Anti-Oriental Riots

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Anti-Oriental Riots

Asiatic Exclusion League , often abbreviated AEL, was a racist organization formed 14 May 1905 in the United States and 12 August 1907 in Canada that aimed to prevent immigration of people of East Asian origin.

The Asiatic Exclusion League was formed in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada under the auspices of the Trades and Labour Council. Its stated aim was "to keep Oriental immigrants out of British Columbia." On 7 September, riots erupted in Vancouver when League members besieged Chinatown after listening to inflammatory racist speeches at City Hall. Shouting racist slogans, as many as 10,000[citation needed] people marched into Chinatown, vandalizing and causing thousands of dollars worth of damage. The mob then rampaged through Japantown, where they were confronted by residents armed with clubs and bottles with which they fought back. The organization flourished immediately following the riots, but began to dwindle by the following year. The AEL resurfaced in the early 1920s, this time claiming a membership of 40,000 in the province in the period leading up to the passage of the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which ended virtually all Chinese immigration to Canada.

Another important, albeit indirect, consequence of AEL activity was that the 1907 Vancouver riots led to the first drug law in Canada. The Minister of Labour (and future Prime Minister), William Lyon Mackenzie King, was sent to investigate the riots as well as victim claims for compensation. One claim was submitted by opium manufacturers, which sparked an investigation into the local drug scene by King. Particularly alarming to the minister was that opium consumption was apparently spreading to young white women. A federal law was soon passed “prohibiting the manufacture, sale and importation of opium for other than medicinal purposes.”

Both Asiatic Exclusion Leagues were the product of an overall atmosphere of white racism against Asians that prevailed in Canada and the United States from the 1800s on, culminating in the imposition of a Head Tax and other immigration policies designed to exclude Asians from Canada, as well as Japanese American internment and Japanese Canadian internment during World War II.

Perspectives on Vancouver's 1907 Race Riot

A UBC (University of British Columbia) student from Taiwan has uncovered Chinese-language newspaper reports of a 1907 race riot in Vancouver. And they provide a significantly different account from English-language newspaper records, which have shaped historians' views over the last century.

In September 1907, hundreds of angry Caucasians went on a rampage in Chinatown, beating up local residents. Then the mob moved on to Japantown, which at the time was concentrated around Powell Street. Following the riot, English-language newspapers stated that there were no deaths.

In an interview with the Georgia Straight, Woan-Jen Wang said that Chinese-language newspaper records in Taiwan, on the other hand, reported multiple deaths in the riot. For example, the Taiwan Daily News reported on September 22, 1907, that Japanese residents killed four white men in the Vancouver riot, which damaged 18 businesses in Japantown.

"The English-language newspapers, they kind of downplayed the riot," Wang said.

She added that the English-language newspapers also minimized B.C.'s long history of anti-Asiatic agitation by suggesting that Americans in the Asiatic Exclusion League were the cause of the trouble. Wang said that the mayor of Vancouver at the time, Alexander Bethune, was slow in suppressing the riot, which sent a message that it was acceptable to bully people of Asian descent. She added that the English-language press also did not pay attention to the reaction of local Chinese residents.

An article she wrote about her research is available at



Racism in the United States


  • Pivotal Voices offers a new approach to teaching history. It recognizes there is no one story for most historical events, but rather differing accounts depending upon whose story is being told. The 1907 Vancouver riots in Chinatown and Japantown are mostly overlooked in the canon of British Columbia's history; a small footnote in the accounts of race relations and labour history. A new curriculum resource has been developed which brings the critical thinking model developed by TC2 to this event. The resource, which will be available to workshop participants, offers a new approach to historical reconstruction by having (representational) stories and primary documents present the different points of view of the events and outcomes of the riots. Includes the particulars of the 1907 Vancouver riots. <>