in this series, I will tell you the story of one man and his life as seen through his Chinese Case file. To keep the story focused, I’ll minimize the number of other sources so that you will be able to see what a single case file can contain. Future posts will complete the story, discuss the analysis, and provide tools on how you can look for case files for your family.
The story of Quon Hing (1885-?)
Quon Hing’s arrival (1900)
This is the story of Quon Hing, who came to Canada in 1900, lived in Saskatchewan, and fought to reunite his family. It’s also the story of the Chinese Immigration Act and how it affected far more than the ability to cross a border.
But let’s begin with the man.
In March 1900, QUON Hing, fifteen, arrived at the port of Victoria, British Columbia aboard the SS Umatilla. He was from Har Bin, Hoiping, Guangdong. Because he was neither merchant nor student, he paid a head tax, received his head tax certificate (a Chinese Immigration certificate no. 5), and registered on the General Register of Chinese Immigration. That was his first encounter with the bureaucracy of Chinese immigration but it wouldn’t be his last.
This is the Chinese Case file of Quon Hing, which spans forty-five years: 1912-1957.1 It contains fifty letters and memos, eight Chinese Immigration forms and seven file notes, plus a photo.
George Sing applies for a replacement head tax certificate (1912-13)
In 1912, Quon Hing of Weyburn, SK – now known as George Sing – applied for a replacement C.I.5. In support of his application, he filed a C.I.29 – a form with affidavits for [white] people to attest he was a good citizen.2
Let the paperwork commence.
From 17 Jun 1912 to 7 May 1913, it took eight letters and a memo to get the job done. It’s rare to have a ringside seat to such a dizzying level of bureaucracy. The parties involved were, on the one side, George Sing, represented by his lawyers Black, Hillier & Moon of Weyburn, SK, and on the other, the Chinese Immigration authorities.3
Before we go further, here’s a sketch of who was who in Chinese Immigration before 1947. At the top was the Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration in Ottawa. He was the final decision maker. Except for members of the Canadian Cabinet, his was the final word. Below him were an Assistant Chief, a Superintendent, and at least two regional Controllers. Below the Controllers were regional Commissioners. (Not shown is a Controller in Hong Kong.) All the bureaucrats make it challenging to follow the questions up and down the food chain.
They were looking – as ever – for fraud. Was George Sing really Quon Hing? What was the name of his original ship? Did he have moles on his face, neck, or head? Letters flew around the Chinese Immigration Branch and out to George’s legal team. It’s doubtful George would have been successful had he attempted this process alone. Only a man of means could attempt it.
George was finally issued his replacement C.I.28 in May, 1913.
George asks to bring his wife to SK (1917)
Four years later in 1917, George (again through his legal team) asked for a passport and forms to bring his wife from Hoiping to Weyburn.4 The Chief Controller said George’s wife should apply on entry as a merchant’s wife. It’s not clear if George or his wife attempted the process but later information shows George lived alone.
Wrong place, wrong time: George and the coke bust (1922)
The next chapter in George’s life happens from May to October 1922.5 Eleven letters trace the story. To learn more, I also looked for news articles.6 Here is the summary. George was working in the office of the Central Supply Company when the RCMP conducted a drug raid. The account is unclear, but it appears they found a tin containing cocaine. Witnesses said an unknown man had been seen on the premises that day. The prosecution, unable to locate the offender, found George “technically in possession” as he was in the building. He was convicted and fined $500. The commissioners for Chinese Immigration, the RCMP, and the Department of Justice discussed his conviction, copied its details for their files, and ultimately asked if George could be deported, citing s. 10(b) of the Opium and Narcotics Act.
One George Sing, otherwise known as Quan Hing, an alien, was convicted at Moose Jaw on May 9th last… I would be pleased to have your opinion as to whether or not George Sing is deportable…Chief Controller to Asst. Deputy Minister of Justice at Ottawa – 12 Oct 1922
… it would appear that aliens convicted previous to the coming into force of Section 10B cannot be deported if they have acquired Canadian domicile.Assistant Chief Controller at Ottawa to Controller at Winnipeg – 18 Oct 1922
George was saved – not by leniency – but timing. His conviction happened before the new drug law came into effect. George probably didn’t know how close he came to disaster.
This conviction would shadow George’s reputation for decades.
George Sing’s war (1938-39)
The government memories are long and their files deep.
By 1938, George’s case file had been open twenty-six years and it was about to get deeper. George, 53, applied to bring his younger son to Saskatchewan. In his application, he said the boy was studying at Tai Chung College, Canton City [Guangzhou], but could not continue because of the air raids.
Let me pause here and say how those words broke my heart. Imagine you’re the father of a son you can’t see grow up because the Chinese Exclusion Act won’t allow it. In the meantime, he’s in danger of being bombed at school.
George must have been frantic with worry. Did he succeed with his application? Stay tuned for the next instalment.
Next week: What happened to George’s son?
The 1922 trial of George Sing
There are many articles about George Sing’s 1922 arrest and trial. This one is detailed.6
I received my first Canadian Chinese Case file this summer. And it’s everything I hoped (and feared) it would be. For some time my research into the records of the sixty years of the Chinese Immigration Act (1885-1947) has been hinting at something bigger. And that the currently available bits and pieces refer to an even bigger genealogical treasure in Chinese Case files. Three years ago, I wrote about them. See Chinese Immigration Act Case Files: Finding aids at LAC.
In addition, I’ve long wanted to do a story on a Saskatchewan Chinese family. Chinese Exclusion affected every Chinese person in Canada. I talk a lot about BC and Ottawa but by no means were they the only players. Every level of government in every jurisdiction was involved. Even Newfoundland – not a part of Confederation until 1949 – nevertheless kept their own exclusion lists.
In future posts I’ll discuss some of the remarkable documents in depth, such as the RCMP interrogatory, and the C.I.29 form.
1Canada, Department of Citizenship and Immigration, Immigration Branch, Ottawa, Ontario, Chinese case files, File #CH-I-6082 for Quon Hing, RG 76, accession no. 1984-85/041 GAD, Library and Archives Canada, Ottawa, ON, Access to Information Request file no. [redacted], filed 3 Oct 2020, received 1 Aug 2023, 86 PDF pages.
____ 2Canada, Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration, C.I. 29 of Quon Hing of Weyburn, SK, declared at Weyburn, SK 21 May 1912, pages 85-86 of 86; For more about C.I. 29s, see “Chinese Canadian Genealogy: Immigration Records,” library, Vancouver Public Library, accessed 6 Aug 2023, https://www.vpl.ca/guide/chinese-canadian-genealogy/immigration-records.
____ 3[Correspondence among Quon Hing via Black, Hilliar & Moon, Barristers, Weyburn, SK; the Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration, Ottawa; and the Superintendent of Immigration, Ottawa (17 Jun 1912 – 7 May 1913)], pgs. 76-86 of 86.
____ 4[Correspondence among Quon Hing via Black, Hilliar & Moon, Barristers, Weyburn, SK and the Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration, Ottawa (17 Feb 1917 – 23 Feb 1917)], pgs. 74-5 of 86.
____ 5[Correspondence among the Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration, Ottawa; the Assistant Chief Controller of Chinese Immigration, Ottawa; the Commissioner of Immigration & Colonization, Winnipeg, MN; the Deputy Minister of Justice, Ottawa; the RCMP Commissioner; the Assistant RCMP Commissioner, Ottawa, ON; the Officer Commanding the RCMP Southern Saskatchewan District, Regina, SK; and the RCMP, Moose Jaw, SK; (10 May 1922 – 18 Oct 1922)], pgs. 52-75 of 86.
6“George Sing is fined $500 for having cocaine,” The Leader-Post, 22 May 1922, pg. 2, col. 1, Regina, Saskatchewan, digital images, Newspapers.com (newspapers.com : accessed 6 Aug 2023).
Thank you to Marisa Louie Lee, who was the first one to ask me if there were any Canadian Chinese case files like the U.S.
And to Carol F. Lee for her constant encouragement and generosity.