Canada, Ethnic Studies and the World

By Stanley Lee

Unless you’re living under a rock, this saga has been the talk of the internet and radio airwaves in Vancouver. When the residents are as anxious as they are about their ability to live in the place, and taking their scapegoating on the army of offshore Chinese buyers, a number of them are venting their frustrations on the ceremony raising the Chinese flag to celebrate the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China.

Specifically, when the local politicians (like Kerry Jang, a Vancouver city councilor, and Joe Peschisolido, the member of parliament for Steveston-Richmond East) were wearing red scarves on top of raising the Chinese flag, they should have an inkling that bad things were about to happen. We live in a democratic society, which means the politicians have the right to wear whatever they want (including the red scarf), and the protestors have the right to call for their resignations. However, a politician’s primary job is pulling people together. Lack of the cultural nuance about symbols such as the red scarf, a symbol representing the blood sacrificed by martyrs of the revolution in communist regimes, presented a landmine for them to divide citizens up into different groups.

How Kerry Jang Poured Fuel Into The Fire

I believe Councilor Jang poured gasoline into the fire when he responded to the petition calling for his resignation the way he did:

 “That’s just racism at its worst, and the vilification of anybody. You know it could be Chinese today, it could be Mexicans, or it could be somebody else tomorrow. And that is just ridiculous and those types of people I just don’t have time for.”

First of all, when a large number of the protestors are Chinese themselves, and the target is at a specific government, using the word “racist” was inappropriate.           Secondly, he was brushing off perhaps a large group of people (given the demographics of diaspora population having negative experience with China) that could vote for a different candidate who has more empathy, leading to his slate-mates or even himself losing a councilor seat.

What Kerry Jang Should’ve Said To Move On

If I were him or his spokesperson, this is what I would’ve said instead.

“I appreciate hearing from a number of Vancouverites about the incident. As for raising the flag, we do this for many countries and cultures, not just for the proclamation of People’s Republic of China. I wore the red scarf as it was to my understanding that red is the Chinese color for good luck and fortune. So that’s why I did it. I’m also aware that the rule of law isn’t as strong as we hope it would be, which may be why some of the residents with a negative experience with China are venting. I’m glad that we live in Canada where they have the right to make their voices heard, and I did hear them. China has been improving though in the years we’ve worked with them, but this is something above my pay grade. I appreciate you voicing the concerns. Let’s not distract ourselves any further and focus back on making the lives of Vancouverites better.”

Now, I’m not a fan of certain human rights abuses and legal practices of the Chinese government either. I also feel the petition isn’t very productive use of our attention given the important and urgent problems we’re facing other than venting. But saying something along these lines would make him more of a unifier than divider. Especially if he doesn’t want to take his re-election for granted.

How do you think this saga should be resolved? Let us know.