Remembrance has double significance for Chinese Canadians

The coming of Remembrance Day sparked some controversy in Toronto’s Chinese community this year.

For the fifth year, the Jubilee Centre for Christian Social Action (JCCSA) held the “Salute Canada” ceremony to observe Nov. 11 in Toronto’s Chinese community. The organizers hope to acquaint new immigrants with this national tradition as well as to shed light on the veterans who fought in Asia. Rev. Dominic Tse, president of the JCCSA, is founder of Salute Canada.

“In Chinese community, people are not aware of this day. We want to bring them an angle,” the reverend said.

Many Chinese appeared to show apathy even antipathy to the Poppy Day, which commemorates the deaths of soldiers in the First World War, the Second World War and the Korean War.

On Nov. 5, a thread, titled “seriously, I feel disgusted to see Chinese wearing poppies,” was posted on the Chinese Canadian online forum Chinasmail.net. It promptly stirred controversy.

A replier quoted historical documents about a battle between Chinese and Canadian troops during Korean War. The replier wrote, “Sixty years ago, our forefathers fought against the Canadian army; 60 years later, their descendants wear poppies to commemorate their enemy.”

Not every Canadian of Chinese descent agrees with that. Ally Lee immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong 20 years ago. She came to the ceremony held at the Markham Shopping Centre and wore a poppy on her chest.

“They did kill our people, but we killed theirs, too,” the mother of two said. “We should blame the war rather than the people (who) died for it. That’s what I am going to tell my children.”

In Rev. Tse’s opinion, the ceremony is neither about singing praises of war nor judging which side was righteous.

“The soldiers gave of their lives for (their) country. We should pay respects to all of them,” he said. “We should learn from the war rather than extend the animosity.”

Terry Wickens was the national president of the Korea Veterans Association of Canada. He attended the ceremony and presented a wreath to the deceased. Losing 516 comrades-in-arms in the 1950-to-1953 war against China, he felt no hatred toward his former enemies.

“They were soldiers. They did what they were told to do,” he said. “Now it’s over. Let’s forget it and live with friendship.”

Robert Farquharson is a veteran of the Burma campaign, which pitted China and Canada against the Imperial Army of Japan in Southeast Asia. Speaking of Second World War, he said people always focus on battles in Europe, overlooking the fact that many Canadian soldiers died in Asia as well.

To give those war dead the attention they deserve, JCCSA accentuates different veteran groups every year. Last year, they helped the Hong Kong Veterans Association raise money to build a granite-sheathed memorial wall in Ottawa.

“No matter where they fought, the soldier gave of their lives for the country; we should pay respects to all of them,” Tse said.