Originally published on June 3rd, 2016 and updated on August 2nd, 2016 [update on foreign buyer tax in B.C.] and on July 2nd, 2017.

By now, you’ve probably heard of or seen the laundry detergent advertisement in China that has been deemed as ‘shockingly racist’ and termed ‘raw racism‘. And of course, both Chinese state and foreign media have drawn much attention to this failed marketing ploy.

The commercial starts with a Chinese girl throwing a detergent package into the mouth of a black man. This man has paint streaked all over his clothes and face. The girl then throws him into the laundry machine and moments later, he comes out as a fresh faced, ‘clean’ young Asian. The undertone is that the dirt and apparently darker racial characteristics of the black man were scrubbed clean. In addition, the commercial tagline is: ‘Change begins with a single Qiaobi washing bead.’

Although both the company and marketing strategists have apologized for their perceived insensitivity, the damage has been done.

The controversy shines light on racial attitudes in China and also the global perception of the Chinese people.


My humble perception on racism in general…

The commercial is insensitive. It’s appalling in many ways. It’s clearly racist and doesn’t belong in any part of the ideal world we’re trying to build. However, I believe that both education and perspective are needed in this racially charged discussion.

I’m Chinese Canadian. I was born and raised in Vancouver. I identify myself as Canadian first, and Chinese second, but I’m also proud of my ancestral heritage. The controversy surrounding racial attitudes of the Chinese does not represent the Chinese people accurately or fairly.
It was in fact, people in China who started this public outcry against racism and prejudice. The same people also pointed to better education both at home and at schools, to promote better understanding of the world, its people and its colourful and beautiful differences.


It must also be noted that the World Value Survey in 2013 showed that China was the 3rd most tolerant country in Asia (closely behind just Japan and Pakistan) and ranked in the top 30 out of 200 countries in the world. In addition, Asian countries that were the least racially tolerant (in the bottom 10% of the world) included India, Vietnam, Indonesia, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, The Philippines and Bangladesh.

A political scientist at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology also added that ‘for the most part, in terms of African students living in China, they do not experience racism on a day-to-day basis. Students travel freely, with little concern for their safety.
Other worldwide surveys have found that Africans living or studying in Germany, Russia and certain parts of the United States and Britain experience racism on a more regular basis when compared to China. They often fear being physically assaulted.

The Chinese have also encountered great prejudice in places like Western Europe and Southeast Asia where they assumed these middle-man minority roles, as Armenians and Jews have done in other countries.

Another survey also found that the Chinese people are amongst the world’s strongest supporters of anti-discrimination laws, in part because many have experienced racism themselves.

And even further back in history, Chairman Mao invited many African students to China in the late 1950’s in a government campaign to spread goodwill. In the late 1980’s, the Nanjing mobs were mostly motivated by Chinese resentment over favourable treatment towards the people from Africa.


Hidden racism at home…

As the founder of GIVEGROWGO, I’m even more disappointed by our Western backlash and perspective of the Chinese people. For me, racism of any form doesn’t belong in our world. The Chinese commercial was a public form of racism at its worst.

But there’s also a lot of hidden racism here at home, and even amongst friends and family. One is not better or worse than the other. Both are unacceptable.

Here are some examples of hidden racism in one of the most multi-cultural and accepting cities in the entire world:

  • ‘Chinese drivers don’t know how to drive.’
  • ‘That Chinese woman just cut me off. Didn’t she see me?’
  • ‘I don’t want my girls to go to University here. There are too many Chinese.’
  • ‘Why would you want to move to the North Shore? There are so many White people.’
  • ‘There are so many Persians in North Vancouver.’
  • ‘I don’t like China.’
  • ‘Do you speak English?’
  • ‘I have no desire to go to China.’
  • ‘Chinese people are the biggest polluters in the world.’

Our society dictates what is acceptable and what is not. Unfortunately, many of the phrases above are now accepted by most people who live in Vancouver. We often look for someone or some type of person or race to blame. We live in a society of blaming others for our misfortunes. However, this creates prejudice and racism and these are the lessons that we pass on to the next generation.

I’m going to be a dad soon and I want to install positive values and set a good example for my son. Values like empathy, compassion, love, honesty, equality, family, education, decency, fairness, humility and respect are of utmost importance. There is no place for discrimination or racism in our advanced society anymore. We have to work together to set a great example for our children.


The great Vancouver real estate debate…

Another area of hidden racism in Vancouver has been the foreign (Chinese) ownership of property in the city and how it’s caused skyrocketing real estate prices and unaffordability for locals. Actually, it’s not all that hidden as every single newspaper and media outlet has a top story about Hongcouver, every day.

Some newspaper headlines include:

  • ‘Vancouver’s housing market: Surge of Chinese cash driving homes out of reach for locals.’
  • ‘Canadians open to foreign investment, except from China.’
  • ‘Some wonder if it’s time Vancouver acts to slow Chinese buyers.’
  • ‘Two-bedroom condo for rent. $2,000 per month, utilities included ($2,300 if you are a foreign national).’

And according to the National Bank of Canada economist, it was ‘hypothesized’ that Chinese buyers shelled out nearly $12 billion on real estate in Vancouver alone, accounting for 33 per cent of the city’s sales. This statistic was published everywhere with a sharply negative tone, thereby creating a lot of local backlash against Chinese home buyers. I don’t doubt that there are a number of Chinese investors in the local and international markets (like London, New York, Sydney, LA, Toronto and Vancouver). This is the result of globalization and the transfer of wealth.

My perspective on this issue is that almost 30% of all people who call Vancouver home are ethnically Chinese. So 33% of all property sales are not an outlier. It’s representative of the multi-cultural city we live in. In addition, the Chinese have traditionally been savers and not spenders.
They value material wealth, family and buying a home with little to no debt. This has never changed. And what do these numbers and studies prove? It certainly doesn’t prove whether these home buyers are Canadian, a non-Canadian, permanent resident, foreign resident, foreign investor or other.

In addition, what constitutes a non-anglicized Chinese surname? In these studies, the surname ‘Wong‘ is categorized as ‘non-anglicized‘. I bet most of you didn’t know this. ‘Wong’ and it’s iterations including ‘Wang’ is the most common surname in China and Taiwan making up 7.25% of the entire population of the most populous country in the world. In addition, ‘Wong’ is the 6th most common Chinese name in Singapore, the 3rd most common Chinese name in the United States, and the most common Chinese name in Canada. And yet, any home buyer with a ‘Wong’ surname is hypothesized to be a foreign buyer or investor causing unaffordability in our city.

Why B.C.’s tax on foreign nationals is unlawful

A recent publication in the Globe and Mail by Sean Rehaag rehashes my sentiments on hidden racism in our city and country. According to this very respected associate professor at York University, “What, then, of British Columbia’s new tax on property purchased by foreign nationals, a tax that Ontario is reportedly also considering? It, too, is illegal. The Charter of Rights and Freedoms forbids governments from discriminating on the basis of a list of prohibited grounds, including national origin. Canadian courts have extended those prohibited grounds to include citizenship status. The new B.C. tax, which took effect Tuesday on properties in Metro Vancouver, is not restricted to people living outside Canada. It applies to anyone who is not a citizen or a permanent resident. It taxes people, including residents of British Columbia, differently depending on their citizenship status. There is little question that a tax applying exclusively to a group defined by one of the Charter’s prohibited grounds would constitute discrimination.”

“It is disturbing that the B.C. government would pass legislation that violates the Charter, and that other provinces are considering doing the same. What is worse is that this unlawful legislation is part of a long and unfortunate tradition of discrimination in both Canada and British Columbia. While the new 15 per cent B.C. levy applies to foreign nationals, we all know the aim of the legislation is narrower: curtailing real estate investment by Chinese foreign investors. In this context, what is striking about the levy is how closely it parallels other attempts to restrict Chinese participation in the B.C. and Canadian economies. These include not only the infamous Chinese head tax, but also dozens more targeted taxes and restrictions aimed to protect ‘whites’ against competition in the labour market, in trades and professions, in industries, in real estate and in democratic institutions.”
And in summary, Sean Rehagg explains, “In light of this history, it is imperative that we be cautious about policies that target people on the basis of national origin or citizenship status. The message sent by the new B.C. tax legislation – about who is welcome to participate in our economy and in our communities – matters. If the B.C. and Ontario governments want to increase housing affordability for residents, there are other solutions. Some obvious ones include residency requirements, taxes on vacant property, taxes that discourage speculation and flipping, bylaws that encourage dense and diverse housing stock, and increased public investment in social housing. None of these would require unlawful discrimination. And none would continue the tradition of attacks on a marginalized community.” I couldn’t agree more with Sean Rehagg on these issues of hidden racism and discrimination.

I feel terribly stereotyped when I hear friends and people talking about the Chinese buyers causing unaffordability in our city. I feel terrible for my parents who have dedicated their lives to bettering our city and giving back to our society. Not all Chinese are wealthy and not all of them are foreigners. There is a strong Chinese history in Vancouver and the province, dating back to the railroad and gold mining industries.

And let’s not forget that foreign British and Americans own more land, property and property value than the Chinese. Why has this never been brought up? Or how about housing stock that’s been converted into short-term rentals like AirBnB (it’s not a ‘sharing economy’; it’s a ‘rental economy’ but let’s leave that discussion for another time). And how about the low inventory in available homes for sale, and the decreasing stock in the highly sought after single family detached homes in the city?

In addition, Canadian baby boomers are now retiring with massive amounts of wealth and by selling their homes they are competing with couples and young families for highly sought after 2 and 3 bedroom condos and townhouses. The largest generational wealth transfer is taking place in Canada. It’s expected that over $750 billion will be transferred to individuals between 20-45 years old in the next decade alone. This transfer of wealth within Canada is only just beginning.

Unfortunately, it’s become a highly racialized housing debate, and one that is now accepted by most people in the city who need to blame someone. This is a form of racism that pervades through our own society. And it’s not acceptable.

And finally, I love the perspective of Ian Young (who is ethnically Chinese and raised in Australia and Hong Kong) who shared his thoughts in the South China Morning Post:

“What defines those people in terms of their behaviour here in Vancouver, and in terms of their impact on affordability, is not their ‘Chineseness,’ it’s their ‘millionaireness,’ ” he says. “The idea that there is commonality to be found in the Chineseness—I find that kind of insulting. Why would you think that someone was better defined by the colour of their skin than the colour of their money?”



In summary…

Until we treat everyone equally ourselves, we cannot pass blame or judgement on others we perceive to be racist. Instead of passing judgement on the Chinese based on this one commercial, let’s first look at ourselves, our thoughts, actions and words and see if they align with how we see ourselves, how we portray ourselves to others and what we want to teach our kids. There’s no place for prejudice or racism in our society, and it all begins with us.

GIVEGROWGO is a for-purpose organization that focuses on treating people fairly and equally. We believe that no matter your race, skin colour, religion, spirituality, sexual orientation, language, wealth, class system or gender makes us better than anyone else. We need to stop believing that our differences make us superior or inferior to one another. Until we treat everyone as an equal, we have no right to complain about the treatment we receive from anyone. We are all deserving of respect and love.