I was reading through yesterday’s copy of the Vancouver Sun and they had an interesting article on the rising Chinese-Canadian population in Vancouver. One of the biggest reasons that they cited for this growth was the 1997 handover of Hong Kong, converting that huge metropolis from a British colony to being the full property of the People’s Republic of China. Many Hong Kong citizens emigrated at that time, fearing that the changing of the guard — so to speak — would ruin their businesses. After all, they were effectively going from open enterprise to a Communist-run state.
Looking back, Hong Kong hasn’t changed that much since 1997. The Chinese government, for the most part, has allowed Hong Kong to develop as it always has, making lots of money for the rich residents (and not so much for the poorer population). Regardless, many middle-class and wealthy Hong Kong folks made their way across the Pacific, finding themselves in Vancouver, thinking that our semi-cosmopolitan city would be a safe haven for them to continue making money. The key differences with these immigrants, compared to Chinese immigrants of the past, were that they spoke English (poorly), they already had money, and they were very business-savvy.
As you can see from the graphic above, many of them settled in Richmond (hence, the now infamous Richmond Night Market). Anyone living in the Vancouver area already knows that. There was also significant growth in East and South Vancouver, as well as in certain Burnaby neighbourhoods. The most startling change, for me at least, was the explosive growth in Coquitlam. The district shown went from having fewer than 1,000 Chinese-Canadian residents to north of 6.000. This is quite surprising, because I always thought that Coquitlam and Port Coquitlam had a large Korean population, not a Chinese one.
More recently, we’ve begun to see a huge influx of Mandarin-speaking immigrants from Taiwan and Mainland China. I remember growing up, the only Chinese people that I would encounter — my parents’ friends, mostly — would either be from Hong Kong or from the neighbouring province of Guangzhou. In fact, most of the people that frequented (and lived in and around) Chinatown came from the same district in Guangzhou: Taishan (or as it is pronounced in Cantonese, Toi San). As such, I thought that Chinese people spoke Cantonese for the most part and not Mandarin. Man, was I wrong.
Has Vancouver and its neighbouring suburbs become more international because of this huge influx of Chinese immigrants? Absolutely. Has it been a good thing for business? For the economy? For cultural relations? I’ll leave that up to you decide.
Side note: I originally intended for this post to be a very short, one paragraph kind of thing. I guess I got a little carried away.