News / Vancouver

Chinese-Canadians’ war story told in doc

Their service helped win vote for Chinese community

Members of Force 136 in India. The clandestine unit of Chinese-Canadian soldiers carried out missions behind enemy lines in the Pacific during World War II.

Courtesy / Spotlight Pictures

Members of Force 136 in India. The clandestine unit of Chinese-Canadian soldiers carried out missions behind enemy lines in the Pacific during World War II.

A new documentary that tells a little-known story of the Second World War will be screened at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden this Remembrance Day.

Force 136: Chinese Canadian Heroes tells the story of men from Vancouver’s Chinese community who were trained by the British military in guerrilla warfare and were dropped behind enemy lines in areas occupied by the Japanese.

“The mission they were on was completely secret,” filmmaker Melinda Friedman told Metro. “They were not allowed to talk about it when they came home.”

Despite a previous film and some newspaper stories about Force 136 in recent years, the story is still not very well known in Vancouver, Friedman said. It happened at a time when people of Chinese descent were barred from serving in the Canadian military, and the British recruiters offered a rare chance for the men to join up.

“They did their job. Their job is to go behind enemy lines and sabotage train lines or blow up munitions and things like that,” said historian Henry Yu, who was a historical advisor for the film and is interviewed in the documentary.

Others travelled to other provinces, where they had a slightly better chance of being allowed to serve, because the political forces against them in British Columbia were particularly strong.

The motive for trying to prevent Chinese-Canadians from serving was simple, says Yu: “If you let Chinese join the military, they might ask for rights.

“It happened in World War I, that both Japanese-Canadians and Chinese-Canadians volunteered to fight. After World War I Japanese-Canadians kept asking for the vote and finally in 1931, 13 years after the end of World War I, Japanese-Canadian vets — but only vets — were allowed to vote.”

There was disagreement within the Chinese-Canadian community at the time about whether their young people should fight: some thought it would help the community fight for rights, while others were afraid of losing their young men and women at a time when, because of the Chinese Exclusion Act, women and children were rare in the community.

After the war, there was a push to get the vote, Friedman said — and it was successful.

Yu said the documentary is especially timely in light of the City of Vancouver’s plan to issue a formal apology to Chinese-Canadians for the past discrimination.

The film will screen at the Dr. Sun Yat Sen Classical Chinese Garden on Saturday, Nov. 11 at 2:30 and will also be available on Telus Optic, YouTube and Facebook.

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