Chinese Canadians protested the perpetual foreigner stereotype in 1979.

In 1979, some White Canadians believed that Chinese Canadian university students were “foreign” students taking the places of “Canadians” in Canadian universities. They produced a program about it, called, Campus Giveaway, which aired on CTV’s W5.

However, in 1979 and 1980, a group of Chinese Canadians formed an ad hoc Council of Chinese Canadians, rallied and marched against the Campus Giveaway program, and took legal action against CTV. The protesters chanted, “Red, brown, black, yellow, and white! All Canadians must unite!” outside CTV’s offices.

Here is a transcript of Protesting racism on TV, a CBC News clip from 1980 covering the W5 incident:

Reporter: A protest movement is gaining momentum in metro against the CTV television network and its public affairs program, W5. Last September, W5 aired a program called Campus Giveaway, which focused on “foreign” students in Canadian universities. Protesters say the show implies that foreign students, and Chinese students in particular, are taking the places of “Canadian” students in universities, an implication they say “smacks of racism”.

Wong [with an embarrassingly thick Cantonese accent, which is not representative of the English ability of Chinese Canadians in general]: We are concerned about the W5 program, because it gives the viewers the image that Canadians equals, ah, Chinese students equals foreign students, by selectively showing only the Chinese faces as representing foreign students […] We are asking CTV network to give the public an apology, because of the distortion and exaggeration of statistics that it [uses] in the program, and also that it smacks of racism in the program.

Reporter: The committee says that one example of misleading statistics quoted in the show is that there are at least 100,000 foreign students in our schools. Wong says he has evidence that there are only half that many. He’s also angered by pictures from the program portraying Chinese students as foreigners. Wong says most of the Chinese students shown are actually Canadian citizens.

Reporter: A rally and a march are being organized this weekend in front of CTV headquarters. Many other ethnic groups and university organizations are expected to attend. The Council of Chinese Canadians has taken legal action against CTV over the controversial program. Because the issue is before the courts, CTV is withholding comment, but they do say that they support the W5 program, and no clarification or apology has been made for its contents.

In a recent Globe & Mail article (with a title that reinforces the stereotype that Asians are quiet, when the article is about Asian activism) Tom Hawthorn interviewed some Chinese Canadians who were university students in 1980:

Victor Wong was studying science at the University of British Columbia when Campus Giveaway aired on the popular program W5 (today known as W-Five ).

“It touched many of us,” he said Tuesday. “The message was: Because of your skin colour, or your ethnic heritage, you don’t belong here. You’re just taking up someone’s space.

Sid Tan was also studying at UBC in 1979.

They were calling a bunch of Canadians foreigners. It was quite disgusting and quite off the mark,” he said. “I remember it as a galvanizing experience.”

Anthony Chan, a communications professor born in Victoria, recalls the shock.

“We’re going, ‘Huh?! They’re saying we’re foreigners. They can’t be serious.’ ”

The report alleged that Canadian students were being prevented from studying medicine and engineering because foreign students were occupying their rightful place in university classrooms. Much of the segment focused on the plight of a student from Ontario who was thwarted in her aspiration to study pharmacy at the University of Toronto.


Even 30 years later, Dr. Wong is baffled by the airing of footage in which any Asian face was presumed to be non-Canadian.


The committee had identified all of the unnamed students shown in the report. Not one was a foreign student.

The W5 incident occurred thirty years ago, but many White Canadians in 2009 still feel that Chinese Canadians and other Asian Canadians in universities are taking away spots belonging to White Canadians.

Many White Canadians still conflate Asian students with foreign students, and vice versa. When many graduate students consist of international students from China, India, and Europe, White Canadians perceive the international students from China as evidence that Chinese Canadians are doing very well educationally.

These pervasive assumptions arise from the two primary and persistent stereotypes about Asians:

  1. All Asians are the same; which inevitably leads to
  2. All Asians are foreigners.

When White Canadians fail to distinguish between Asian individuals, the fact that some Asians are foreigners is going to lead them to believe that all Asians are foreigners. Conversely, when White Canadians fail to distinguish between Asian individuals, the fact that many graduate students are Asian international students leads them to believe that Asian Canadians are a model minority.

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22 Responses to “Chinese Canadians protested the perpetual foreigner stereotype in 1979.”

  1. Lxy Says:

    Wong [with an embarrassingly thick Cantonese accent, which is not representative of the English ability of Chinese Canadians in general]:

    Whoa. Did the CBC transcript include this disclaimer about Wong’s “embarrassingly thick” accent not being representative of the English ability of Chinese Canadians?
    That’s curious to say the least.

  2. Restructure! Says:

    No, that’s just my disclaimer. It just bothers me when Chinese Canadian spokespeople have thick accents, especially since they are trying to debunk the stereotype that all Chinese Canadians are foreigners. I’m not sure how to rephrase that disclaimer so that it’s not as offensive/taken the wrong way.

  3. Lxy Says:

    Speaking of language, this brings up the issue of why European accents are usually considered attractive while Asian accents (like Cantonese) are not.

    When someone speaks with a British, French, Australian, or Irish accent, that person is thought of as “cultured” or “charming.”

    But if a person speaks with an Asian or other non-Western accent? They often get the opposite reaction.

    This is just another example of White cultural racism at work.

    Eurocentrism impacts even seemingly trivial things like accents and how you are perceived.

    Chinese peeps in North America need a movement proclaiming that thick Cantonese accents are sexy! ;-)

  4. Restructure! Says:

    Chinese peeps in North America need a movement proclaiming that thick Cantonese accents are sexy! ;-)

    This can never happen for me. Whenever I hear thick Cantonese accents, I think of embarrassing and/or annoying relatives.

    (In addition to British/French/Australian/Irish,) South African and Jamaican accents are pretty cute to me, though.

  5. gracie Says:

    Does anyone on this site think things through? Most of the posters demonstrate the typical clueless, browbeaten (usually caucasian) bourgeois, “PC” commentary learned from equally ignorant, untopian-thinking professors in college, our teachers on the teeevee, in magazines, and the movies.
    Get out, people, into the real world and mingle with different races, live among them, talk to them…and you’ll find that nearly everything you now think is a mind-f—ing game.
    I used to think like many of you do when I was young and terribly naive. Please, wake up…or at least take the time to research the following questions instead of being spoon fed information you aren’t testing in the real world of both experiences and facts.
    1. If “Whites” are so racist, why are we the people who banned slavery, encouraged diversity and immigration (japan is building robots to avoid taking in foreigners), international trade, and give billions of $$$$$ all over the world…even if just for a natural disaster (not to mention foreign aid, charitable and other good works). What other country…what other PEOPLE do this???? Is there another country on the face of the lanet that has anything like affirmative action? Oh wait, I recall India does for a class of people called “untouchables.” You want racism? Here it is: untouchalbe are considered lower than animal life forms and aren’t allowed to “cast a shadow,” or touch other Indians. Hence the name “untouchables.”
    2. Look into the Color of Crime…just google it. It will be an enlightening experience.

  6. gracie Says:

    3. Ever heard a Han Chinese person be honest about race? No? Allow me to paraphrase: Chinese are “greatest race .” Many Africans and African-Americans: “white, blue-eyed devils”, “chinks”, said with no shame b/c they can’t be racist, right? Ever heard Mugambe? Ever read e. Cleaver, malcolm?
    Ever hear La Raza talk of ugly, thieving whites who stole their California? I could go on for days…
    Let it suffice to say that there is racism in every group…and I’m not denying that there is also racism in the group we call “whites.” But to say “whites are racist,” as if ALL of us are…and seemingly exempting all other peoples from the moniker…and then, **THEN** lecturing on not to generalize about other races (????&#$%^&*) when generalizing the entire time about “Whites”? WTF, people? Quit being such ignorant whipping boys!

  7. Restructure! Says:

    1. IIRC, white American Northerners freed African American slaves because it was convenient for them against the South.

    Countries like the USA, Canada, and Australia can increase immigration because they committed genocide against and stole vast swaths of “empty” land from indigenous peoples. European countries also have restrictive immigration, because they are indigenous to the land that they are occupying.

    International aid is usually loans; the countries are expected to pay it back with interest. Also, they come with restrictions to help developed countries.

    The USA may give the most in total to some natural disasters, but it is because the country has more people than most other countries and the citizens are richer; in terms of percent of GDP, for example, Japan gave much more than the USA to the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake. (I don’t know what country you’re referring to in your mind as a “white” country when you say “What other country…what other PEOPLE do this???? Is there another country on the face of the lanet that has anything like affirmative action?” USA?)

    See Affirmative Action worldwide.

  8. Jha Says:

    Whilst I share your feelings on the Cantonese accent being associated with loud and embarrassing relatives, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to make that judgement call on someone who’s speaking out to gain equal rights. It feels like you equate “Cantonese accent = lack of ability in English” and it places accents, which is a kind of method of expression, into a hierarchy that can objectively measure language ability.

    Great historical tidbit, though.

  9. Restructure! Says:

    No, I equate “Cantonese accent = foreigner”. However, I’m also not completely at ease with what I wrote there, so I welcome suggestions about how to word it in a less offensive way.

  10. Lxy Says:

    Regarding Cantonese accents, I think the point should be to question why a Cantonese accent is considered foreign, weird, or ugly in the first place–and to reject this idea.

    This characterization is a linguistically racist/nativist one in everything but name.

  11. Restructure! Says:

    But is it not correct to assume that anyone with a non-local accent comes from elsewhere? Including a Texan accent in Toronto, etc.?

  12. Lxy Says:

    There’s a difference between simply noting that a person speaks with a non-local accent and a negative evaluation of that person because s/he speaks with such an accent.

    The idea of an accent being “foreign” can be a neutral description of how that person speaks. Or it can also be a way to stigmatize him/her negatively (i.e. you’re weird because you speak with a foreign accent).

    All too often, the latter is the case. I’ve seen not a few Asian Americans uncritically buy into this kind of White linguistic racism and worldview.

  13. MA Says:

    I see what you are saying, but nonetheless, it shows that you apparently as an American born Asian have some prejudice against folks who have heavy Cantonese accents. I actually understood your first comment more than your second in which you somehow excused your negative feelings about speakers of English with a heavy Cantonese accent because of negative feelings about certain relatives. Although most people with whom I associate are Mandarin speakers, one dear lady has an original language of Cantonese- so her Mandarin is not as good. But everyone loves her! Is it ok then that I should feel positive about all Cantonese speakers because of her? Probably not. I think removing racism means that we take each person at face value regardless of race or accent. I would imagine your dislike for a heavy Cantonese accent is more intense because it is the basis for many of the racist Asian jokes because those who speak Mandarin well, will have no problems with L’s and R’s… I think your anger is better directed at the Americans and Canadians who make fun of heavy Cantonese accents rather than the Cantonese themselves. I see your point about the choice of any person with a heavy accent of any kind to be speaking on behalf of “Candian” Asian students, however, I think the way you said it came out offensively.

  14. Restructure! Says:

    Lxy and MA,

    Have you watched the video? I think what bothers me about the heavy accent is that it appears to undermine what he is trying to prove, if we are speaking about how Chinese Canadians are portrayed on television. That is, there is some irony in the situation.

    Of course, his personal characteristics do not undermine what he says in any logical way, but in rather terms of dispelling the image (on TV) of Chinese Canadians as perpetual foreigners.

  15. richard Fair Says:

    I have seen is something different as comment above there want to have recourse to their intellectual stand for their behaves for to fend them.We should give Chinese Canadian a priority realize as to what they have done. I have could rebuff to what have comment as their claims.Take a look Malaysia ,Most Chinese on their set their company up to better scratch their liking Chinese senior in business, Malay versed in a business and and the high talented Indian.What has been seen here something there made changed ,there give promotion to high position to Chinese first instead of very a talented ,high proficient and versed in the field of Malay.Because why ?color and race ,native spoken,this what i have seen most of the companies in Malaysia.The government of Malaysia has been offering high position in most of the public sectors,but there had repelled .The most of the Chinese in Malaysia are not very pro-Patria Country.There aren’t much as in the government positions,no in authority on Army and no in Police.All in their minds to go up to high ranks merely,instead of work and feel with subordinates level.Most Chinese are hard work to do ,cherish gentlemen to say,to do for good sake other races.But their good commitment gave cause repelled some other race’s land of business even their repelled they poor Chinese themselves.The Chinese are smart to make provocative to some statement for account there have judges cover in real happening they thought, in first?The Most of the Chinese Malaysian are just paid apart from never feel offend and obey the road rule , there have grease someone palms for their approval jobs ,several Chinese are not happy to their races.I would liking to recommend so as to The Chinese know what their shoes and maintain their cultures,etiquette for enhances to their generations

  16. Teve Torbes Says:

    Yeah, I befriended a Chinese immigrant who was attending the same course as me in college. The Chinese are shall we say prone to assisting one another with their studies. One of the instructors, an Asian, was in the habit of using the exact same tests each semester, and sure enough my friend got wind of the answers. From there she went on to university, where again she was assisted by the network of Chinese students. Not surprisingly, “cheating” on exams at the university has been in the news in recent years, although of course they’ll NEVER make an issue out of who these students are. It would be “racist” and make the university look bad. Anyway, she graduated of course; she read English with great difficulty, spoke poorly, always wrote in Chinese, but she still got her BA.

  17. Restructure! Says:

    Are you suggesting that the Asian instructor secretly helps out all students who are Asian by secretly passing them the exam answers? Wow.

  18. Xing Says:

    “Are you suggesting that the Asian instructor secretly helps out all students who are Asian by secretly passing them the exam answers? Wow.”

    No, I think what Teve Torbes was saying is recent immigrants of Chinese descent tend to succeed by cheating rather by actual understanding of the material. I’m an immigrant myself and back in high school my classmates were mostly from China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong, so I know what he was talking about. Most of these students were privileged kids and were in school for the sake of being in school, not because they had any actual goals. They still needed to pass with good grades to avoid their parents’ wrath, though, so what normally would happen is they would be asking one or two of the smartest students for “help” by copying their homework and by obtaining old test questions. At my school, it was specifically Chinese since they made up the majority of the population. The rest of us couldn’t even communicate with them, so we had to work on our own.

    I’d like to say that that’s just high school behavior, but I have seen the same phenomenon happening in college–at least among freshmen and sophomores. I think part of the problem is recent immigrants are less concerned with integrity than with meeting their parents’ (and everyone else’s?) expectations. Plus, many of them aren’t actualy immigrants anyway–they just want to be able to go home and say, “I went to school in America and have a degree to prove it.” So yeah, I can definitely see someone like Teve Torbes’s friend graduating.

  19. Xing Says:

    (Edit: I’m not sure why he specifically mentioned that the instructor was Asian, though. I thought it was unnecessary and beside the point.)

  20. 31 years later, White Canadians are still racist and learned nothing from 1979. « Restructure! Says:

    […] Chinese Canadians protested the perpetual foreigner stereotype in 1979. This happened before I was born. […]

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    […] people within a given population. Not only is Maclean’s “‘Too Asian’?” a repeat of the W5 “Campus Giveaway” program in 1979 that griped about Asians taking up space in Canadian universities, but it is also a repeat of […]

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