In Vancouver, where Hong Kong culture has a second home, people lament the anniversary of the handover to China
VANCOUVER—With mountains and the Pacific Ocean lapping the shores of both cities, it may have always made sense that Vancouver and Hong Kong would end up sharing so much. Geographically, each city has shades of the other.
Now, on the 25th anniversary of the former British colony’s cession to China under a deal that many observers say Beijing has long violated, it seems the sharing of culture and policy between the two cities and other places in Canada develops once continued.
On a quiet morning at the Terminal City Club in Vancouver, Tung Chan sits at a table hidden by a pillar.
He’s a regular at the club, a long-established social spot for many of the city’s top businessmen, but it also has an older resonance to him. It was the first place he was offered a job when he immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong in 1974 before pursuing a career in banking and entering politics.
It was a difficult task in the early years, Chan recalls. For one, it was hard to find the comforts of home, including the food that Hong Kong is famous for.
That changed as more Hong Kong residents began to travel to Vancouver.
« Hong Kong-style cafes are just coming up, » he said. “The cafe where you can have a plate and you can have rice as a base, plus you can have ground beef. I grew up like that. »
Vancouver and Toronto have long been destinations for Hong Kongers, dating back to an early wave of immigrants after the Hong Kong riots of 1967, and they brought with them a culture that has woven itself into the fabric of both cities.
Friday marks the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to mainland China. These days, amid attacks on democracy and threats to human rights in the region stemming from Beijing’s national security law, a new wave of Hong Kongers is coming.
Chad Wong, artist and photographer, sees Hong Kong all over Metro Vancouver. The architecture and commercial style of Hong Kong malls have been imported to the region, he said. He says you can almost tell which wave of immigrants brought them by design and style.
Wong’s mother came to Canada in the early 1990s and he grew up in the Vancouver suburb of Richmond. He said the similarities between Hong Kong and Richmond are particularly strong, although this is changing with immigration from mainland China.
“You see that kind of influence in older and newer buildings,” he said, pointing to some that match generational design trends in Hong Kong itself.
Much of the culture is moving to parts of Vancouver as things change in Richmond, he said, and devotees in Hong Kong are still working to keep their culture thriving. It also highlights the defiance of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that young Hong Kong residents have brought with them to Canada.
“I believe there is a sense of urgency to retain and preserve Hong Kong culture with all that has happened,” he said. « Less on the commercial side but more things that have cultural value. »
It wouldn’t be the first wave to come fearing what the CCP might do. The 1967 riots were linked to CCP supporters in the city protesting against British rule; later more students started arriving in the 70s.
Another wave began to spread when the UK and China began talks leading to the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, which laid the groundwork for the cession of the region (then a British colony) to the China. The deal had stipulated the terms of the handover, including that Hong Kong would enjoy its freedoms and greater autonomy from the CCP until 2047.
Many, not trusting the CCP to honor this agreement, left in the mid-1990s following the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre and the approach of the 1997 handover. in Vancouver and Toronto.
Fenella Sung of Canadian Friends of Hong Kong said different waves of immigration from Hong Kong have always come during times of upheaval related to the Chinese government.
“The general mood has always been that the CCP is untrustworthy,” Sung said. « I think it’s very common for Hong Kong people living in Canada, no matter how long they’ve been here. »
Sung said that since 2020, when Beijing’s national security law came into effect, she has noticed many more Cantonese-speaking people in her community, suggesting they are newcomers from Hong Kong. .
« A lot of people are desperate to get out, » she said. « There will be no future for their next generation. »
Current figures up to the second quarter of 2022 from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada show a marked increase in permanent residency applications being processed by applicants from Hong Kong.
Admissions of permanent residents by country of citizenship showed 1,360 admissions from Hong Kong in 2017, rising to nearly 2,300 in 2021. But those numbers only tell part of the story.
The number of Hong Kong study permit holders rose from 2,440 in 2017 to 6,360 last year. Asylum applications, although modest in terms of actual numbers, have more than doubled since 2015, reaching 25 in 2021 and already 20 this year.
Last year, the Canadian government opened up new avenues for Hong Kong residents to obtain permanent residency.
Just like previous years, the newcomers will likely bring with them recent cultural and political trends in Hong Kong.
Chan recalls looking at the dining options spread across the city over the years. When chefs from Hong Kong started arriving, it kicked things up a notch, he said, and soon cafes were joined by fine restaurants.
Such options began to appear outside of Chinatown, he said, to serve those working in the financial sector who had moved to Vancouver.
It was a more difficult adjustment for some.
Hong Kong, Chan explained, has such a high population density that opening a business is often rewarded simply by opening its doors.
But in Vancouver, which doesn’t have the same bustle or foot traffic, some budding traders have learned a hard lesson about the differences between the markets.
As a banker, Chan testified.
« I’ve seen a lot of my clients lose their shirts using this same pattern, » he said. « They came in, they paid high rent and renovations and stuff and opened a clothing store. »
Many had to open a business as part of their immigration requirements, he said, which exposed them to the perils of the learning curve. But trials came out of the successes that are still there today.
Not only has Hong Kong culture permeated Canadian cities, with a vibrant community in Toronto, but bits of Canadian culture have been brought back to Hong Kong.
Hong Kong pop stars started coming to Vancouver regularly. Before long, some of Hong Kong’s biggest stars, like Edison Chen, were actually born in Vancouver.
The Hong Kong region is home to approximately 300,000 Canadian citizens. Some pubs hang Canadian flags and broadcast hockey games. The generations-old White Spot restaurant chain and its branch, Triple O’s, have even opened restaurants in the area.
But what has not been brought back are Canada’s freedoms. Every year, the CCP-backed local government further violates the principles of the Joint Declaration, democracy advocates say.
Sung said she and others have often demonstrated outside the Chinese consulate in Vancouver on the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
They were out again in 2019 as large pro-democracy protests swept through Hong Kong, and this time there was a lament.
« We never imagined that we would meet in front of the Chinese consulate in Hong Kong, » Sung said.
She said now a major concern is the CCP’s pressure on Hong Kong’s elected officials and community in Canada.
The Canadian government is aware, she says, but is unwilling to do anything about it. Sung warned that democracy and civil liberties cannot be taken for granted.
« I think we need to speak out and we need to tell our politicians, or those who want to run for office, that if you stand firmly against the CCP, you will have our support, » she said. « I’m asking people to tell your own politicians. »
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