Context of economic change and continuity in an urban overseas Chinese community




Sedgwick, Charles Peter

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This study has attempted to analyse the economic base of an urban Chinese community in Victoria, British Columbia, from its earliest beginnings in 1853 until 1947. Two groupings, merchants and service occupations have been delineated and described through time using the results of both field-work and document research. The problem was to determine the nature and extent of the economic enterprises included within these groupings, their relationship to the social context of cultural contact in which they functioned and the resultant effect of this con-text in terms of economic adaptation, diversification and overall change. From the data it was apparent that both merchant and service activities went through a period of development, expand¬ing in the number of both businesses and personnel involved during a period of increasing social stress between the Chinese community and the host society. This also coincided with intense organizational and associational activity within the Chinese community. Diversification is apparent in both types of activity during this period as merchant and service personnel seek to maximize gain in their separate market areas. Adaptation is manifested as merchants manipulated assets and invested in economic enterprises relying on the host community as clientele. This is primarily manifested through large investment in in-tensive agricultural activity, through purchase of land and the establishment of greenhouses. The variables effecting this change reflect the preferable socio-economic position of the merchant. The service occupations, on the other hand, had expanded in proportion to the demand for various goods and services within the host community. They provided a situation of contact, minimal capital investment and lower incomes. When the merchants diversified their interest to incorporate the same market area, they became reliant on the host community as clientele but faced competition from the same in a situation where they had no established mechanisms for contact. By 1947 there were relatively few Chinese remaining in the traditional merchant activity and minimal numbers of service businesses. The exceptions were the development of localized retail and wholesale produce redistribution outlets and restaurants, which provided economic enterprises for numerous Chinese families. Some were those related to segments of the traditional merchant group who had moved into intensive agriculture, and others consisted of those involved in the higher income activities of the service group. Notably the Exclusion Act and changing aspects of main-land China effectively necessitated the readjustment of the clientele on which the Chinese merchant had depended. Similarily, those employed in service occupations had no in-coming personnel to replenish their numbers and relatively little chance for adaptation with a lower socio-economic position and a declining demand for their goods and services. In conclusion the social environment of the overseas Chinese community in Victoria forced varying degrees of economic adaptation and diversification, manifested by utilization of the host community's economic system as the only means of subsistence, in the very area from which the host society had sought relentlessly to remove the presence of Chinese economic activity.



Chinese, British Columbia, Victoria, Economic conditions, Social conditions, emigration and immigration