Chinese Canadian in Translation

HJ Seto

A Nonsense Question: Do You Speak Chinese?

While growing up in Canada, I could speak Chinese as my Mom nearly always spoke Chinese to me, and I answered back in Chinese, sometimes leading to furious arguments, often regarding the definition of a word. Also, the old timers spoke Chinese with us whenever our family visited them at some nearby Chinese restaurant or in Chinatown. Of course there was the usual attendant uneasiness whenever white classmates made fun of our chineseness which in hindsight was probably less Chinese and more of my Mom’s quirks that we picked up along the way. Until recently, my answer to the question, “Do you speak Chinese?” had always been in the affirmative. More recent revelations led me to ask if this question makes any sense at all. Is there such a thing as a single, monolithic Chinese language that is mutually intelligible to all Chinese, regardless of where they live?

My spoken Chinese was most questioned during the years following 1967 when Canada finally removed the last of its discriminatory policies toward the Chinese. The surge of new Chinese immigrants were mostly from Hong Kong. By the 1970s, I had assumed at first incorrectly that the Cantonese spoken by the newcomers is merely another Chinese dialect, similar to the dialect spoken in our family and among the old timers in Chinatowns across Canada. What surprised me, as I got to meet more people from Hong Kong, was that they didn’t understand most of the Chinese that I spoke, and I their Chinese. The new Hong Kong immigrants in fact spoke Standard Cantonese. (Henceforth, I shall call Standard Cantonese by the single moniker “Cantonese,” unless otherwise noted.) Cantonese is clearly different from the dialect we speak at home.

For a while, along with many of my cohort of Chinese born in Canada, I had thought that I spoke the dialect known as Toisan. (Some writers would anglicize such word into “Toisanese,” but I’m not doing so here. Chinese may often add the word yu (語), or sometimes hua (話) at the end of a compound word for naming a language, which I also omit occasionally here.) Whenever Hong Kong immigrants winched and asked what was it that I was speaking, or whenever they tried to correct my spoken Chinese, I would tell them that I was speaking Toisan, the dialect of the largest group of early Chinese living in Canada. It was only years after I graduated from university that my Dad clarified to me that we speak the dialect known as Hoiping (開平, or Kaiping in the Mandarin pronunciation). I’m not sure why it took so long for him finally to explain to me that Hoiping merely shares a dialect similar with those spoken in three other neighboring Chinese counties, including the county of Toisan. (Note that I use bold fonts for the romanization of Mandarin and italics for the Hoiping dialect.)

Later on, as I delved deeper into the mysteries of the Chinese language(s), I realized that I was wrong on a number of fronts. First of all, after my first undergraduate courses in Chinese 100 and 101, it was apparent that the difference between Mandarin and the Chinese dialect spoken in my home is as different as English and French, perhaps even more so. The spelling of English words may overlap French words as much as 33%. You might sometimes even guess successfully at the meaning of a French word, but I discovered Mandarin was much more difficult than French. While learning French, I could guess and use some familiar clues found also in English, but despite knowing Hoiping, I found it was of little help to me in learning Mandarin. I resorted to brute force memorization of the Mandarin words that sound wildly different from their Hoiping counterparts. Some words that are represented by a single syllable (word) in Hoiping, require two syllables in Mandarin. (In the balance of this essay, I will continue to refer to Hoiping as a county, even though Hoiping was designated as a city in 1993.)

In this article, I use the terms “dialect” and “language” interchangeably, even though the difference between the dialects that are spoken in various regions of China can be as different as English from French. Even those people expert in the study of the Chinese language have not yet come to a consensus on which word, “dialect” or “language,” should be used to describe the variations of spoken Chinese. In my opinion, as a layperson, I see the Chinese language not so much as one language with many dialects, but rather, I view China as one country in which the ethnic Chinese speak many different languages.

Today’s linguists would agree that there are at least seven distinct language groups of Chinese. Some linguists might set the number of Chinese language groups as high as 13, and this does not even include the dozens of languages of the minority nationalities within China, such as Tibetan. A typical classification of Chinese might consist of these language groups: Mandarin (Putonghua 普通話 in mainland China or Guoyu 國語 in Taiwan), Wu (吳語), Xiang (湘語), Gan (贛語), Hakka (客家語 Kejia Yu), Min (閩語 Min Yu), and Cantonese (粵語 Yue Yu). The preceding spellings of the various dialects, except those within the brackets, are the spellings used by English speakers living abroad, typically in North America. The spelling within the brackets are the romanization of Mandarin, according to the system of romanization developed in mainland China called pinyin. Linguistic experts may also refer to Mandarin by another term, Guan Hua (官話).

The above language group that linguists call Yue Yu, include Standard Cantonese as well as the other various dialects found in Canton Province, including Hoiping and Toisan. The word “Cantonese” is ambiguous and might be misleading at times, as this word often refers to Standard Cantonese, the dialect spoken in and around Canton City (Guangzhou) and Hong Kong. It is very different from the many dialects spoken in other counties within Canton Province (Guangdong). Cantonese is so important with regard to provincial government and business matters, that it is also called literally the Provincial Dialect (省話). What many people, including the more recent immigrants to Canada, do not know is that the majority of the early Chinese pioneers in Canada did not speak Cantonese as their native tongue even though these early pioneers originated from Canton Province. With the ascension of pinyin (Mandarin) as the default spelling of Chinese words in English publications, Cantonese might also be called Guangdong Hua (廣東話) or Guangzhou Hua (廣州話). In recent years, people in Hoiping County sometimes call Standard Cantonese vag va 白話, literally white language (bai hua in Mandarin). Unfortunately, adding to the confusion, this compound word (白話) coincidentally also means a style of writing in the vernacular.

Hoiping County is located next to Toisan County. The Hoiping dialect is virtually identical to the Toisan dialect and also very similar to the dialects spoken in two other counties, Yinping and Sunwui. The early Chinese immigrants to Canada are mostly from the four adjacent counties of Toisan (台山), Hoiping (開平), Sunwui (新會) and Yinping (恩平). The differences between Toisan and Hoiping dialects are slight. For example, sometimes Hoiping speakers use the initial consonant “v” where Toisan speakers use “b.” The lingua franca of these four counties is collectively known as the Sze Yap dialect, or the Four Districts dialect. The term “Sze Yap” is closer to the Cantonese pronunciation of the two characters meaning four districts: 四邑 (Sì Yì in Mandarin or Lhei Yib in Hoiping). The Oxford English Dictionary even has an entry for “Sze Yap.” Many researchers of Chinese Canadian history also translate “Sze Yap” as “the Four Counties” since the reference is to these four specific counties, the source of two-thirds of the early Chinese immigrants to Canada. (At the time of this writing, all four counties are designated at some level as cities (市).)

Even within the province of Canton (Guangdong), there are variations in dialects great enough to make monolingual speakers from different regions in the same province mutually unintelligible. Speakers of Cantonese as spoken in Canton City (Guangzhou) and Hong Kong would find the dialect spoken in the Four Counties practically unintelligible. I once witnessed a taxi driver from Guangzhou asking for a translator in order to understand the directions given by local folks speaking the Hoiping dialect. Today, Hoiping is only a three and a half hour bus ride from Hong Kong.

A brief review of the differences between Mandarin and the Hoiping dialect would show how different these two dialects (languages) are. In my opinion they differ more than the difference among modern English dialects. With some effort an English speaker from North America can find the English dialect spoken by an English speaker from India somewhat intelligible. This is not the case between a monolingual Mandarin speaker and a monolingual Hoiping speaker; their dialects would be practically unintelligible to each other.

An obvious difference has to do with different pronunciation of Chinese words (i.e., characters) which otherwise are recognized by both Mandarin and Hoiping speakers when they read a Chinese text. For, example the word “I” or “me” is ngoi in Hoiping and wo in Mandarin. Both pronunciations are represented by the same Chinese character 我. There are also more tones in Hoiping, nine in Hoiping compared with four in Mandarin. Some instructors might consider a fifth tone, the neutral tone in Mandarin, but nonetheless, there are more tones in Hoiping than in Mandarin, so that it seems we could get away with more monosyllabic words in Hoiping than in Mandarin. Furthermore, the Hoiping vernacular includes syllables ending with stop consonants which in Prof. Deng’s Hoiping romanization are b, d, and g. What is known as the entering tone is associated with such syllables. The entering tone has virtually disappeared from Mandarin, but remains prominent in Hoiping.

It would be a mistake to assume that the major difference between Chinese dialects is only limited to the difference in the pronunciation of words. There is also the difference in word choice. Words that are found in classical texts that may not be spoken in daily speech of Mandarin speakers, are used in the vernacular of the Hoiping dialect. Examples of this follow later in this article.

In Chinese as in English there are synonyms, different words that have the same or nearly the same meaning. For example, we can say “I talk English,” or “I speak English.” They both convey the same meaning, although the latter is more commonly found in most of the English speaking world. Similarly, the Chinese language has two words to mean speak or talk. The Chinese speaker can use 說 or 講. The Mandarin speaker in Beijing would use 說, pronounced shuo, but a person from Hoiping would say 講, pronounced gong. Another example is the Chinese word for “Mandarin” (the dialect). In mainland China, “Mandarin” is called Putonghua or in Chinese characters: 普通話. In Taiwan, it is called Guoyu, or 國語. Early Chinese immigrants in Canada would follow the Taiwan usage and use the latter word to mean Mandarin, but they would pronounce the characters 國語 as Gog Ngui, while more recent Mandarin speaking immigrants from mainland China would say Putonghua.

Hoiping speakers and Mandarin speakers quite often use entirely different words to mean the same thing in English, for example the simple expression, “to drink.” Using the Hoiping romanization of Prof. Deng, “to drink” in Hoiping is pronounced ngem. (Prof. Deng uses marks at the end of a word to indicate tones in contrast to Mandarin pinyin which has tonal marks over the vowels. For brevity, I leave out the tonal marks in this article for both Mandarin and Hoiping romanizations.) Using the Mandarin romanization (pinyin), “to drink” in Mandarin is pronounced he. Not only is the Chinese word for “to drink” pronounced differently in Mandarin and in Hoiping, but entirely different Chinese characters are chosen to represent the English equivalent “to drink.” A Mandarin speaker would normally use the word 喝 (he in pinyin) to mean “to drink.” The Hoiping speaker would choose usually the word 飲 (ngem in the Hoiping dialect) to mean “to drink.”

A literate Mandarin speaker can recognize the word 飲 (yin in Mandarin) when it is recited in a poem or proverb, but she would normally not use it in everyday language. On the other hand, a Hoiping native would use the same word 飲 (ngem) in everyday conversation. While the word 喝, or hod in the Hoiping dialect, is seldom spoken in the conversations of Hoiping speakers, but quite common in the conversations of Mandarin speakers, pronouncing it as he. Another example is the Chinese word for “refrigerator.” The Mandarin speaker would use the compound word bing xiang (冰箱), literally “ice box.” In contrast, the Hoiping speaker would say song gui (霜櫃), literally “frost cabinet.”

There are words that Hoiping speakers use in daily speech that a Mandarin speaker would find the Hoiping usage surprising. An example is the Chinese word for “this.” In Mandarin, the word 這 is used to mean “this.” The character 這 is pronounced zhe in Mandarin and jie in Hoiping. While in normal Hoiping speech, an entirely different word 該 is used to mean “this.” The character 該 is pronounced gai in Mandarin and koi in Hoiping. Adding more confusion, both languages use the character 該 in the same compound word for “ought to.” That is, the compound word 應該 means “should” or “ought to” in both languages, only it sounds like ying gai in Mandarin and yen koi in Hoiping.

The above examples show that Hoiping speakers use words that are absent or rare in the common speech of Mandarin speakers, but a literate Mandarin speaker can recognize the word if he is shown the character of the word which the Hoiping speaker is using. This sampling of Mandarin and Hoiping words seem to suggest that the vocabulary used in the Hoiping dialect contains more words from classical Chinese than Mandarin does. I would be interested to know if anyone has done any research to confirm this hunch.

There are also quite a few words in the Hoiping dialect that are totally unexpected in Mandarin. The compound word for monkey is 猴子 or hou zi in Mandarin. If a Hoiping native were to see these characters, she would know they mean monkey and the Hoiping pronunciation of them is hao du, but she would not use this word in her normal conversation. Instead, she would use the word represented by 馬騮 which is pronounced as ma liu in Mandarin and as ma lao in Hoiping. The Mandarin speaker would likely be very surprised by this combination of a compound word meaning monkey. Literally, the dictionary meaning of these individual characters refer to a famous horse with a black mane. But in the Hoiping dialect ma lao (馬騮) means monkey. I’m not sure how a word referencing the equine world has anything to do with the simian one.

Despite the county of Hoiping being within the province of Canton (Guangdong), the Cantonese of Canton City (Guangzhou) differs from that of the Hoiping dialect so much so that they are mutually unintelligible. There are some similarities between these two dialects but not enough for a native of Guangzhou to understand a native of Hoiping without a concerted effort by the Guangzhou native to learn the other’s dialect. It is somewhat more probable though for a Hoiping speaker to understand Cantonese since Cantonese is used often in business and government matters throughout Guangdong, irrespective of regions within the province. But if both speakers are monolingual then it is very unlikely they would understand each other.

Both Hoiping and Cantonese speakers would imitate approximately the English pronunciation of the word “bus,” but the Chinese characters representing this pronunciation differs somewhat in each other’s dialect. In Cantonese, the compound characters for bus are 巴士, but in Hoiping, this compound word is pronounced ba lhu, where lhu is a romanization of the second character and sounds like a hybrid between the letters “L” and “TH” in English. The Hoiping speaker would use instead the following two characters to imitate the sound of the English for the word “bus”: 巴市, pronounced ba xi in the Hoiping dialect.

Another example of the difference between Cantonese and Hoiping is their use of more common prepositions. The English sentence, “Where is the bus station?” translated in Cantonese is “巴士站喺邊度?” In Hoiping, a person would say, “巴市站到乃?” This sentence in Hoiping romanization is “Ba xi zam o nai?” The Chinese preposition for “at”–which is missing but implied in the English interrogative sentence– used in Cantonese is 喺, pronounced “hai” and is not found in the Kaiping dictionary. The preposition used for the same purpose in Hoiping is another character 到, pronounced o. Incidentally, in Mandarin it is yet again different: 在, pronounced zai. The same question however in Mandarin is more likely to be “公共汽車在那兒?” which in pinyin is transliterated as “Gong gong qi che zai na er?” (It should be noted that by convention, the pinyin of compound words are joined together with no space in between words. For the convenience of readers unfamiliar to pinyin, I chose sometimes to ignore this convention in this article.)

There are words used in Hoiping that have no corresponding Chinese characters from the usual lexicons in Mandarin or Cantonese, so sometimes other Chinese characters with different meanings are used to represent their pronunciation and the exact meaning is to be derived from the context of the situation. The character 呃 means a hiccup or belch in the standard lexicons of the Chinese language. In contrast, its pronunciation is used sometimes in Kaiping speech to mean “to cheat or deceive” (ngag). In Prof. Deng’s Hoiping romanization, this character is accompanied by a curly bracket “}” on the right side of it to indicate that it is used merely to represent its homonym pronunciation, not its lexical meaning. The Mandarin speaker would normally use the lexical word 騙, pronounced pian in Mandarin, to mean “to cheat or deceive.” Prof. Deng uses a marker such as the curly bracket to indicate that a character is being used outside of the standard Chinese lexicons.

True, all Chinese dialects use the same writing system of characters (ideograms), but prior to the May Fourth Movement in the early twentieth century, the writing style, one might even say the predominant written form of Chinese, was in the classical style that had been in practice for centuries, a difficult, and some might say arcane form, that created an onerous barrier to entry to literacy. In order to write or read classical Chinese, the writer or reader in effect has to learn another language different from the one he normally speaks. Classical Chinese might be akin to Latin in the West where the literate and educated of every European country during the Middle Ages could correspond in writing with one another in Latin, but most common folk would be left out in the cold. It is only recently within about the last one hundred years that written Chinese reflect a spoken dialect in plain and clear language. There have been earlier Chinese works written in plain language, a style known as bai hua, but until the early twentieth century, such style is considered vulgar and seldom used by the literate population. This was a time prior to the May Fourth Movement, when classical Chinese was still the common written language among the Chinese literate throughout China irrespective of the different spoken dialects.

But even after the May Fourth Movement inspired writing in the vernacular, there is the question of which plain language should be adopted as the standard for writing plain and clear texts. After the adoption of Mandarin as the official lingua franca, the current standard of writing in Chinese has defaulted to the plain language developed for writing by predominantly Mandarin speakers. The grammar and diction used in published texts in plain language anywhere in China today follow that of Mandarin speakers. There has been recent attempts at preserving the Cantonese dialect in written Chinese, such as the Apple Daily newspaper published out of Hong Kong.

There is no single, monolithic Chinese language spoken uniformly by all Chinese whether in China or in other parts of the world, despite the official policy of Mandarin (Putonghua) being the national dialect in the People’s Republic of China. Yes, there is a government push in the education of the masses in the official lingua franca, but how successful will China be in creating a nation state of one common tongue, is anybody’s guess, despite the progress in recent decades. The invention of the Internet and smart phones certainly will advance this national objective of one monolithic language. But I’m not so sure if this is an entirely good thing for China. Historically the linguistic landscape of China is more like that of the countries of Europe during the Holy Roman Empire than like English in America, both regions being of equivalent size to China. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Diversity might help maintain a robust and healthy nation, not the monolithic, dark empire that Western pop culture has sometimes portrayed in its stereotypes of China.

Meanwhile, the more sensible question to ask is, “Which Chinese language do you speak?”

A Chinese Poem in the Hoiping (Kaiping) Dialect

One of the first poems that I learned to read in Chinese is Li Bai’s (李白) poem entitled Quiet Night Thoughts (靜夜思). It is probably the most popular of the poems from the Tang Dynasty (7th – 10th century A.D.) Until now, I don’t recall having heard it read aloud in the Hoiping dialect of my parents.

Li Bai’s poem may have been read aloud in my presence while I was growing up in Canada, but I wouldn’t have even understood it then. Living in a small town, I didn’t have the benefit of a Chinese school that would have been available on weekends in a big city such as Toronto or Vancouver. Besides, the difference between speech and writing is much greater in Chinese than that found in English. This is especially true of the Chinese language that is used in classical poetry.

Making matters even more confusing, the main Chinese dialect spoken in the Chinese communities across Canada has changed over the years. From the building of the transcontinental railway in the late 1800s till the arrival of the new wave of immigrants from Hong Kong after the late 1960s, the main Chinese dialect spoken in Canada is known as the Four Counties dialect. The Four Counties (or in Chinese characters 四邑) consist of four counties in Southern China, namely Toisan (台山), Sunwui (新會), Hoiping (開平), and Yinping (恩平), where the vast majority of the early Chinese immigrants to Canada originated. There is even an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary for this region of China: Sze Yap. The pronunciation used in the OED entry though is closer to the standard Cantonese pronunciation of the Chinese characters than that of the Four Counties.

More accurately, the Chinese immigrants from these four counties speak separate but related dialects; so similar are the dialects, a person from one county can easily understand someone from one of the other Four Counties. The people of the Four Counties living in Canada have referred to their combined dialects as though it is one language: 四邑話. I personally find Toisan and Hoiping almost indistinguishable. Since the late 1960s, standard Cantonese, and later on, along with Mandarin have gradually replaced the Four Counties dialect as the Chinese dialect most spoken in Canada. To these new comers to Canada, the Four Counties dialect is often unintelligible.

Using Prof. Deng Jun’s romanization system for the Hoiping dialect, I wish to render the reading of Quiet Night Thoughts into the Hoiping dialect. (In Mandarin, “Hoiping” is called “Kaiping.”) I present a romanization of the Chinese characters in this poem as follows.

靜夜思 Den Yie Lhu

床前明月光 cong tin men ngid gong
疑是地上霜 ngei xi ei xieng song
舉頭望明月 gui hao mong men ngid
低頭思故鄉 ai hao lhu gu hieng

My attempt at an English translation follows:

Quiet Night Thoughts

Bed bright before moonlight,
I suspect frost is on the ground,
Raise my head, gaze at the bright moon,
Lower my head, think of home.

The Hoiping dialect has nine tones. Five tones are used for syllables ending in a vowel, four for syllables ending in a consonant. Professor Deng uses five tonal marks at the end of each romanization of a Chinese character with a vowel ending syllable. Four of these marks are also used with consonant-closed syllables. The five tonal marks are: ‘ * – > `. For this blog, however, I drop the tonal marks. This is consistent with the standard practice of how pinyin, the official PRC romanization of Mandarin, is used when transliterating Chinese words into English in English language publications.

One of the notable peculiarities of the Hoiping dialect is its use of the consonant known as the fricative. The sound of this consonant is produced when the tongue is raised up to the roof of the mouth to restrict the exhaled flow of air. Pronouncing the combination of the consonants “TH” and “L” used in English comes close to approximating the fricative. Prof. Deng’s romanization represents this sound with this letter combination: “LH.” For example the number three is pronounced in Mandarin as “San.” But in Hoiping, one says, “Lham.”

Another quirk in Dr. Deng’s romanization of the Hoiping dialect is its use of “en” to represent a cross between the “eng” and “ing” sounds. Whereas in pinyin, the “ing” sound is spelt just as it sounds. For example, the word “Hoiping” is a spelling used in Canada prior to any development of a standardized romanization of the dialect. Using the Deng romanization “Hoiping” is spelt “Hoipen.”

I hope this blog contributes toward the preservation of the Hoiping dialect in Canada.

The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923–Part 2

In my March 14, 2014 post, I discuss possible Chinese translations of the title “The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923”. This is an official title of the law passed by the Canadian Parliament in order to restrict Chinese immigration into Canada. In some of the present-day Chinese publications on the history of the early Chinese in Canada, the Chinese word “Act” is translated as “法案”,but this compound word has the dictionary meaning of a bill or a proposed act. In that earlier post, I suggest that we ought to investigate how the early Chinese might have translated the title “The Chinese Immigration Act.”

I have looked into two Chinese language sources: the newspaper The Chinese Times and the book History of Chinese in Canada.

The Chinese Times is a daily newspaper published in the Chinese language from 1915 – 1992. It covers the news of the time when the bill to exclude Chinese immigration to Canada was being reviewed and after its enactment by Parliament. It certainly is one of the best primary sources for researching Chinese Canadian history. A while ago, I had already looked through some of the microfilm archives of this newspaper and later searched through its digital version at (During the preparation for this blog article, I have discovered that many of the digitized files of The Chinese Times are still unavailable due to glitches in their database.)

In the May 16, 1923 issue, under the heading of Canadian News (加屬新聞), the reporter refers to the new immigration laws against the Chinese simply as 苛例 or “harsh regulations.” He also uses the term 移民苛例 or “harsh immigration regulations.” In the same issue, the Overseas Chinese Refutation of Regulations Office, an organization established by the Chinese community in Canada to oppose the proposed Chinese exclusion legislation, publishes an article that also uses the term “harsh immigration regulations” (移民苛例).

In addition to the use of “harsh regulations” (苛例), the May 17 issue also uses 移民條例 or “immigration regulations.” This has a less belligerent sense to it and a more neutral tone.

The term “harsh regulations” (苛例) appears to be the most widely used term in The Chinese Times that refers to the proposed Chinese Immigration Act. (See for example May 19, 30, and June 13, 23 issues). The more precise term “harsh immigration regulations” appears second most often when the newspaper reports or comments this immigration act.

The Chinese term closest in meaning to the original English is found in the June 29 issue: “中國移民例” or literally “China Immigration Regulations.” It can be appropriately translated “Chinese Immigration Regulations.” This is perhaps the most accurate of the translations used in The Chinese Times newspaper, but yet the only place where I found this Chinese wording is in this June 29 issue. Slight variants of the wording can be found in the May 8, June 30 and July 3 issues as “中國移民苛例”,or Harsh Chinese Immigration Regulations. There remains though in this variant translation the bias of the word “harsh” not in the original English title of the enacted legislation.

David T.H. Lee (李東海) (1915-1988) wrote a comprehensive historical book entitled History of Chinese in Canada (加拿大華僑史). It was published in 1967, but as at least some of the early Chinese were still alive during the writing of this book, Mr. Lee would have had access to firsthand accounts of the events that occurred in 1923. He used a phrase that matches closely with the previously mentioned “Chinese Immigration Regulations.” On page 362 of his book, he wrote: “中國移民新例” or “New Chinese Immigration Regulations.” This phrase appears only once in the section of the book on restrictions to Chinese immigration. More often than not he used a variant of “harsh regulations.” In describing the Chinese exclusion law in Canada, he either coined or adopted the phrase 『四三』苛例 or the “Forty-three Harsh Regulations.” The Chinese Immigration Act in fact has 43 sections in it.

It appears that the early Chinese in 1923 did not consistently use a precise translation of the title “The Chinese Immigration Act.” Most often they used the simple phrase “harsh regulations” in their writings when discussing this exclusionary law. A more accurate translation that could have been used would be “1923年華人移民法”for “The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923” in which just the single character “法”is used to mean “Act.” Only when the discussion revolves around the act as draft legislation then the compound word “法案” is more accurate.

I propose that “1923年華人移民法” be used in current writing of Chinese Canadian history to translate “The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923” for two reasons. First, hua ren (華人) more accurately refers to all Chinese. This would include both the people of the Chinese race and heritage, but who are not of Chinese nationality, as well as those who are the citizens of mainland China. The older term zhongguo ren (中國人) strictly speaking would apply only to those people who are citizens of mainland China. Second, in contrast to the BC Liberals brochure “Legislation Affecting British Columbians of Chinese Descent,” the word “Act” should be translated using the single character “法”, not “法案”unless the discussion makes reference in the context of the Act as a piece of draft legislation. This would be consistent with other BC government publications describing present-day acts of the BC Legislature. To date, I have not yet checked if other jurisdictions in Canada also use the single character “法”to translate the word “Act.” In any event, the main point is that the compound word “法案”should not be used in the translation of the title “The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923” unless in the context of draft legislation.

Jenny Kwan in the Chinese Media

I’m curious how the Chinese newspapers are reporting on Jenny Kwan and the Portland Hotel Society (PHS) scandal, so I translate an article from the well-known Sing Tao Daily newspaper(星島日報). I quote the Chinese text from their web site.

Each paragraph or heading in Chinese is followed by my translation in English. See below.




Chaotic Accounting: Four Senior Executives Still Get Severance Pay

March 23, 2014



By Sing Tao Reporter: Ming Lei Sun


省府證實  費用包含在PHS年度撥款中

Provincial government confirms expenses included in PHS annual appropriation


為溫市中心東端精神病及癖癮者提供廉租屋等服務的非牟利組織波特蘭酒店協會(Portland Hotel Society,簡稱PHS),近日被審計處查出賬目及管理混亂後,又爆出辭職高層可獲發遣散費。卑詩省府周六證實,該筆費用包含在年度撥款中,但未透露金額。省府強調,新上任董事會將對未來的開銷嚴格把關。

Recently, after the auditors found confusion in the accounting and management, it broke out that the resigning executives also were entitled to severance pay in the case of the non-profit organization Portland Hotel Society (PHS), which provides low cost grade of rental housing and other services in the Downtown Vancouver Eastside. On Saturday, BC confirmed that this cost is included in the annual appropriation of funds, but the amount is not yet determined. The provincial government stressed that the newly appointed board will strictly control spending in the future.


包括PHS前任行政總裁湯森(Mark Townsend),以及卑詩新民主黨省議員關慧貞分居丈夫、PHS前任政策研究及經費開拓董事斯莫爾(Dan Small)在內4人,已於上周三辭職,他們將獲發遣散費,具體金額未明;該費用當初正是經由本次辭職的這批高層核准。

Former PHS CEO Mark Townsend along with former PHS director of policy, research and fund development Dan Small, the estranged husband of NDP MLA Jenny Kwan, were among four persons who had already resigned on Wednesday. They would be entitled to severance pay, the amount as yet undetermined; this cost was ratified at the time of the resignation of this management team.


辭職條件之一  免法律訴訟

One of the resignation conditions: no litigation


卑詩省衛生廳發言人傑布斯(Ryan Jabs),周六接受《星島日報》記者訪問時,確認該筆遣散費的存在,並指這筆費用已包含在PHS年度撥款中:「PHS已離職的管理層當初已通過可領取遣散費,現在他們辭職將獲發這筆錢。」他還說,新上任的過渡PHS董事會,將對機構未來開銷加強監管,確保資金有效用於服務。

During Saturday’s interview with a Sing Tao reporter, BC Health Ministry spokesperson Ryan Jabs acknowledged the existence of a sum of severance pay, and pointed out that this cost was already included in PHS’s annual appropriations: “management who are resigned from PHS, at which time is eligible for severance pay; now resigned they will be eligible for this sum of money.” He moreover said that newly appointed PHS directors will strengthen supervision of the organization’s future spending and ensure funds are effectively used for services.


卑詩省衛生廳長萊克(Terry Lake)之前表示,遣散費是PHS高管辭職條件之一,如此也可避免法律訴訟。他又強調,為低收入人士提供的服務,不會因這次風波而中斷。

BC Health Minister Terry Lake previously stated that one of the conditions of the PHS management resignation in order to also avoid litigation. He then stressed that the services provided for low income people will not be interrupted by this controversy.



Fraud not found


卑詩副省長、天然氣開發廳長兼專責房屋廳長高利民(Rich Coleman)周六指出,遣散費將按相關勞工標準執行。他還表示已聯絡溫市警方,如果發現欺騙行為,警方會展開刑事調查,惟目前未發現此類行為。高利民相信,PHS提供的服務,包括溫市Insite毒品安全注射中心等,未受此事影響。

BC Deputy Premier, Minister of Natural Gas Development and Minister Responsible for Housing, Rich Coleman pointed out on Saturday that severance pay will be implemented with in line with labour standards. He stated Vancouver Police was already contacted. If fraud is found, the police will open a criminal investigation, only now no finding of such behaviour. Coleman believed that PHS provided services, including the kind such as the Vancouver Insite drug safe injection centre, will not be affected by this matter.



The BC government recently disclosed audit report, points to PHS accounting and management confusion, including management’s involvement in suspected misuse of public funds. The report indicates that Dan Small used public funds in 2012 to bring along his wife Jenny Kwan and two children on a foreign trip to Europe, the US and other places.



MLA Jenny Kwan announced Friday to have repaid $35,000 travel expenses, and also took temporary leave from work.



Former CEO also uses public funded vacation



And the above mentioned cases only are the tip of the iceberg of PHS accounting confusion. PHS has other expenses pointed out as “very unusual”, for example, one member of the managerial staff, reported spending $5,832 on a European luxury cruise, along with a large purchase of a $817.83 gift for a baby. Vancouver Police Chief Jim Chu even directly pointed out that the chief executive Mark Townsend had also used public funds for vacations, which leads him to very much lose hope.



And Coleman did not criticize Dan Small’s wife Jenny Kwan being implicated, just stating that her person as a member of the provincial opposition party, Kwan’s hard work in the provincial legislative assembly, currently also was implicated.


Jenny Kwan to repay $34,000

I just come across a CBC news story about NDP MLA Jenny Kwan, so I am postponing my follow-up blog (Part 2) on the Chinese translation of the title of “The Chinese Immigration Act” passed by the Canadian Parliament in 1923. Earlier this year, this Member of the Legislative Assembly of British Columbia attended a banquet of the clan association known as the Fong Leun Tong Society (鳳倫堂). Its members consist of people with surnames Sits (薛) or Setos (司徒). The membership also includes women whose original surname was one of these two surnames but had changed their surname upon marriage.

In this blog I will extract news items from the English language news media on the Portland Hotel Society (PHS Social Services Society) scandal involving the husband of the provincial member of legislature Jenny Kwan. She announces a $34,000 repayment of travel expenses initially paid out by the Portland Hotel Society.

I will quote the English text first, followed by my translation into Chinese as follows.


From CBC news March 21, 2014 by Mike Laanela:

NDP MLA Jenny Kwan repaying $34K for Europe, Disney trips

Portland Hotel Society, recently audited for questionable expenses, paid for Kwan’s Disneyland trip



NDP MLA Jenny Kwan says she is repaying more than $34,000 in expenses for trips she and her family took to Bristol, Vienna and Disneyland that were paid for by the Portland Hotel Society.


According to Kwan, her ex-husband Dan Small—who was forced out as PHS’s director of policy, research, and fund development—told her that he had paid for the family’s travel expenses when he took them along on a business trip to Bristol and Vienna.

照關慧貞﹐她前丈夫斯莫爾(Dan Small)生意旅行到布里斯托市和維也納市。當時他家陪伴他。對她告訴這樣﹐他付了家旅行費用了。他是以前PHS逐出為政策研究及基金發展董事。

The MLA claimed that she found out with the release of the audits that the hotel upgrade cost almost $2,700, while travel expenses for the Europe trip totalled over $32,000.


The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923

What is the Chinese translation of the title “The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923”? With the approval of Parliament, the Governor General of Canada gave final assent to this law on June 30, 1923. Its purpose was to exclude the majority of Chinese from entering Canada.

In the BC Liberal government’s recent posting on their EmbraceBC website, their translation of the act appears in a Chinese version of one of their publications “Legislation Affecting British Columbians of Chinese Descent” (“影响卑诗省华人后裔的法例”). It translates “The Chinese Immigration Act, 1923” as “1923年华人移民法案”.  The word “act” in this government publication is translated as “法案” or in Mandarin pinyin: fa an. Most of the dictionaries I have consulted defines “法案” to mean a draft law not yet given authority by the government. In English we would call it a “bill,” or a proposed act. The only dictionary that I found which translates “法案” as “act” is the Far East Chinese-English Dictionary. Its definition nonetheless still suggests the notion of a draft piece of legislation that eventually becomes law: “a bill which has been passed by parliament; a law; a statute.”

What I find curious is that quite a few other publications use “法案” to translate the word “Act” when making reference to “The Chinese Immigration Act” or its more popular nomenclature “The Chinese Exclusion Act.”

Next week, I will be looking in The Chinese Times, a Chinese language newspaper founded early in the last century, and in David T.H. Lee’s book A History of Chinese in Canada to see how they translate the phrase “The Chinese Immigration Act.”

Translation of Chinese/English documents found in Canada

I shall post translations of Chinese text from documents of a historical nature found in Canada or the US. These may include sources such as newspapers (e.g., The Chinese Times), letters, books, and other archival materials. I shall be also posting translations of English texts into Chinese, materials that might be of interest to native Chinese readers living in Canada. My ultimate goal is to achieve a better understanding of the early Chinese who lived in Canada prior to 1968.

These are my own translations, mainly for my own research, and I wish to share them with any interested reader. I welcome feedback from anyone out there. I do not have an idea how frequently I can post, other than to say whenever I have time. I will be monitoring blogs for civility and respect of others. Copyright of all my translations remain with me, but anyone may use them in their own works, as long as credit is duly cited of the author and translator.