a lot depends on the people you run with. If TrueConservative was around people that just did not refer to Chinese Canadians as 'chinks' he wouldn't have heard it. My parents would never have used that term either or the people they were friends with. I grew up in northern B.C. and heard it often enough. I still hear it now in Vancouver once in a while. My condolences to Charlie Quan Sang Now's family and friends.
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TrueConservative
Simply trying to make the point that the man's life was a success. Celebrate the man. BC is now a real multicultural community, thanks to him and other fighters and lovers. It really is, and can only get better. Fred Wah, BC writer of Chinese roots is our national poet laureate, after all. His Diamond Grill is only one of many books now that tell the Chinese in Canada story with grace and mastery. Well -- don't they? Come, admit it---Oh yes, we've all come a long way.
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Sid Tan
I want to rid Canada of the remnants of colonial racist ideology. Pray tell, how can I put this so it is less "confrontational" and satifies all?
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James G
I also found the loaded language unsettling in memorial but I think I understand the rationale. To contrast a fine person against the backdrop of the harshly racist environment in which he lived part of his life lays bare the injustice of labeling people with racial slurs.

If we are to follow the advice of Dylan Thomas and rage against dying of the light, we must then let that light shine on the truths of our lives. Canada today has come far and will go further but many lives were lived well before it retreated from it's overtly racist past.
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Michael Castanaveras
@Sid,
Your goal was so wrapped up in a touching eulogy that I had no idea what you were on about.

So I went over to the headtaxfamilies.ca website and tried determine what you goal is. Stating that you want to "rid Canada of the remnants of colonial racist ideology" is pretty vague.

From what I can tell, what you really want is to get the goverment to pay head tax redress to not just direct victims, but their kin as well, presuming the actual payors are deceased.

If that's the case, then first off all, state your goal clearly! Second, I suggest you write a story about someone who didn't get redress because they are kin of deceased, as opposed to somone like Mr. Charlie Quan Sang Now, who did. Finally, make an economic case for it. Their is nothing that can be done now about the "chink" slur. As reprehensible as it was, it shouldn't factor into the redress equation. No amount of redress can cover the hurtful and important stories of early life in Canada for head tax payees. Those were day-to-day personal interactions. But I agree that economic compenstation is well deserved for the head tax itself.
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Taxpayers R Us
@Sid

When the BC NDP was faced with the replacement of whatever her name was, I came across an article in a South Asian magazine decrying their double-standard on leadership positions where white men were not wanted, while simultaneously standing against gender discrimination.

The columnist said something to the effect of "if you want to stop discrimination based on race and gender, stop discriminating by race and gender."

I haven't heard the word "chink" in over 20 years and had completely forgotten about it till you mentioned it.
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Raj
Thank you Sid,

I escaped from the backwater lumber town 25 years ago. A couple of years ago, I was horrified when my Daddy tearfully disclosed to me that the reason he had his near-fatal heart attack was because of the extensive unremitting abusive bullying that he experienced by rednecks at his work site.

Don’t let the evil haters get you down!
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GOT
With all due respect, Sid, you - and all of us - can rid Canada of racism by ceasing to allow it to express itself, in language, in actions, and in silences that condone it, and by giving credit where it is due, rather than pretending nothing has improved. My generation, which is also your generation, has done a lot towards addressing racism in Canada. A big step forward was recognizing the function and harm in name-calling. I'm still appalled at the casually racist nicknames with which we labelled other kids and their families when we were young, and were labelled by them in return. Everyone knows the names - and it wasn't limited to 'chink' - but I also know that we made a conscious effort to remove those names from our vocabularies in our teens when we began to make the connections between ignorance, racism and hurtfulness towards 'others'. What's more, the racism that did exist in my small town was nothing compared to what I encountered in the city, and even as a supposedly privileged white 'colonial', I was as frequently on the receiving end as anybody else - for being white! There is still a lot of racism in Canada, but I would argue that the component you refer to as 'colonial racist ideology' is now very minor compared to what is being brought into the country by some new immigrants - certainly not all of them, but enough of them - who see Canada as an opportunity to rekindle old wars against old enemies. That's the new face of racism in Canada and it's no less ugly and no less appalling than the old one. If nothing else, it serves to make us 'colonials' look again, even more critically, at our personal and collective histories in terms of our attitudes towards other human beings. As a nation, we do indeed need to confront it. How, exactly, is another question, possibly one for yet another generation of young Canadians. In the meantime, my generation has yet to solve racism and the effects thereof over the past three hundred years towards our First Nations, but we're onto it.
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UnhyphenatedChineseCanadian
Even in death, Mr. Quan is being used as a puppet of the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), an unrepresentative body (similar to the National Congress of Chinese Canadians) that claims to represent all of us. While it is true that CCNC back in the mid 1980s polled Chinese Canadian communities across the country, and received support from about 850 families to pursue an apology and redress for the head tax and Exclusion Act, it was hardly the same case during the 2006 parliamentary apology, and CCNC's representation of anyone should certainly be questioned now.

I hear more from the voice and politics of Sid Chow Tan, who also carries the title of national chairman of the CCNC, in this eulogy than I do the voices of Mr. Quan's family, or even of Mr. Quan himself, in memory. Yes, we should all learn from exemplary lives lived; we should also remember that there is a big difference between those who lived the stories and those who are telling them.

My opinion of what and when Mr. Quan is likely to have said about redress is my own, but I find the following paragraph from this eulogy disingenuous; likely an attempt to reconstruct history to serve a deliberate purpose:

A few months before his death, Charlie wanted to leave a message for his comrades and the movement, calling for an inclusive just and honourable redress for families affected by head tax and exclusion. We recorded what is known as the Quan Manifesto, which some five years earlier I personally delivered to then-heritage minister Beverley Oda and then-secretary of state Jason Kenney.

Really? Mr. Quan a few months before he passed away wanted to parrot Sid Chow Tan and ask for money ($20,000 or more) from the Government of Canada that would benefit people like, er, Sid Chow Tan? It seems just that Mr. Quan himself was apologized to and given symbolic redress because he was a direct victim of the discriminatory laws of the head tax and Exclusion Act. Using this man's story to claim similar payments for another purpose is a weak argument.

It is also confusing that Sid Chow Tan, who is identified as national chairman of CCNC at the end of this article, would represent this view on behalf of "all Chinese Canadians" (my own emphasis) when it appears that this same CCNC actually accepted the apology and symbolic redress for the head tax and Exclusion Act from the Canadian Government back on June 22, 2006. So, let's see: CCNC accepts the apology and symbolic redress, but then decides it wants more, so it launches a new society, the Head Tax Families Society of Canada (chaired by Sid Chow Tan?), and starts a new campaign, or resumes the old one, with the exception of all the Chinese Canadian families who chose to accept the Prime Minister's apology and symbolic redress in 2006.

This brings us back to the point: Who does CCNC represent? A quick look at its website has CCNC claiming membership of just under 20 national organizational members. A quick look for these national members reveals that many of them are defunct since CCNC was started in 1979. If 785 surviving head tax payers and their spouses were compensated with the symbolic redress by the government, how many remaining direct victims of the head tax and Exclusion Act are represented by the CCNC?

From the perspective of governance, who runs the CCNC? It seems Sid Chow Tan has been the national chairman at least since 2006, the year the Government apologized and the year the Head Tax Families Society was born. Another look at its website shows it is likely run by two separate boards: one in Toronto and the other representing a national board, made up mostly of members from B.C. and Ontario. Hardly a nationally represented board. The website also shows board and executives appointed or elected in 2007. It is now 2012 and I've not ever heard of CCNC calling an annual general meeting or publicizing an election of officers in the past decade.

So, who does CCNC represent?
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UnhyphenatedChineseCanadian
Even in death, Mr. Quan is being used as a puppet of the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC), an unrepresentative body (similar to the National Congress of Chinese Canadians) that claims to represent all of us. While it is true that CCNC back in the mid 1980s polled Chinese Canadian communities across the country, and received support from about 850 families to pursue an apology and redress for the head tax and Exclusion Act, it was hardly the same case during the 2006 parliamentary apology, and CCNC's representation of anyone should certainly be questioned now.

I hear more from the voice and politics of Sid Chow Tan, who also carries the title of national chairman of the CCNC, in this eulogy than I do the voices of Mr. Quan's family, or even of Mr. Quan himself, in memory. Yes, we should all learn from exemplary lives lived; we should also remember that there is a big difference between those who lived the stories and those who are telling them.

My opinion of what and when Mr. Quan is likely to have said about redress is my own, but I find the following paragraph from this eulogy disingenuous; likely an attempt to reconstruct history to serve a deliberate purpose:

A few months before his death, Charlie wanted to leave a message for his comrades and the movement, calling for an inclusive just and honourable redress for families affected by head tax and exclusion. We recorded what is known as the Quan Manifesto, which some five years earlier I personally delivered to then-heritage minister Beverley Oda and then-secretary of state Jason Kenney.

Really? Mr. Quan a few months before he passed away wanted to parrot Sid Chow Tan and ask for money ($20,000 or more) from the Government of Canada that would benefit people like, er, Sid Chow Tan? It seems just that Mr. Quan himself was apologized to and given symbolic redress because he was a direct victim of the discriminatory laws of the head tax and Exclusion Act. Using this man's story to claim similar payments for others is a weak argument.

It is also confusing that Sid Chow Tan, who is identified as national chairman of CCNC at the end of this article, would represent this view on behalf of "all Chinese Canadians" (my own emphasis) when it appears that this same CCNC actually accepted the apology and symbolic redress for the head tax and Exclusion Act from the Canadian Government back on June 22, 2006. So, let's see: CCNC accepts the apology and symbolic redress, but then decides it wants more, so it launches a new society, the Head Tax Families Society of Canada (chaired by Sid Chow Tan?), and starts a new campaign, or resumes the old one, with the exception of all the Chinese Canadian families who chose to accept the Prime Minister's apology and symbolic redress in 2006.

This brings us back to the point: Who does CCNC represent? A quick look at its website has CCNC claiming membership of just under 20 national organizational members. A quick look for these national members reveals that many of them are defunct since CCNC was started in 1979. If 785 surviving head tax payers and their spouses were compensated with the symbolic redress by the government, how many remaining direct victims of the head tax and Exclusion Act are represented by the CCNC?

From the perspective of governance, who runs the CCNC? It seems Sid Chow Tan has been the national chairman at least since 2006, the year the Government apologized and the year the Head Tax Families Society was born. Another look at its website shows it is likely run by two separate boards: one in Toronto and the other representing a national board, made up mostly of members from B.C. and Ontario. Hardly a nationally represented board. The website also shows board and executives appointed or elected in 2007. It is now 2012 and I've not ever heard of CCNC calling an annual general meeting or publicizing an election of officers in the past decade.

So, who does CCNC represent?
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Gentleman Jack
One day we will have redress for contemporarily victimized people, like drug users.
If only discrimination against drug users could be alleviated by paying a fee---they'd line up in droves!
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Victor Wong
Thanks Sid for your eulogy of Charlie Quan. I recall our meeting back in March 2005 with the seniors at Strathcona to discuss the Govt's offer of "no apology no compensation." Charlie was the lone HT payer present that day - so many had passed away while successive Govts dragged their feet on the issue. I still remember the silence in the room that day when I asked if anyone would support the Liberal Govt proposal. None did. Amazing then, that 17 months later we were attending the first ex-gratia payment event and Charlie was the first recipient. Sid and Gim Wong did keep their promise to Charlie with many, perhaps Kwan Gung-inspired, lucky breaks along the way. Indeed.

But redress was incomplete and Charlie continued to support inclusive redress for all head tax families (not just the 785) after 2006; he was also an honorary member of HT Families Society. He'll be greatly missed.

To Unhyphenated - well, you seem kinda sour...the short answer is that we're busy and we don't post everything on our website but you can call us if you are truly interested in the work/board membership of CCNC. I kinda doubt that will happen though - heck, you don't even use your name when you post here. Warriors use their real names - scroll up - see Sid Tan.
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lawson45
Just call the ones in China `cyber spies` that would be closer to the truth
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lyrical
Commenters here who say they never hear that term used are sheltered or else they are not sports fans. It's been on major media the past few weeks.
http://rendezvous.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/18/with-ethnic-slurs-espn-st...

The reason we rarely hear this racist slur today is because of people like Charlie Quan, and Sid Tan.
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UnhyphenatedChineseCanadian
Not interested in joining what has become an unrepresentative organization, despite early history. Nice evasion of the question: Who does CCNC represent? I'll consider approaching CCNC once I can see minutes of meetings and audited financials on your website. something you might expect from an organization that receives public funding.

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Concerned Group 2
Did anyone mention that when Paul Martin announced his redress with no apology and compensation in 2005 at the Vancouver Chinese Cultural Centre, Charlie Quan was the Liberals' poster boy supporting that disgraceful redress?

It's interesting to note that the same guy was later become the hero of the 2006 Conservative redress.
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