Notable 1933 soccer victory brought pride to a beleaguered Chinatown community
By Brandon Yip, Senior Columnist
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the formation of the Chinese Students Soccer team. They were organized by the Chinese Students Athletic Association and began playing during the 1919 to 1920 season. The team brought pride to Vancouver’s Chinatown community during a time when Chinese Canadians were treated as second class citizens.
Indignities included not being allowed to vote and racist immigration policies were enforced by the Canadian government—such as paying a head tax between 1885 and 1923 to enter Canada (starting at $50 and later increased to $500). In addition, the 1923 Chinese Exclusion Act was implemented to ban Chinese immigration to Canada (repealed in 1947).
The story of the Chinese Students appears to have been forgotten over the years and their accomplishments have been overlooked and rarely discussed until recently. The Chinese Students were the only non-white team in BC competing during the 1920s to the early 1940s. The team would garner admiration by winning several tournaments, including the Iroquois Cup in May 1926—as well as winning the Louis Denison Taylor Trophy for sportsmanship. They would later capture the Wednesday League Cup in 1931.
Notably, the students had one player who was their game breaker—star forward Quene Yip—considered the “Diego Maradona” of his time. Yip was highly skilled and dangerous offensively as he could score goals with either foot. Two years on in May 29, 1933, the team would reach its apex when they faced the heavily favoured UBC in the BC Mainland Cup final. A crowd of 1,000 at Con Jones Park in Vancouver witnessed the Chinese Students defeating UBC 4 to 3. Despite UBC being a much bigger team, the Chinese Students Soccer team adapted effectively by using their speed and quick passing to compensate for their lack of size. The victory incited celebrations in Chinatown, as a holiday was declared the next day with free dim sum and tea. The Chinese Students would later win another championship, the Spalding Trophy in 1936.
By the early 1940s, the Chinese Students Soccer team was getting older and many players had moved on to pursue future careers. Many players would become prominent in the Chinese Canadian community. Dock Yip would become the first Chinese Canadian lawyer to be called to the Canadian bar. William Lore, treasurer and team vice president became the first Chinese Canadian naval officer. Other prominent achievements include Ghim Yip, who became the first Canadian-trained Chinese doctor and Tong Louie, who later became CEO of London Drugs—both men played for the team later during the 1930s.
Bowen Zhang, whose 2011 documentary Heroes of Chinatown on the Chinese Students soccer team, said in an email interview with the Other Press that it is important that people never forget what the team accomplished. “These boys proved. They are as good as others when society gives them an equal opportunity. They brought joy, confidence, and pride back to the community during the most difficult times—fighting with unfairness and discrimination.”
Kathryn Gretsinger was also intrigued by the story of the Chinese Students. Her documentary, A Level Playing Field, aired on CBC Radio in 1998. She believes it is important for people to be aware of Vancouver’s history—especially stories that are not pleasant and flattering. “Sometimes memories are difficult. They are often hard and they sometimes remind us that racism, struggle, poverty, marginalization are real—and then sometimes there are stories about hope and victory and recognition and those ones matter too,” Gretsinger said in an interview with the Other Press. “And the dignity and joy that people expressed when talking about that team at that time… It was powerful and moving and something I will treasure and be proud of forever.”
Notably, the Chinese Students Soccer team would eventually be recognized for their achievements on the soccer pitch. Quene Yip would be inducted into the BC Sports Hall of Fame in April 1998; followed by the 1933 Chinese Students Soccer team in September 2011. Significantly, an anonymous poem written in 1926, dedicated to the Chinese Students, epitomizes the joy and pride the team achieved in raising the spirits of Vancouver’s beleaguered Chinatown community:
This advice I give to you,
Kick the ball both swift and low,
And you’ll know the way to go.
Here’s good luck to Students Boys,
In their success we all rejoice,
Yell, bravo, in ringing voice.