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Kronos

On-line version ISSN 2309-9585

Abstract

HARRIS, Karen L.. Paper trail: Chasing the Chinese in the Cape (1904-1933). Kronos [online]. 2014, vol.40, n.1, pp. 133-153. ISSN 2309-9585.

The Chinese Exclusion Act passed by the Cape parliament in 1904 was one of the first pieces of legislation promulgated in the southern region of Africa where a particular 'racial group' was singled out, documented and discriminated against. Although it had trans-oceanic antecedents and tapped into this global anti-Chinese sentiment, unlike the Chinese exclusion legislation elsewhere, the Cape exclusion legislation targeted the entire Chinese 'race'. This article proposes to trace the application of this unwieldy registration system and show how the small Chinese community was registered, identified, monitored and hounded both on paper and on the ground until well after the repeal of the Act three decades later. Through an analysis of these paper records, the article intends to elucidate the nature of this imposition and consider what they tell us of the Chinese it was imposed upon and how they responded. It also proposes that, while the Act was formulated for exclusion, ironically for just under 1,500 of the Chinese resident at the colonial Cape it eventually warranted a double inclusion, one in the form of a certificate of exemption and hence domicile - albeit with perpetual surveillance and scrutiny - and the other as part of the archived historic record.

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