Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Meet the wealthy immigrants at the centre of Vancouver’s housing debate

Cindy Liu draws at her home in Vancouver.

Cindy Liu draws at her home in Vancouver.

Rafal Gerszak/For The Globe and Mail

The dragon in the room

Hostility toward rich, Chinese newcomers has left many asking the same question: Why is Canada willing to take our money, but then belittle us?
Frances Bula talks to a hesitant community

At an ornately decorated Chinese café on a back road in suburban Richmond, three dozen people are picking at cheese and tomato sandwiches. They are dressed in plaid shirts and windbreakers, jeans and runners, and the kind of business suits aspiring bank managers might wear.

They are waiting to hear from speakers who want to persuade them to hand over some of their presumed wealth. But not for residential real estate. These recent immigrants from mainland China are awaiting pitches to invest in biotech, high-tech, smartphone apps and commercial real estate.

"I am trying to show them some other things they can think about," says Jason Liu, one of the organizers of these seminars and a shareholder in the 1029 Café, which operates as a kind of informal community centre. "We know the Canadians don't like everyone buying houses."

Story continues below advertisement

These people hear plenty of criticism in Vancouver's mainstream media and on social media about buying and selling houses and condos. Many Vancouverites say people like them are driving up real estate prices in the region to the point where locals are shut out.

Resentment reached a fever pitch this week, when the province acted to put a check on investors by adding 15 per cent to the property transfer tax for buyers who are not citizens or permanent residents. At the same time, new data showed 10 per cent of sales in the Lower Mainland were to foreign buyers – most from China.

NDP MLA David Eby has called for an investigation into the phenomenon of immigrants who live in multimillion-dollar homes but appear to have no income. Yet again, that has fuelled suspicions about mainland Chinese immigrants in general.

Many of the new arrivals and are baffled by the controversy, wondering why they are the focus of anger over a housing market in which Canadians are realizing sale prices beyond their wildest dreams. And, in particular, they are divided over whether the new tax is an understandable response or another indication they are not welcome.


The people mingling at Café 1029 belong to one of the city's most talked-about, feared, loathed, puzzled over, endlessly speculated about, and yet oddly invisible and voiceless sub-cultures.

Among them are Sherry Qin, who ran a successful business in Shenzen distributing remote-controlled toys; Lao Wu, who came here from Beijing in 2008 so his children could get a better education; Sam Peng, who left China when his wife got pregnant with a second child and risked a penalty, not only for herself, but her entire group at the library where she worked.

The mainlanders are the most recent of several waves of Chinese immigration to Vancouver. But they are not from the places familiar to Vancouverites for the past 160 years, like rural Guangdong, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.

Story continues below advertisement

The 139,890 who have arrived since 2000, according to federal statistics, are from Nanjing, Shanghai, Harbin, Beijing, Guangzhou, Qingdao.

And they are a kind of immigrant Canada has not seen before, at least not in these numbers. They are here with money and confidence after surfing the wave of one of the world's biggest economic booms, the result of people from Regina to Rome buying stuff stamped "Made in China." The boom produced 3.6 million millionaires by 2014, up from 2.4 million in 2013.

READ MORE: B.C. tax on foreign home buyers almost too good to be true

But many still say they have something in common with previous groups.

"We think of ourselves as environmental refugees and political refugees," Cindy Liu says over Chinese tea, sliced strawberries and roasted sticky corn at her house near 57 th Avenue and Granville Street. It's a modest faux colonial with dark-green shutters and, strangely for the season, a Christmas wreath of jingle bells on the door. Inside, it is filled with European and Chinese antiques.

Sam Peng, middle, talks to other clubs at Cafe 1029 in Richmond, British Columbia, July 28, 2016. Cafe 1029 is a member owned establishment where investors pitch ideas to the group for potential funding. Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail

Sam Peng, middle, talks to other clubs at Cafe 1029 in Richmond, British Columbia, July 28, 2016. Cafe 1029 is a member owned establishment where investors pitch ideas to the group for potential funding. Rafal Gerszak for The Globe and Mail

Rafal Gerszak/Rafal Gerszak

Until two years ago, she and her husband, David Li, ran a business in Shanghai that provided investment services and helped companies set up initial purchase offers for the Chinese stock market.

Story continues below advertisement

They moved here in July, 2014, fed up with life in Communist China, after buying the house for $2.5-million.

"We pay taxes, but we don't have equal rights to do anything or say anything in China," says Mr. Li, dressed in a Nike shirt and shorts, spending part of his time during the interview watering the garden he and his wife created out of the previously concrete-covered backyard.

The two concerned about the education of their son, now 15 and a boarder at the private St. George's School in Vancouver, saying Chinese schooling is more about stuffing propaganda into children's heads than anything else.

"They control children's minds. You have to love the nation, love the Communist Party," Mr. Li said.

Canada and Vancouver appealed to them because they were not interested in taking on the demands of starting a new business.

Mr. Li, who is 50, said if he had been younger, he might have gone to the United States, which is riskier for immigrant investors like him. He would have had to put up $500,000, while in Canada, he had to pay just $120,000.

And, adds Ms. Liu, who is 38, while the United States is the place for hustling and perhaps getting even richer, "Vancouver is the place for living."

Like many in this newest group of Chinese arrivals, the couple are not used to putting their private lives on display or trying to speak on behalf of the city's mainland Chinese immigrants.

But they are among more than a dozen people – contacted through Café 1029, WeChat groups, school-parent or university-graduate groups – who agreed to be interviewed at length by The Globe and Mail in the past four months, answering questions about their new lives in Vancouver, their reasons for coming here, their finances, and their thoughts about their new home, because they wanted to give a more accurate picture of the city's newest Chinese community.

They do not represent all mainland Chinese immigrants, many of whom do everything from running convenience stores to maintaining aircraft engines to working with social-service groups. They represent the moderately wealthy business and professional class, the group generating the most conjecture.

Nothing in the current debate – the angst over real-estate prices, hostility from their ethnic cousins in Vancouver, tales of corrupt Communist Party officials throwing money around – surprises them.

Some of the same turmoil is playing out in China. Housing prices are skyrocketing in the largest cities. Real-estate investment and speculation have become part of the fabric of the new wealthy class, with prices rising not just in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing, but resort-style cities like Kunming, set in the mountains and valued for beauty and clean air.

"The [media] coverage here, it's quite natural," said Lao Wu, a former Beijing businessman from Shandong province who now sports a casual look with track pants and a T-shirt during coffee and breakfast at the IHOP in Lougheed Town Centre. "In the big cities in China, you have people from other provinces with cash coming in."

In fact, the more urban and educated Chinese have a lot of disdain for the new rich people flooding in from the countryside to cities in China – and to Vancouver.

"People got rich so quickly," said Mr. Wu, who came to Canada as a skilled-worker immigrant in 1996, went back to China for 10 years to make money, and returned in 2008 with his family. "Other stuff has not caught up. You're poor for so long and suddenly you get money and you want to spoil yourself."

Sam Peng at Cafe 1029.

Sam Peng at Cafe 1029.

Rafal Gerszak/For The Globe and Mail

Sam Peng is even blunter about it.

"They are Beverly Hillbillies," said Mr. Peng, an ebullient talker who spills over with ideas about businesses he wants to start – marketing B.C.'s top food products or its top travel destinations in China, an e-cigarette filled with ginseng and caffeine – and solutions for Vancouver's various woes.

READ MORE: Chinese-language media up in arms over B.C. foreign buyer tax

He says he was a bit of a Beverly hillbilly himself when he arrived in Canada 15 years ago as a skilled worker immigrant and settled in south Richmond. He drove too fast, talked too loud and acted like a yahoo.

Now he sees the newer arrivals doing the same and it appalls him, said Mr. Peng, who started one of the few organized groups for people from mainland China in Vancouver, the Canada Chinese Investors and Entrepreneurs Association.

"They are not confident. They come from a very poor childhood. When they get rich overnight, they want to show people they are rich," he said.

Like Jason Liu, his fellow shareholder in the café, Mr. Peng tries to encourage the newcomers to fit in better – to do volunteer work, to contribute money to local organizations, to make an effort to integrate, even if only by saying hello every morning.

Small signs of the efforts to integrate appear here and there, but typically not in the English-language media. Chinese media reported that people from mainland China in Vancouver raised $200,000 to send to Fort McMurray after the fire.

'The silence is the story'

None of the people interviewed by The Globe are, by their account, big real-estate investors, vacant-house owners, the parents of spoiled rich kids, investors parking their money here as a hedge, or corrupt Communist Party officials – the mainland Chinese stock characters that appear most often in local media.

They are well-off enough to buy houses in Dunbar, Kerrisdale, Richmond, Coquitlam and the University Endowment Lands, but, with a few exceptions, not to pay for their houses outright or to survive on only investments.

They have other reasons too. They had friends here or liked the idea of moving to a place with a big Chinese community. Or they simply fell in love with Vancouver's spectacular good looks.

But, they say, they represent the much bigger, and almost forgotten, majority of mainland Chinese immigrants in Vancouver – a group whose arrival over the past 30 years represents almost 40 per cent of the half-million Chinese in the Lower Mainland.

Cindy Liu and her husband, David Li, share tea in the backyard of their home in Vancouver.

Cindy Liu and her husband, David Li, share tea in the backyard of their home in Vancouver.

Rafal Gerszak/For The Globe and Mail

This group tries to speak for the mainland Chinese because it is clear almost no one else will say anything favourable.

That at first seems inexplicable, considering Vancouver's huge Chinese population.

Several cities around the world are going through anxiety about big waves of global capital distorting their housing markets and economies. In those cities, it is easy to hate the rich. They are typically from a rainbow of regions – Russia, South America, Africa, China, India – and without a long-term connection to the place.

Vancouver has almost 500,000 people of Chinese ethnic origin, about a fifth of the 2.5 million in the region.

Yet this current wave of newcomers has few defenders from those who came before.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a wave of Hong Kong immigrants worried about the handover of the British colony to China arrived in Vancouver. Public conversation and media coverage focused on their monster houses, tendency to chop down trees, possible links to crime, absentee fathers working in Hong Kong, and boys drag-racing their fast cars.

But Hong Kong immigrants who came in the 1960s and 1970s pushed back.

David Lam, then the province's lieutenant-governor and a well-known businessman and philanthropist, was a prominent defender and an example of a Chinese immigrant who gave back to the community. He, fellow businessman Milton Wong and others founded the Laurier Institute to finance research into conflict arising from cultural diversity.

The Hong Kong immigrants also came from a British colony, so they had exposure to a more western system and to English, which made it easier for them to understand their new culture and for their new neighbours to connect with them.

Things are different now.

"There is no one speaking out and, this time, it's much worse than back in the '90s," said Tung Chan, the former CEO of the social-services agency SUCCESS, which Hong Kong immigrants started in the 1970s. "Back then, there were still some positive stories to balance it."

READ MORE: The foreign buyer tax leaves us with the wrong kind of speculator

He and others say the stereotyping about the mainland Chinese arrivals in the past few years is dramatically more prevalent and negative.

They are not only believed by an increasing number of local residents to be the sole cause of Vancouver's out-of-control real-estate prices, but are frequently painted in social media – and sometimes mainstream media – as people who made their money illegally and are using money-laundering techniques to bring it to Canada. Or as people who are parking their money here in empty condos as an investment hedge. Or who bought their citizenship and are paying no taxes while using Canada's expensive social services. Or as people who are destroying the city by tearing down old houses and putting up garish monstrosities.

Realtors are frequent sources of stereotypes. One typical sentence in a National Post story about the local situation: "Vancouver real estate agent Sarina Han knows the $25-million residential property she has listed on the city's expensive Westside will eventually go to a Chinese buyer, who will then tear down the existing, ramshackle dwelling and build a mansion."

But immigration consultants, academics and long-time residents join in, describing what the Chinese are supposedly up to. "Immigration and tax specialists say Metro Vancouver's soaring house prices are being fuelled in part by people not telling the truth when they buy and sell houses. A side-effect is they are cheating B.C. and Canada of billions of dollars in tax revenue," said another recent story, with a reference to the high number of mainland Chinese in the Vancouver market.

It’s exaggerated but there’s some element of truth.

Tung Chan, former CEO of SUCCESS

Buyers are almost invariably described in news accounts as investors, not as immigrants or future residents. And scary headlines abound: "Foreign buyers crushing Vancouver home dreams as governments do little" was one from CBC.

International media have reported on Vancouver's spoiled rich Chinese kids.

The New Yorker and the New York Times have portrayed Vancouver as overrun by ultra-wealthy young women swinging Birkin bags and young men in Lamborghinis, most of them the sons of corrupt Chinese officials, according to a well-placed source cited by the Times – the owner of a car dealership.

In spite of the almost weekly stories about what the alleged motivations and financial strategies of "the Chinese" are, the Laurier Institution, as it's now called, has not uttered a peep to counter some of the wild generalizations.

Nor is SUCCESS staging a public campaign to demand more accurate reporting, as it did at least once in the 1990s. (There is some talk of organizing a panel to have a frank discussion about the ethnic stereotyping.)

"The silence – that is the story here," says Henry Yu, a University of B.C. professor who specializes in the city's history of global migrants. "There's multiple things that create this silence."

The angriest voices

One of the multiple things is the discomfort many people, including Vancouver's other groups of Chinese Canadians, have about China's current phase of capitalism, akin to the 19th century in the United States and Canada, Prof. Yu said. Capitalism in North America is relatively genteel now, governed by many more rules than when journalist Ida Tarbell exposed the workings of the Rockefeller empire and the oil industry, he said. But China's capitalism is still raw.

So, when it comes to stories about shady mainland Chinese business practices, the children of corrupt officials running wild and illegal money, even people who are concerned about the attacks on mainland Chinese find themselves unwilling to speak out.

"It's exaggerated but there's some element of truth," Mr. Chan said. "For me, I don't know enough to defend them."

His is one of the gentler voices.

Others from Vancouver's Hong Kong-affiliated community have echoed the hostility towards mainland Chinese that is common in Hong Kong.

At a recent community meeting in Kitsilano on housing, a woman from Hong Kong warned that the mainland Chinese had wreaked the same kind of havoc through real-estate speculation there as they are now doing in Vancouver.

GLOBE EDITORIAL: Yes to B.C.'s new tax on offshore home buyers

Some of the angriest voices in the community complaining about the impact of foreign capital and pointing at mainland China are the children of the Hong Kong immigrants of the 1990s.

"The two cultures are as different as day and night," said B.C. Lee, a former Vancouver city councillor who is from Taiwan. "To Hong Kong people, the mainland Chinese are uncivilized and evasive. Those are the terms you can see on YouTube."

And the new immigrants from mainland China have not always made an effort to connect. Mr. Chan said he has tried to organize business socials, but the mainlanders, not used to that kind of interaction, won't show up. Nor have they been willing to join groups like the Richmond Chamber of Commerce.

Friction in the city's Chinese community is a part of Vancouver's history.

For decades, older Chinese arrivals have scorned newer ones. Chinese Canadian students at city schools routinely shunned those who were FOB – "fresh off the boat." SUCCESS was founded by the Hong Kong immigrants of the 1960s because the older "pioneer" generation at the Chinese Benevolent Association wanted nothing to do with them, Mr. Chan said.

When he went to university in the 1970s, the Canadian-born Chinese did not want to let the new Hong Kong people into their student group, so the Hong Kong kids started a new one. In the 1980s, attempts by some of the newer generation to get elected to the board of the Chinese Cultural Centre set off a battle with the "pioneers."

And now, with the mainland Chinese, a repeat of that resentment and disdain is playing out. And it is even more pronounced because of the powerful Chinese government's bad reputation.

Cindy Liu harvests peas from the garden at her home in Vancouver.

Cindy Liu harvests peas from the garden at her home in Vancouver.

Rafal Gerszak/For The Globe and Mail

'Every brick plays a part'

Vancouver's recent Chinese immigrants know all about the scorn for spoiled rich kids and the suspicions about corruption. But they still express dismay and bewilderment at how the actions of a few have become the only picture Canadian-born Vancouverites have.

The obnoxious fuerdai, those children of wealthy parents the international media love to mock?

"There's only a small group of kids like that," said Eileen Yin, a former university professor whose husband has remained in China to run his software business. "And it's because the kids are here but the family is in China."

Most of the Chinese children here are more like her son, said Ms. Yin, a tall, confident woman who lives in Dunbar with her three children, one at Queen Elizabeth Elementary School and one at Lord Byng Secondary School. Her oldest is at Simon Fraser University, getting straight As in marketing. He does a lot of volunteer tasks – visiting seniors' homes, donating blood, raising money for the Buddhist Compassion Relief Tzu Chi Foundation, because that group helped him a lot when he was a teenager.

B.C. Lee said the fuerdai are a particular sore spot for local Chinese immigrants, who take to WeChat crying "Shameful, shameful" after news of some kid crashing his expensive car.

But, like Ms. Yin, Mr. Lee said they are a minority whose antics have overshadowed the reality of thousands of other bright, hard-working children here studying, sometimes managing their parents' investments, and becoming an asset to the city when they move into the workforce.

None of those interviewed has any more insight into Vancouver's real-estate scene than anyone else. Like many Vancouver residents, they hear about the varying reports on how many homes are vacant and the impact of foreign capital.

They tend to think Chinese money is not the only explanation for Vancouver's high prices.

"Every brick plays a part. The Chinese make it more visible," Mr. Wu said. Ms. Yin says Vancouver's high prices are a problem, but "that's a common problem around the world."

And they're more forgiving about the issues that rile locals. Vacant houses? Well, perhaps the people could not find work in Vancouver and had to go back to China to make money.

Houses being torn down? Well, the city makes it very hard to do renovations.

But they wonder why Canadians are ready to take their money for their houses – perhaps more money than they thought they would ever get – and then complain.

"A woman I know, her house cost $400,000 19 years ago and she sold the house for more than $2-million. She was happy, she has a studio now for her painting," Sherry Qin said over coffee at UBC's Old Barn Community Centre with three of her friends, including Ms. Yin. They like to gather here because one member of the group lives in a townhouse nearby.

And they do not understand why, if Canadians do not like the way things are, their governments will not change the rules – for investment, for preserving old houses, for citizenship, for paying taxes, for charges on vacant houses – instead of blaming newcomers.

And they were as divided as others over B.C.'s new tax for foreign buyers. Sherry Qin said B.C. should remain a free market. Anita He said it will send a message to all Chinese: "We don't like you." Alan Yu said it was a good idea. "I think it's good to suppress the speculation in the real-estate market and it helps to fulfill the needs of affordable housing. I hope it could lower the housing price in Vancouver."

But such government regulation is not new to them.

Chinese cities, which control who can be defined as a legal resident, are imposing their own restrictions. Shanghai has strict rules. In February, after house prices had jumped by 21 per cent in the previous years, it tightened the approvals for non-resident buyers even more.

READ MORE: B.C.'s foreign-buyer tax could help China fight corruption: ex-envoy

Vancouver's new arrivals also are puzzled why Canadians complain about wealthy people moving here when their government decided which kinds of immigrants it wanted.

"The government just chose rich people so they have lots of money," said Mr. Liu, who immigrated to Canada in 2005 through the skilled-worker stream, not as an investor, even though he owned a chain of Best Buy-like stores in China. He is doing well, with a home he bought in Kerrisdale so the family could be close to Crofton House, where his daughter went to school.

(The proportion of immigrant-investors to Canada never exceeded more than 4.1 per cent of the total number of permanent residents. About 8,500 immigrant investors came from mainland China to B.C. between 2000 and 2015, along with 23,000 family members. In the same period, B.C. accepted 23,000 skilled workers and their 33,000 family members.)

The people interviewed by The Globe had differing experiences of the sensitive issues of the money and taxes.

Anita He plays the guqin, a traditional Chinese instrument, at her home in Richmond.

Anita He plays the guqin, a traditional Chinese instrument, at her home in Richmond.

Rafal Gerszak/For The Globe and Mail

Anita He, who lives with her three children in a typical large single-family house in the Terra Nova area of Richmond that she bought for $1.6-million in 2013, said it upsets her when she hears about people trying to avoid paying Canadian taxes. She said she pays Canadian tax on her investments here and in China.

"It's fair to pay. My kids are here, they're safe, they're happy," said Ms. He, who immigrated two years ago because she felt like the situation in China – the pollution, the environment, the politics – was getting worse. "A lot of people, they don't want to, they're selfish."

But her ex-husband continues to run his business – a printing and forestry company in Yunan province – and pay taxes in China, sending her support money. Ms. He, now 48, focuses on raising her children here, using her time when they are in classes at the local public school to take lessons in singing and in playing the qing, a classical Chinese stringed instrument. Her house looks standard Canadian, the front hall filled with children's shoes and clothing, and walls covered with family pictures and Ms. He's collections of Scandinavian and French plates.

The issue of how to get the money they made in China to Canada is challenging. People cannot send more than $50,000 US per person per year out of the country. To those wanting to get away from China and its controls, the restrictions have prompted many to use circuitous routes.

Ms. He said some of the money she gets is funnelled through Hong Kong. (She got residency status there so she could have more than one child, which usually would result in a penalty or a state of non-official existence for her additional children.) Mr. Li said money can also be shifted by going through companies that operate in both China and the United States.

Several said they move their money slowly, using the $50,000 limit, through their own accounts, as well as friends and relatives. That provides them with enough to live on comfortably, but not Ultra Rich Asian Girl splurges.

Tough choices

About half of the dozen people interviewed came to Canada as skilled workers rather than investor-immigrants. As it turns out, the educated professionals who are deemed desirable immigrants to Canada have lots of opportunities to prosper in China.

Lao Wu was among those who have gone between the two countries to get their slice out of the booming economy in China after getting citizenship. He was accepted as a skilled-worker immigrant in 1996. (He and his wife were living in London, where he was studying econometrics, and moved to Vancouver for the great seafood.)

But he worked for a decade in Beijing, importing bomb-protection suits. He became well-off enough to buy a farm in Maple Ridge in addition to his house in Coquitlam. He is getting his realtor's licence, he said, to supplement his income because the cost of living is going up, but mostly pursuing other interests.

He wants to start a business that would be like a Chinese version of ancestry.com – a sure hit with geneology-obsessed Chinese people, he thinks – that would take families to places where their ancestors lived. And he hopes to raise animals and flowers and perhaps run a small RV park at his farm in Maple Ridge. "I just happen to love farm life. I love flowers."

Alan Yu, a slight man who welcomed The Globe to his modern apartment in one of the new developments at UBC, was the East Asia sales manager for companies like Dupont and 3M in Shanghai, and ran a manufacturing company. His wife, Alinda Xu, ran a business selling medical supplies to hospitals and doctors' offices.

They immigrated to Vancouver in 2008, after qualifying under the skilled-worker category. They lived here for three years.

Alan Yu with his two daughters.

Alan Yu with his two daughters.

Rafal Gerszak/For The Globe and Mail

During that time, Mr. Yu, now 40, was a store manager for Kin's Farm Market, a small Vancouver company that has branches in Vancouver and West Vancouver. He made nowhere near the $100,000 US a year that he had earned working for U.S. multi-nationals, but it kept him busy. (That is something immigrants here long for. Mr. Yu said a Chinese man, driving a Ferrari, once asked him for one of the minimum-wage jobs at the West Van branch of Kin's just to have something to do besides hang around the house. Mr. Yu complied, but the Ferrari driver lasted only a few weeks.)

In 2011, the family moved back to Shanghai. Like many of those interviewed, Mr. Yu said people feel an obligation to keep their companies going for the sake of the employees. That's partly what drew them back.

"Even if you want to stop, it's very difficult because of the employees. You have the responsibility," Mr. Yu said.

But last year, he and his wife decided it was important for the children to get a better education. His wife stayed behind to run her company, while he returned with their twin girls, then eight years old.

"B.C.'s education system is quite different from Shanghai," Mr. Yu said. "Here, they develop their creative thinking. There, they always talk about discipline."

They had bought a house in Marpole in 2011, which is now rented out. He bought an apartment at UBC in a building that is about 90-per-cent owned by people with Chinese names to ensure that his girls could go to Maple Grove Elementary School in Kerrisdale. He has given up his career to take care of them. It's a busy life.

"A single dad trying to take care of two kids, it's not so easy," said Mr. Yu, who has abandoned suits for a more casual look these days: nondescript shirts and pants in pale colours and dark-blue Crocs.

He studies English, takes parenting courses through the Vancouver school board, or goes to the school to help out with things like organizing library books in the five hours a day he has to himself.

The rest of the time, he is taking the girls to piano, swimming, skating and swimming lessons, as well as extra tutoring in English. On weekends, he meets up with other Chinese parents or goes to church in Kitsilano.

The people interviewed by The Globe are grateful for their chance to live in Canada. But they also see themselves as having lost out on certain things by coming here – careers, the chance to continue making huge amounts of money in China, a sense of connectedness and belonging.

So, even if some of them are paying lower taxes here because spouses working in China are paying taxes there, said one, they have made sacrifices and Canada will eventually benefit from their presence.

"They give up everything in their country and they think they do contribute to the country," Ms. Yin said. "They spend their own money to send their kids there, then those kids can contribute to Canada."

They also know people who have moved back to China, unable to find work in Canada with comparable prestige and money. Or because they cannot find anything here.

"When your bank account is dwindling, you have to go back," says Lao Wu. They hear about their friends back in China who are continuing to make fortunes.

Anita He at her home in Richmond.

Anita He at her home in Richmond.

Rafal Gerszak/For The Globe and Mail

'A dangerous time'

It is hard for the new Vancouverites when life in the slow lane turns sour. They have been surprised by the hostility that has emerged as the anger about real-estate prices and the mainland Chinese has mounted.

Sherry Qin felt like she had adjusted fairly well since she moved here in 2008. She was under stress the first couple of years, when she tried to start a company like the one she had in China, but it failed because the Canadian market was so tiny compared to China's, costing her $30,000.

It is hard to be here on her own, while her husband, an architect, works in China. But she had grown to love the city and felt like she got along well with her neighbours. She lives in a 1978 house that is relatively small and cost $1.75-million.

When she's not with her daughter, now in Grade 12 at Lord Byng, she takes English classes at the Vancouver School Board's South Hill Centre and walks her black Lab at Pacific Spirit Park or the west-side beaches.

Her rapidly improving language skills and the dog helped her make connections with her English-speaking neighbours, some of whom regularly go along on her walks. So she was shocked when she went to a local park recently with her dog and an acquaintance from the neighbourhood asked her angrily: "So why DID you move here?"

Others talked hesitantly about similar incidents: a public-school bus driver who told one Chinese student to go back to where he came from; teachers who seem to mark the Chinese students' work lower than the Canadian-born students; the coolness of neighbours. Such incidents are becoming more common, not just for the mainlanders, but for people whose families have been here for generations.

Someone recently yelled on the street to Bing Thom, one of Vancouver's most prominent architects, that he should go back where he came from. And, at the offices of HQ Vancouver, president Yuen Pau Woo gets messages almost daily along the same lines.

Mr. Woo's organization, funded by the federal government, is aimed at bringing head offices here. He said the new wave of immigrants from mainland China is a unique opportunity for the city.

He has worked with six entrepreneurs who have started businesses here or moved operations from China to Vancouver. Every one is from mainland China and had a connection to Vancouver, through a child going to university here or a residence established.

"They really want to give it a go," said Mr. Woo, a third-generation Canadian who grew up in Singapore. "They feel the need to make an effort. If they succeed, it will have a snowball effect."

That could help turn Vancouver away from becoming just a resort city, as many fear, and towards a dynamic, multifaceted economy.

"We are a city that has become global in our make-up but not in our outlook or aspirations. We are in a dangerous time. The danger is that the existing community acts against its own interests by creating resentment and a discourse that makes it difficult for new arrivals."

If things do not go well, he said, Vancouver will be attractive only to people who have made their money elsewhere but not to people who want to start businesses here.

"I reckon we have a window of opportunity of 10 to 15 years to activate this latent wealth," he said. If not, "we will have a self-fulfilling prophecy."

With reports from Si Chen


Report an error Licensing Options
Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.