Canada, Ethnic Studies and the World

edited by Stanley Lee

interviewed by Stanley Lee and Yi Fang


We briefly touched on the discussion on whether more young people should emigrate out of Metro Vancouver for self-preservation. In today’s interview, we discuss the intricacies of the Chinese communities within Metro Vancouver. Hope you would enjoy this.




Let’s move on to Chinese community a little bit. The first question kind of relates to the last question because we think when the topic is about housing crisis, local housing media that see these articles on WeChat and discussions from different outlets or platforms, it seems that many Chinese not all Chinese, many in the new commerce group they kind of rally behind the real estate industry. One factor is obviously that because the builders buy ads on these outlets. Maybe they have influence there. The other factor, I know some of your inputs as well, is it because many Chinese-speaking new immigrants, they actually work in the housing industry or something related to that. Even though, I mean some of them are victims of housing crisis as well, but at the same time, their jobs depend on that. Is it a major problem for the Chinese community?

I don’t think it’s a problem. I think I know what you mean. Everyone has to have their own self-interest. I don’t think that’s controversial. I think that when we start talking about has something to do with race or to do with ethnicity. I think that’s where we do get some tricky ground. Let’s talk about the current phenomenon where most certainly we have large numbers of Mainland Chinese people who are very, very wealthy, who are wealthy coming down on one side of the argument that this is a good thing, that a lot of jobs depend on it, and that their own wealth is tied up in it.


Now I don’t think it’s a reflection of Chinese at all. I think it’s a reflection of them being rich. I mean if you look amongst the poor community, who happen to be Mainland Chinese, I’m sure you’d find a very strong reaction against that phenomenon. Again, what I think it has nothing to do with being Chinese. I think it’s to do with being rich or poor.


The race and the economic class convergence is just a coincidence in this case.
: I wouldn’t say coincidence either. I think it does coincide. I think it’s to do with current global circumstances, but I think you can ignore it. You can’t ignore the fact that this vast wealth that is coming to Vancouver is mainly Mainland Chinese wealth. But you can’t ignore that because that helps us to understand the situation. But what you can’t do and what I would strongly suggest that people should not do is make a decision about whether or not that wealth is desirable and whether this phenomenon is desirable based on whether or not that money is coming out of China. I don’t think that’s a very sensible thing to do.


Money acts the way it wants to act. It just so happens that right now it’s from Mainland China. Looking back historically, it could be from Britain. It could be from Persian wealth, or Iranian wealth. In the future, it might be Indian wealth.

The fact of the matter is at the moment, it’s mainly Mainland Chinese wealth and I think that can’t just be ignored as we move forward.


But there are also other like sociological factors happening here. One thing is that Mainland Chinese, they are being rich, but they’re not British. They are from a different race. They are Asians. The other thing is that China is rising and the fact that there’s a country outside of the Western world that is becoming, now it is the number 2, maybe in the near future, it might become the number 1, so is there like a psychological balance here? Is this another factor that the local people, residents here just cannot take it that there’s a non-Western country people from there, they are just doing so well, and to be honest some of the new Mainland Chinese newcomers, they just don’t feel that the liberal democracy is superior than the system they had back in China. They don’t feel that they need to adapt into the Western way because they don’t see this place is better than China or their value system better than what they have. Is this another factor there might be potential more frictions between local residents and newcomers?


Absolutely. There is friction, but again I think the other factors supersede that. For instance, recently in Richmond there was a celebration of Mao Zedong. I think it was in Richmond where a group of people pulled together by a local business community by a business association had a party to celebrate Mao Zedong. Outside the front, there was a protest group about this that was I think rightly appalled that this was happening in Vancouver [laughter]. It wasn’t a group of white people at the front. It was a group of Chinese, mainly Mainland Chinese immigrants. You see this resistance to a certain mindset about the values of democracy and things like that but I do not think that that is necessarily. I don’t think it’s a racial division. Similarly, you saw the incident, I’m sure you’re familiar on Chinese National Day when the Chinese flag was raised the outside city hall, which I don’t think it was necessarily so controversial, but when Kerry Jang put on the red scarf, now that drew a very strong reaction. Mainly the strength of the reaction was drawn from the Chinese community who understood what that scarf represented, probably more than Kerry Jang understood at the time. And so there is this potential for conflict because certain groups, community and business groups most definitely are told a Chinese government will find.


So we don’t have Sinophobia sentiment in Vancouver right now?


Sinophobia as a phenomenon is a variation on racism that’s always existed in Vancouver. It always existed anywhere that there is a Chinese community. Is it terribly strong here? I don’t know relative to other places. What I would say is Vancouver that generally speaking a less racist place than a lot of other places. No, I believe. I speak that as an ethnically Chinese person who has lived and worked on four continents. I’m not trying to downplay it. Sometimes it could be overplayed. Racism certainly exists. Sinophobia, a specific fear of Chinese, also certainly exist. Is it the driving force behind the conversation? No, I don’t think it is.


You mentioned that there are incidents, politically related incidents happening in the Chinese community that it’s usually Chinese against Chinese, pro-Mao Chinese versus anti-Mao Chinese. Now we have this election, provincial election going on. We don’t want to go to the details of this election, but you mentioned a little bit about there is just more than one Chinese community in this region. Every time there is an election, of course politicians love to say we’ll speak for the values of the Chinese community or fight for the Chinese interests. Is it just imagined? Is there such?


Every candidate, no matter what they’re proposing always said they’re fighting for the Chinese community, you know I mean, – there is no one Chinese community. I mean there are many different Chinese communities in Vancouver, and it just depends on who you happen to talk to at the time. I honestly believe that a lot of the candidates actually believe it in themselves that they are speaking for the Chinese community. People tend to forget that overall, what drives political behavior I think is an ethnic behavior. I think what drives political behavior is economics more than anything else. Now of course if you are talking to a group of wealthy Mainland Chinese immigrant voters in a business hall in Richmond, you’re going to get a very different reaction politically than to a group of even Mainland Chinese seniors in Chinatown or in Kingsway. You look at the some of the older poor Chinese communities on the East Side.


The first time, I’m going to guarantee you you’re going to have a candidate who says that they’re speaking for the Chinese community, talking to those groups who have very different motivations and very different outcomes.


But you?

My general reaction is that I laugh when I hear that maybe because it’s so very true but I think it’s pretty spurious.


Other than potentially the let’s say the common language barrier with some of those groups, would you say that other than that, there’s probably very little if there’s nothing in common with like economic class or education or religious etc.?


Let me put it this way. What I would say is that there is nothing in common. I would say the Chinese community in Vancouver is actually a very diverse group of Chinese community, very, very diverse communities in the plural form. Culturally, culture is what binds, I think those communities together, even more so. There’s also language binding and things like that and historical factors, but I don’t think there is any binding economically. I think we’ve got a very, very diverse group of people here, and often we do see the Chinese communities coming up against each other, disagreeing on a lot of issues. In a lot of cases, you will see those various Chinese communities each claiming primacy as representing the Chinese community in a singular.


Do you sometimes feel that among Chinese, that discrimination is actually stronger between races? Let’s say a person from Hong Kong, his or her attitude towards Mainland Chinese or vice versa?


I think it can n be very strong because I think the animosities are carried over. I think that’s true in every ethnic group. The animosities are carried over when you arrive somewhere new, and I have most definitely have seen them an anti-Mainland Chinese animosity that exists amongst some Hong Kong immigrants. I don’t think that’s what’s propelling your conversation about wealth and wealth migration and unaffordability, but I think that certainly exists. I think there are a lot of non-Chinese media aren’t always aware of that that there is a division that exists. If you’re talking about attitudes towards the Hong Kong democracy movement, that’s a very nuanced discussion within the Chinese community, but it’s often glossed over outside of the Chinese community.


Even if we go a little bit deeper, if we look at the reactions to the Hong Kong democracy movement within church groups, ethnic Chinese church groups in Vancouver and you actually get this diverse split. On one side, you’ve got evangelical conservative churches and churches that are quite resistant of the Hong Kong democracy movement. But there are other ethnically Chinese churches that have been supportive. It’s a complicated conversation.


I think the conversations are often oversimplified because race is anything to fall back upon. It’s easy to think of the divisions in Vancouver society as being “old stock” versus Chinese newcomers. It’s not that simple. It’s not just that simple. There are divisions between Mainland Chinese, Hong Kong immigrants. Hong Kong is second generation, first generation, rich and poor.


Yeah, like from my personal experience, there are even differences, not necessarily tension but huge differences between if you are born in Canada as a Chinese or you came here as a teenager, or you came here as an international student like it’s very diverse, that’s all I have to say.


It is very diverse, a super diverse community and super diverse opinions, very, very diverse opinions about the future of Vancouver, what makes Vancouver a wonderful city, very, very different diverse opinions amongst those groups depending largely on whether or not the person intends to live and work in Vancouver.