Sitting on their 10-metre cruiser in Vancouver’s exclusive Coal Harbour marina, retired couple Wei Fuqiang, 70 and Chen Qianhong, 68, recount an unlikely trajectory from wartime China, to Tsinghua University at the height of the Cultural Revolution, to elite careers building particle accelerators in Europe at a time when few of their countrymen were even allowed to leave China.
Massive Chinese immigration shifted the demographic in Western Canada
The 2 mechanical engineers retired to the west Canadian city from their most recent home, Switzerland, in 2010. Chen said: “Europe and Canada are very different. Canada has opened its arms to all people. It’s very multicultural. But in Europe, they are always pushing you, they try to integrate you into their culture. In Canada, they respect your background, you feel you are the padrone,” she said, using the Italian word for ‘master of the house’. “You are not anymore a guest. This is really your home.”
Little about this couple is typical - yet they now typify a vast wave of Mainland Chinese immigration that is rapidly transforming western Canada. The scale and impact of the Chinese influx to Vancouver was laid bare this month in a report for Canada’s immigration department, titled “A New Residential Order?”
Author Daniel Hiebert, a social geographer with the University of British Columbia (UBC), projected how mainland migration would fuel the creation of “a social geography entirely new to Canada”. Ethnic Chinese in Vancouver, a city of 2.2 million, are set to double by 2031, with the city increasingly divided into racial enclaves, and white residents becoming a minority group. As of now the Whites made up 47 percent of Vancouver’s population, with the Chinese next at 30 percent.
Statue of Lenin and Mao Zedong (tiny figure above the head) in Richmond, Canada
But the most notable change is that the Chinese has created what is probably the first Chinese-majority city in the West; Richmond, a coastal city in the Canadian province of British Columbia, where they now accounted for 50 percent of the city’s population, up from the 44 percent in 2006. A Chinese MP (Member of Parliament) from the city has been elected into the Canadian Parliament.
Richmond, part of the Greater Vancouver region, has a population of 200,000 - the fourth largest city in British Columbia after Vancouver (603,502), Surrey (468,251) and Burnaby (223,218). Chinese immigration has fueled a property boom that makes the city unaffordable to the locals, with the average price of a detached home in Richmond now fetching CA$996,200.
Owing to its middle and upper-class demographics, the city is ranked one of the safest in the province. Stats Canada has also recently branded it as “the healthiest Canadian city” for having the longest life expectancy rates in all of Canada, living 83.4 years - almost 4 years longer than the national average.
Social geographers predict another Canadian city, Vancouver, to go Chinese in 20-30 years
Real estate agent Julia Lau estimates that 80 percent of her buyers are mainlanders. “I’ve been a real estate agent for eight years. In the beginning we had a lot of buyers from Hong Kong and Taiwan, but I think maybe they all went home. Now, they are all from China,” said Lau. At C$3.58 million, Lau considered the new 4,458 sq ft home she was showing on a nondescript suburban street to be “quite affordable”.
Canada does not keep records on foreign ownership, but a Landcor Data analysis of all 164 homes sold for more than C$3 million (US$2.9 million) in Vancouver’s core Westside neighborhood in 2010 showed that 74 percent were sold to buyers whose names were mainland Chinese spelling variants and who did not have any Western legal name.
“Right now, a lot of mainland buyers just want brand new homes or they want land so they can build. Usually, in Shaughnessy, or South Granville, or Point Grey, a house like this will be four or five million,” said Lau, reeling off suburbs favored by Chinese buyers. Lau sold a string of homes worth eight figures to mainland buyers last year.
Vancouver home prices surge, courtesy of Chinese investors
Immigrants from China have driven the property prices so high that there are talks of ‘white flight’ in Western Canada, where white residents fled to other lower cost cities. Some disagreed however, Hiebert, the social geographer, said that when the Globe and Mail newspaper used the alarmist term “white flight” to describe what was happening in Vancouver’s suburbs “they got hammered for it”.
“I would use a different term to white flight,” Hiebert added with a laugh. “I’m calling it ‘cashing in’, where white residents who bought properties a long time ago sold them to the Chinese for a lot of money and move somewhere else.” The Chinese influx has made Vancouver the hottest Canadian real estate markets and Robin Wiebe, an economist with the Conference Board of Canada, said the city’s housing market now closely mirror trends in the Chinese economy.
Robin found a very strong link between the overall health of the economy in China and the home sales, price growth and housing starts in Vancouver. “Statistical analysis confirms the importance of China’s economic health to Vancouver’s housing markets,” he said. “Better economic health in China gives its residents wealth to spend on Vancouver real estate.”
Canadian white residents complain about too many Chinese signs which they don’t understand
Not all are rosy however, in Richmond the Whites are calling for a bylaw to quash Chinese-only signage in the city where more than half the residents are now of Chinese descent. “We are the new minority,” Marlene Esplen, who has lived in Richmond for more than 20 years, said outside city hall. “A lot of people around here are too scared to talk about this issue.” They are demanding regulations that force Chinese businesses to include English or French on their signs.
Kerry Starchuk, 55, says she is a fourth generation Richmondite, and other than a few short years, she has lived there her entire life. But now she is increasingly a stranger, she feels, in the city which she grew up. “I had gone to Dairy Queen to pick up my son’s cake and I went to find a parking spot, but it had no English on it. I couldn’t read it. So I went to all the businesses to see who owned it and it was the Richmond Chinese Seniors, and I went in and asked why they had their sign all in Chinese, but their seniors can’t speak (English). And I said, well, I can’t read it and there’s not a parking spot for me.”
There were more examples of Chinese-only usage, she said: real estate weeklies in her mail entirely in Chinese; Chinese-only advertisements on the sides of buses; flyers, newspaper ads, commercial signs, billboards, none of which she could read. And this happens in Canada, not China.
China? No. Welcome to Western Canada
She first took her concerns to Richmond MP Alice Wong, and to then Delta-Richmond East MP John Cummins. Both of the MPs, she said, suggested she starts a petition. She did, but she wasn’t prepared for what followed, when a blogger accused her of being a racist, she was dumbfounded.
“I would never been exposed to that. It was quite upsetting to see that. White privilege and white supremacy… I had never heard of that before. White privilege? What the heck is all that about? To me, this is all new. I’ve never heard of this stuff before,” she said. "We are not saying there’s too many Chinese or anything like that. It’s just here in Richmond (the use of Chinese-only signage is) too accommodating. The numbers keep coming and coming and coming, and its hard when you see so much accommodation for newcomers (to allow them to speak or read) in their language.
“Maybe it will take two generations, but its tough to be in the middle of that transition. We are all trying to transition as best as possible.” The city council rejected the petition. Anne Merdinyan, who spearheaded the push for language requirements on commercial argued, "It was a request to bring the community together by having the signs in Richmond… English and French, to have one of the official languages included on the signage. It’s controversial. It’s a very serious issue, and it is very disappointing. We had lots of information and they just shut us out, she added.
Canadian acceptance of multiculturalism a pull factor for Chinese immigrants
Henry Beh of the Richmond Chinese Community Society said although they did not support the petition but Chinese businesses should embrace bilingual signs. “If you have a restaurant, and don’t do an English sign then you lose your customers - that’s not smart,” he said.
Beh said he showed up to the meeting to try to calm tensions between Chinese-speaking business owners and those who signed the petition. He said his organization has signage in both languages because it wants to respect the people. “I’d like to see harmony in the city of Richmond,” Beh said.
Merdinyan said her group had written to federal Justice Minister Rob Nicholson, who told them that although the federal government could not do anything, provincial or municipal governments have the power under the Constitution to enforce signage rules. The 2 official languages of Canada are French and English.
http://www.scmp.com/news/china/article/ … -vancouver
http://blogs.wsj.com/canadarealtime/201 … ng-market/
http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/will-lin/v … 37829.html
http://www.vancouversun.com/business/Va … story.html