Labour Studies Index

Updated: 2022-05-16

Reaching Gold Mountain: Diasporic Labour Narratives in Chinese Canadian Literature and Film

Document type Thesis
Author Phung, Malissa
Degree Ph.D, English and Cultural Studies
Publisher McMaster University; Hamilton, Ont.
Date 2016
Pages x, 289 pages


This project provides a coalitional reading of Chinese Canadian literature, film, and history based on an allegorical framework of Asian-Indigenous relationalities. It tracks how Chinese labour stories set during the period of Chinese exclusion can not only leverage national belonging for Chinese settlers but also be reread for a different sense of belonging that remains attentive to other exclusions made natural by settler colonial discourses and institutional structures, that is, the disavowal of Indigenous presence and claims to sovereignty and autochthony. It contributes to important discussions about the experiences of racism and oppression that typically privilege the relations and tensions of diasporic and Indigenous communities but hardly with each other. What is more, this study aligns with a recent surge of interest in investigating Asian-Indigenous relations in Asian Canadian, Asian American, and Asian diaspora studies. The political investments driving this project show a deep commitment to anti-racist and decolonial advocacy. By examining how Chinese cultural workers in Canada have tried to do justice to the Head Tax generation’s experiences of racial exclusion and intersectional oppressions in fiction, non-fiction, graphic non-fiction, and documentaries, it asks whether there are ways to ethically assert an excluded and marginalized Chinese presence in the context of the settler colonial state. By doing justice to the exclusion of Chinese settlers in the national imaginary, do Chinese cultural workers as a result perform an injustice to the originary presence of Indigenous peoples? This thesis re-examines the anti-racist imperative that frames Chinese labour stories set during the period of Chinese exclusion in Canada: by exploring whether social justice projects by racially marginalized communities can simultaneously re-assert an excluded racialized presence and honour their treaty rights and responsibilities, it works to apprehend the colonial positionality of the Chinese diaspora within the Canadian settler state.