Chinese media helps immigrants feel at home in Canada
Chinese immigrants are wealthy and well educated but language remains a barrier.
Chinese immigrants have been an integral part of Canada for nearly150 years and their contributions have added as much flavor to the economy as jasmine tea leaves to hot water.
They first came from Guangzhou in 1868, looking for gold in the Fraser River Valley. Now they are worth their weight in gold themselves, enriching the economy with million-dollar investments.
They have added value in many other ways that cannot be measured with a price tag.
Chinese workers constructed the Canadian-Pacific Railway, uniting the East and West coasts in the 1860s. They are at the forefront in volunteering services, readily pitching in to help their Canadian compatriots like they did in Vancouver, raising $200,000 to help victims of the Fort McMurray fire in 2016.
Yet, there remains a wall that keeps them from integrating seamlessly into the Canadian fabric: language.
In Metro Vancouver, the largest ethnic group who speak neither English nor French are the Chinese immigrants, according to the Victoria Times Colonist. Across Canada, more than 1.2 million residents speak Mandarin or Cantonese and the numbers are growing every year.
The Great Wall
Mandy Lin moved to Scarborough from Guangzhou with her family and a college degree in 2016. She is well versed in both Mandarin and Cantonese but she works in a factory. Although she loves the “well mannered people” and “easy pace of life here,” her lack of proficiency in English keeps her from feeling completely at home.
For those who are better conversant in English, the feeling of alienation comes in other ways. Carol Sun moved from Shanghai to Scarborough in 1998 with a job offer and work permit and, like many in her community, she volunteers, participates in events and loves shopping. But the “cultural conflicts and differences” remain a barrier, affecting her personally and professionally. She feels she is often “not understood.”
Yes, it’s true that Canada offers free English lessons to help bridge the gap. But can any number of classes bridge the gap between centuries-old cultural differences from two ends of the world?
One source now plays a part in narrowing this wall: the Chinese media.
“I get most of my information from Chinese newspapers,” Sun says. For her, “information” is not just limited to national and international news but also product information, deals and discounts to improve her quality of life.
“I love the ads. I bought a car after seeing an ad in the Epoch Times. There are really good deals,” she says.
Lin says that “the rich content in newspapers” are a balm to her uprooted soul.
For Eliza Lam, who comes from Hong Kong, Ming Pao offers more value. “Ming Pao has a variety of content and I love the design layout,” says the advertising professional. She also likes the Hong Kong-based Sing Tao.
Like thousands of others from Hong Kong, Lam moved to Canada just before the 1997 handover from the British back to China. Although she has picked up English, she remains more fluent in Cantonese.
Lam has college certificates she earned in Canada but it’s hard for her to fully orient to the Canadian culture. At the same time, losing touch with her Chinese roots is of equal concern. This is where Chinese media steps in to diffuse the differences.
Eliza doesn’t like newspapers cluttered with too many ads, but she enjoys the restaurant meal deals, travel packages and household products she sees on sale. Anything with a discount tag is music to her ears. Her husband, however, prefers to browse through the real estate section.
Real estate is an area where the Canadian Chinese have poured millions of dollars. Canada now holds second place behind the United States for investments in real estate by wealthy Chinese, according to CTV News. And, an estimated 8,000 wealthy Chinese immigrated to Canada in 2017, according to CBC.
Carol Sun, Mandy Lin and Eliza Lam are a reflection of the 1.6 million-strong Chinese community in Canada today. It is hard to group them under a homogeneous entity, as they are as diverse as the variety of dim sum in all the Chinatowns countrywide. They have over 100 dialects between them.
Miners to Millionaires
Early Chinese immigrants to Canada were industrious contract workers from the Canton area of Guangzhou and Macau, living on low wages. Today, they are resourceful, wealthy and well educated. It’s not just real estate properties that they are after but also high-tech and bio-tech products.
What brings these affluent Chinese to Canada?
For immigrants like Arkow Yu, it is “to escape pollution.”
Yu, who has a master’s degree in IT programming, came to “peaceful Canada” from “noisy and congested Shanghai” in 2014 at the age of 38. The pollution in Shanghai and an unhealthy lifestyle made his wife ill. His family is now settled in Richmond Hill.
For Yu, choosing Toronto was a carefully weighed decision; it was easier for him to pick up English than French.
“Toronto is an economical and financial hub,” he says, adding that made it easier to look for a job to match his qualifications. His children enjoy the “great education system” that allows their mind to develop freely. For many like him, that’s an important reason.
More Chinese from Mainland China
Gone are the days when the larger majority of Chinese immigrants arrived from Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan. Today Mainland China has taken over as the largest source of Chinese immigration.
Since 2000, over 139,000 new arrivals to Canada have come from Nanjing, Shanghai, Harbin, Beijing, Guangzhou and Qingdao. Pollution and education are driving factors. According to Fortune magazine, for many businessmen it’s also the Chinese Yuan dropping to a six-year low. Over a quarter of them come armed with university degrees and they have high buying power. They have risen from grocery stores, laundry shops and salmon processing to be at the helm of a variety of IT, business, financial and manufacturing corporations. Many are self-employed.
Like their South Asian counterparts, Chinese immigrants are brand conscious and tech savvy, far more than the general population.
They are constantly scouring media sources for the best deals, latest gadgets and convenience products and they numbers are set to grow by 130 per cent over the next 15 years, according to Media-Corps.
Mainstream marketers have very few resources on Chinese Canadians’ attitudes towards brand recognition and media consumption habits, says IPG Mediabrands, and, to complicate matters further, the demographics within the Chinese community keep changing.
Today, about 72 per cent of Canadian Chinese are born outside Canada. Out of these, as many as 45 per cent are from Mainland China, 30 per cent from Hong Kong and 10 per cent from Taiwan, according to Statistics Canada. Others fly in from about 132 countries across the globe.
Together, they are one of the largest ethnic groups in Canada and some of the biggest spenders. Arkow Yu and Eliza Lam are perfect examples of this demographic. They are as passionate about growing vegetables in their backyard “Canadian-style” as they are about going out for a dim sum treat on Sundays. Like Carol Sun, they rely on both Chinese websites and newspapers to get information to feed their needs.
“Websites give me fast and instant information. Newspapers help me focus on special features and in-depth reports,” Yu says, adding that the Epoch Times was the first Chinese newspaper he picked up when he came to Canada. “It is comprehensive with a variety of content that meets my interests.”
According to an Ethnic Diversity survey, a large majority of Canadian Chinese — about 76 per cent — feel a strong sense of kinship with Canada. At the same time, 58 per cent feel connected to their ethnic group.
Chinese media in Canada is rife with options to reach out and connect with them.
Ming Pao and Sing Tao cater to the Cantonese speaking community. The Epoch Times, which won the National Ethnic Press and Media Council Awards for human rights coverage, is among the favourites for those who mainly speak Mandarin.
Evia Tam from Hong Kong came to Richmond Hill Canada in 1994 and works in sales in HDTV. Like Lam and Yu, she feels she lacks fluency in English despite many years here. But the Chinese media diffuses that feeling of alienation.
“The lifestyle and leisure sections relax me and make me happy. The ads provide useful information and good deals.”
Lin echoes her thoughts. Yes she is “a little worried to communicate with local people because of her language problem,” but the auto section in the news media leaves her with a smile. This may well give advertisers and the Canadian economy many reasons to smile, too.
Joyeeta Ray is a contributing editor, blogger, multicultural marketing specialist and founder of Creative Joy Consultancy. She spent over two decades in Southeast Asia and now resides in Canada.