By Gregory Clark, October 18, 1924.

Struggle in the East Leaves Elizabeth Street Cold – On Front Page of Our Newspapers, But On Inside Page of Toronto’s Chinese Paper

There is war in China.

But there is peace in Chinatown.

Elizabeth street, the three lower blocks of which are Toronto’s Chinatown, goes without flags, processions or special editions.

The Shing Wah, Toronto’s Chinese dally, comes out each afternoon with an editorial on the front page, and the war despatches – by special cable from Shanghai to Toronto, via San Francisco – from Chinese into English, across the Pacific, across the continent, and back into Chinese again – the war despatches on the inside of the paper!

The groups leaning up against the front windows of the stores are without animation.

When there was war in Serbia, the Serbian colony down by the Don was so excited the packing houses couldn’t get their men out to work; the cafes rattled and ring with martial songs and dances. When Italy was at war, Centre street was flame of red, white and green, and men uncorked wild flights of oratory with dark red bottles, and stood on doorsteps to deliver themselves of speeches. If there were a British war, the British colony in Shanghai would be aroar – it did not disappear out to sea, westward, overnight.

But the Chinese are a philosophic race.

Sunday is the big day in Chinatown. Their laundries closed, the crews of Toronto’s washtubs put on their best clothes and foregather in Chinatown for a day of conversation and feasting.

There are four thousand Chinese in Toronto, according to the estimate of the circulation manager of the Shing Wah – who ought to know.

On Sunday, there were perhaps two thousand gathered in the restaurants, shops and community houses of Chinatown. In front of the general stores – every Chinese store is a general store carrying everything from dry goods to drugs, from footwear to dried meats – were groups doing nothing. In the back rooms of the store, larger groups, smoking the large bamboo pipes which are hospitably scattered around for general use, and with chop sticks, dipping crisp noodles out of the big pot that is simmering on every Chinese stove on Sunday for the guests of the day.

In every mothering, a quiet, sing-song conversation was passing, like a juggled ball, from one to another.

All’s Peace in Chinatown

But there was no war in it.

“Wah?” exclaimed our interpreter. “Wah! Wah? What wah?”

“Why, the big war in China. The war on the front page of the Toronto papers,” we replied.

“It is on inside of our paper,” replied the interpreter, slyly.

“Are they not excited about it?”

“Don’t even think about it,” answered the interpreter. “For thirteen years, wah every day in China. For thousand years, China has peace. Then comes reform along western lines. So we have wah. For thirteen years.”

“Let’s ask these men what they are talking about?” we suggested.

Fifteen Chinese were draped about the front of a shop which displayed two pair of straw shoes and six bottles of assorted devil fish for sale, and conversation was passing, in a low monolog, from left to right.

“They are talking about a garden,” said the guide.

“A garden?”

“Lem, here, the old man, is going to set up his three nephews in a truck garden out near Islington.”

“And is that what they are all talking about?”

“Yes. They are all remembering gardens they knew in China, and they are telling Lem and his nephews the things they ought to grow.”

“Ask them what they think of the war.”

There was a brief explosion of Chinese words. Two or three of the younger men made laughing replies. Then the old man Lem broke out into a torrent of language which lasted fully a minute.

“Lem says war is foolish. Only vagrants join armies. Only politicians lead armies. Good men buy and sell. Good men buy land and grow vegetables and duck eggs. Like Islington.”

“Ask them if they know how the armies stand at present.”

Another volley of words. Again the old man answered.

“The silly war is a thousand miles from my home. It is ten thousand miles from me. Islington is only six miles.”

As the guide translated, the old man interjected another burst of words.

“And he says,” added the guide, that we should go away, to let them talk about gardens.

More Interested in Goose Eggs

We continued up Elizabeth Street. In a shop, a large gathering was met. The conversation was so animated, there must be some lively subject involved.

But it wasn’t war.

“A man,” said the guide, “has borrowed a hundred dollars from his friend and not paid it back yet.”

“But what’s the excitement?”

“The friends of the friend have cornered the borrower, and are telling him he is no good.”

We looked in. Sitting in a chair was a frozen-faced gentleman staring coldly at space. Around him stood fifteen men, all talking at once.

“Why doesn’t he get up and go? Why doesn’t he call for help?”

“Because he knows he is no good,” replied the guide.

The Chinese are a philosophic race.

We met George Lee, one of the leaders of the Chinese colony.

“War,” said he, makes no difference to the Chinese. It is only the governors that are not lag. The people go ahead with their business. Politics is for the governors. Business is for the people. If there is war in my street, it makes no difference, I will go ahead with business. If there is war in my house, I go ahead. Who can understand these governors? It is only taxes, anyway, they want. Money. I want money. I get it with business. They want money – they fight for it. It’s all the same. It makes no difference. It doesn’t interest me.”

Mr. Sing, editor of the Shing Wah, a graduate in arts and now going up for his Ph.D. at the University of Toronto, says:

“A few local Chinese are interested in the war, because of its political significance. But the vast majority, here and at home, are totally indifferent to the war. Since the coming of republic in 1911, there has been a succession of civil wars in China, between the governors of the twenty-two provinces. The people are totally indifferent to the whole matter.”

On the street we met a procession of three Chinese, one behind the other, each carrying a large tray on which there were a couple of dozen huge goose eggs.

“What’s this?”

A question or two was asked.

A big celebration. Chung Chung T’si is just home from China with a new way of cooking geese eggs in oil.”

Following the three egg-bearers came a laughing, eager crowd of Chinese.

“Wah?” asked our guide. “What wah?”

The Chinese are a philosophic race, and content themselves with matters that are close in and relevant.

Editor’s Notes: There were only a few references in this story that needed to be cleansed of racist language. The Chinese attitude in the article makes perfect sense, as China was in it’s Warlord Era and there was no end in sight.

The Shing Wah Daily News was at one time the largest Chinese newspaper in North America, and published in Toronto between 1922 and 1990.