Johnny Fong of the Community Care and Advancement Association speaks after Prime Minister Harper's announcement on the start of Chinese head-tax payments. ((CBC))

The federal government will begin to redressthe Chinese head tax with payments to survivorswithinthe next few weeks, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said.

Speaking Tuesday in Vancouver at a dinner hosted by a Chinese immigrant group, Harper called the tax "a moral blemish on our country's soul."

The prime minister formally apologized to Chinese-Canadians in the House of Commons in June and offered a symbolic payment of $20,000 to the roughly 400 survivors or their widows.

Those payments will begin in the next few weeks, he said.

"Addressing it directly and honestly has been an issue we felt strongly about for some time," said Harper. "Apologizing for the head tax was simply the right thing to do and it was long overdue."

Imposed between 1885 and 1923, the tax ranged from $50 to $500. It's estimated about 82,000 Chinese paid the fee until the Exclusion Act came into effect in 1923, effectively banning further immigration from China until 1947.

Harper said the redress payment was a token and can't make up for the suffering caused by the tax.

Johnny Fong, president of Vancouver's Community Care and Advancement Association, said Chinese-Canadians appreciate the recognition.

"Your apology at the House of Commons to the affected families has brought tremendous relief to so many in the community," he said.

With files from the Canadian Press