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The China Challenge

Huhua Cao
Vivienne Poy

Evolution of Canada-China relations

Chapter 6. Friends across the Pacific: Links between Canada and Hong Kong in Historical and Contemporary Perspectives

Ming K. Chan

Texte intégral

1The extraordinarily intimate, multifaceted and mutually beneficial trans-Pacific bond between Canada and Hong Kong is not predicated on political-administrative ties such as those between a colonial power and a dependent territory, nor on war, conquest or military alliance, or a collective economic mode, and it is definitely not a case of necessity between neighbours sharing a border. Rather the extensive relations between Canada and Hong Kong stem from deliberate choices built upon common interests and shared values. Until 1997, membership of the Commonwealth underlay the relationship, but since Hong Kong’s retrocession to China in that year Canadian links with Hong Kong have grown with a new dynamism.

2More than one million Chinese now live in Canada, over half of them being of Hong Kong origin or with direct Hong Kong ties. These Hong Kongers proliferate through all the ten provinces and three territories of Canada, though there is a heavy concentration in the largest cities: according to the Census of 2006, Metropolitan Toronto, with a total population of 5.1 million, had absorbed 486,000 Chinese, while Vancouver hosted 380,000, Montreal 72,015, Calgary 66,375, Edmonton 47,200, Ottawa 45,060, Winnipeg 13,750, Victoria 12,325, Saskatoon 4,245, Regina 3,340 and Halifax 3,105. Since the 1990s, Vancouver has been nicknamed “Hongcouver.” Within forty kilometres of downtown Toronto a dozen Chinese shopping malls punctuate Greater Toronto, each filled with Hong Kong-style restaurants, supermarkets, bookstores, beauty salons, and fashion boutiques. Canadians in major cities routinely encounter persons or businesses with Hong Kong connections.

3One prominent Hong Kong-linked icon in the Canadian business landscape is HSBC Bank Canada. HSBC’s original name, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation, reflected its birth in Hong Kong in 1865 and its later branching out into Shanghai and other Chinese treaty ports, as well as the former British territories in Southeast Asia. Its Chinese name, Huifeng (“abundance of remittance”), indicates its role in handling remittances from overseas Chinese (Liu 2006, p. 18). HSBC landed in Canada in 1981 as the HongKong Bank of Canada. Since then, through acquisitions such as its takeover of the Bank of British Columbia in 1986 and its expansion among the fast-growing Canadian Chinese population, it has become a major bank, particularly in British Columbia and Ontario. Headquartered in Vancouver and with 260 offices, including 140 branches, throughout Canada, HSBC Bank Canada ranks seventh among Canadian banks in terms of assets, at CA$ 70.5 billion, and had total deposits of CA$ 49.6 billion as of August 2009 (see Lazarus 2003). From British Columbia to the Maritime Provinces, there are HSBC branches in Asian malls and Chinatowns, often with mostly Chinese tellers serving mainly Canadian Chinese clients. Inside these HSBC branches, other than transactions in Canadian currency, one might almost feel as if one were in Hong Kong, as Cantonese is the language most commonly spoken, and waiting customers read Canadian editions of Hong Kong’s two major dailies, the Ming Pao and the Sing Tao. They are among the more than forty Chinese-language dailies or weeklies published in Canada, at the core of the country’s thriving Chinese-language media alongside numerous radio and television channels serving Chinese communities across five time zones.

Historical Migration to Canada

4The roots of Canada’s links with Hong Kong and Guangdong Province in southern China date from 1858, soon after the British took Hong Kong as a colony in 1842 following the Opium War. Linked by the British empire’s shipping and economic networks and buttressed by their strategically located natural harbours, Hong Kong and Vancouver soon became major ports on the trans-Pacific route for goods and “coolie” immigrant traffic. The Canadian Pacific Railway drew more than 17,000 Chinese workers to Canada during the construction of its main line in the western provinces between 1881 and 1886. Chinese labourers in Canada were mostly Cantonese who sailed from Hong Kong to Vancouver (see Li 1998). Canadian Pacific’s links with Hong Kong lasted for decades: its shining White Empress ocean liners can often be seen in pre-war photographs of Hong Kong Harbour (see Lamb 1991) and the Canada goose, symbol of Canadian Pacific Airlines, was a familiar sight on billboards in Hong Kong in the 1950s and 1960s.

5Some of the Cantonese labourers brought in to work on the railway or in the mines settled in the western provinces and built Canada’s earliest Chinatowns in Victoria, Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. Their progress was disrupted after 1923, when the federal Parliament passed the Chinese Immigration Act, specifically banning further Chinese immigration, and was not resumed until after that Act was repealed in 1947. In 2006 the Canadian government issued an official apology and token compensation to the surviving victims of the head tax levied on early Chinese immigrants, symbolically closing a sad chapter in Sino-Canadian relations, and partially redeeming the dark legacy of the white state’s actions against ethnic minorities in Canada’s collective conscience. First imposed in 1885, at fifty dollars, the head tax was increased to 500 dollars in 1903. A total of CA$ 23 million was collected from the 82,000 Chinese who reportedly arrived between 1886 and 1923 (see Ng 1999).

6The post-war era saw only limited numbers of Chinese immigrants arriving in Canada, and Cold War politics, with the absence of diplomatic relations with Beijing until 1970, ensured that they came overwhelmingly from Hong Kong rather than the mainland. Major political events on both shores of the Pacific also shaped the Chinese influx into Canada. Violent disturbances launched by pro-Beijing activists engulfed Hong Kong for five months in 1967, partly fuelled by the Cultural Revolution in mainland China and Portuguese capitulation to Chinese demands over nearby Macao after similar riots there in 1966. Stern police measures, supported by the local Chinese majority, helped the British authorities to restore order (see Bickers and Yip, eds. 2009). Losing confidence in the colony’s future as radicals waged militant anti-West campaigns across mainland China, many middle-class families and tycoons from Hong Kong sought safe heaven abroad, with Canada as their first choice. Their exodus came at a turning point in Canadian immigration reform with the introduction, also in 1967, of a merit point system that opened a much wider door to potential Hong Kong immigrants with skills or wealth, in addition to those qualified under the family reunion provisions. Between 1968 and 1976, some 90,118 Chinese immigrants were admitted into Canada, a threefold increase over the numbers entering before 1967 (Li 1998, p. 97). These immigrants infused new blood into the Canadian Chinese communities, which were still very largely “HongKongtowns” until very recently.

7Since the 1980s Chinese from both the mainland and Taiwan have also begun to flood into Canada. This trans-Pacific diaspora was reinforced by a new influx from Hong Kong after the mid-1980s, following the signing by Britain and China in 1984 of the accord that provided for the retrocession of Hong Kong to China in 1997. This outbound traffic only intensified after the Tiananmen Incident of June 4, 1989, when the armed suppression of pro-democracy activists in Beijing triggered a serious crisis of confidence about Hong Kong’s future under Chinese rule. Many Hong Kong families seeking safe haven abroad chose Canada over Australia or the United States (see Skeldon, ed. 1994 and Skeldon 1995). At the same time the United States became more engaged with Hong Kong and loosened its own historically tight immigration controls (Segal 1993, p. 112; see also Jencks 1990). The annual immigration quotas allocated to Hong Kong by the United States were raised from 600 in the 1960s and 1970s to 2,000 in 1983 and 20,000 from 1994 (Segal 1993, pp. 121–25 and 130–38, and Paau 2000, p. 205). Nevertheless, Canada remained Hong Kongers’ first choice, and there were around 30,000 arrivals in Canada each year between 1991 and 1996. The British scholar Gerald Segal (1993) criticized Ottawa’s poaching of Hong Kong’s best as “immigration without responsibility,” and a Canadian academic, Kim Nossal (1997, p. 87), called Canada’s approach to Hong Kong during its problematic transition to 1997 the “most aggressive” as compared with the United States and Australia.

8Behind the talk of “1997 blues” there were divergent personal and family factors, educational opportunities and career prospects, livelihood concerns and political calculations among the tens of thousands of Hong Kongers who decided to emigrate (see Skeldon 1994, Part III, and Salaff, Wong and Fung 1997, and Salaff, Wong and Greve, 2010). Yet it is clear that the two major waves of migration from Hong Kong to Canada, after 1967 and between 1984 and 1997, were propelled by political upheavals generated in mainland China, and can also be viewed as not untypical of the patterns of collective behaviour that have punctuated Hong Kong’s record as a city with continuous inflows and circulation of migrants shaping its human landscape (see Siu and Ku, ed. 2008).

9Hong Kong’s more settled situation since 1997 and the revival of its economy have unleashed a reverse migratory cycle, with more Canadians of Hong Kong origin heading toward Greater China than there are new arrivals from Hong Kong. Mainland China’s impressive economic growth since 1978 has yielded business opportunities and career prospects for many transnational Chinese of Hong Kong origins with Canadian education and passports. The “brain drain” of the 1980s and 1990s, when there was a massive transplanting of Hong Kong talents and expertise to Canada, should not be regarded as a negative outflow, but rather as a long-term diversification and upgrading, an investment yielding enhanced global networks and Canada-educated talents capable of making greater positive contributions upon their return to Greater China (see Salaff 2009).

10Official data show that immigration from Hong Kong has steadily declined since 1997, both in absolute numbers and as a proportion of total immigration (see Table 6.1).

11In contrast, immigration from mainland China rose from 17,533 (7.8 per cent of the total) in 1996 to 29,336 (11.9 per cent) in 2008, yielding a major demographic realignment within Canada’s Chinese communities. The fact that mainland China is now, and likely will continue to be, the largest source of new Chinese immigrants to Canada has reshaped Chinatown politics. Chinese is now the third most widely spoken language in Canada, after English and French.

Table 6.1 Immigration from Hong Kong to Canada, 1996 to 2005

Numbers of immigrants
from Hong Kong

Proportion of total
immigrants to Canada,
selected years (%)































Source: Statistics Canada, 2006

12Even the SARS epidemic of spring 2003 testified to the intimacy of the relationship between Canada and Hong Kong. The return from Hong Kong of a single person infected with the SARS virus triggered a health crisis in Toronto, where 375 people were infected and forty-four died, while Hong Kong recorded a total SARS death toll of 299 in mid-2003 (see Mason 2007).

Education and Alumni Networks

13A crucial dimension of this trans-Pacific bond is the two-way traffic in education and manpower development. Canadian schools and universities have long been Hong Kong students’ prime choice for high-quality overseas education, while since the 1980s major Canadian cities have become havens of security and opportunity drawing in migratory Hong Kong families.

14In the years following the Second World War Canadian degrees and qualifications, particularly in medicine and engineering, were recognized by Hong Kong’s colonial officials as being of the same high standard as those from British universities. Many promising young Hong Kongers chose Canada for their university education, some with the hope of returning home after graduation. Canadian universities also represented a real bargain: during the 1960s and 1970s, two major prairie campuses, the University of Saskatchewan and the University of Manitoba, drew many Hong Kong students, who paid only nominal tuitions as locals. Some 20,000 Hong Kong students are now studying in Canada. Data from Citizenship and Immigration Canada show that the annual inflow of those entering Canada on student permits from Hong Kong was 1,730 in 1996 (4.4 per cent of that year’s total foreign student intake) and 1,297 (3.1 percent) in 1997, and fell still further to 1,148 in 2007 (1.6 percent) and 1,120 in 2008 (1.4 percent). This declining trend parallels the decrease in overall immigration from Hong Kong since 1997.

15Nevertheless, a disproportionate enrolment of ethnic Chinese students, not only from Hong Kong, but also from mainland China, Taiwan and Southeast Asia, fills Canadian campuses from the University of Victoria on the Pacific to the Memorial University of Newfoundland on the Atlantic. At the University of Toronto, for example, the 1,736 students from China (including Hong Kong) constituted the single largest bloc (31 percent) of total international (non-Canadian) undergraduate enrolment in 2007, and the largest group (17 percent) among international postgraduates. These figures do not, of course, cover students who originated from Hong Kong and have become citizens or landed immigrants, or who were born in Canada to Hong Kong immigrant parents. It is fitting that the History Department at the University of Toronto offers a course on the history of Hong Kong, perhaps the only such regular course mounted at a leading university outside Asia.

16Meanwhile, the Canadian presence in Hong Kong can be seen in the large number of organizations such as the Canadian Club, established in 1952, the Chinese Canadian Association, founded in 1989 and now with more than 3,000 members, and the Canadian University Association, which since 1961 has functioned as an umbrella body for more than twenty university alumni bodies active in Hong Kong, where an estimated 100,000 alumni of Canadian universities live and work. There are three schools in Hong Kong offering a Canadian curriculum: the Canadian International School of Hong Kong, the Delia School of Canada and the Christian Alliance P.C. Lau Memorial School. Hong Kong’s various tertiary institutions currently employ some 200 Canadian faculty and staff members as well as more than 530 Canadian degree-holders.

17Many Canada-trained Hong Kongers have returned home to become leading academics, professionals, captains of enterprises, tycoons or public officials. Today Canadian degree holders, many of them also Canadian landed immigrants or naturalized citizens, constitute the largest group of foreign-educated persons in Hong Kong. In fact, according to the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, in 2008 the 320,000 Canadian citizens formed the largest single bloc of “foreigners” (strictly speaking, foreign passport-holders) in Hong Kong. Many of them are Hong Kong-born or Hong Kong-raised, but Canada-educated. These Canada-processed Hong Kong talents have penetrated into many layers of Hong Kong’s social, cultural and economic fabric. For example, three graduates of Canadian universities serve in the Legislative Council of Hong Kong: Cyd Ho (University of Waterloo) and Albert Wai-yip Chan (who resided in Canada for ten years, from Grade 10 through two degrees, but later abandoned his Canadian citizenship to contest Hong Kong elections), both directly elected; and Patrick Lau (University of Manitoba), who represents the functional constituency for architecture. Other prominent Hong Kongers with Canadian connections include the noted scientist Professor Lap-cheeTsui, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong (see Huang 1992, pp. 146–53).

Hong Kongers and Canada’s Asia–Pacific Outreach

18Over the years persons of Hong Kong origin have contributed much to enrich Canada as a democratic, progressive and multicultural society.

19Any list of Hong Kongers reaching the heights of the Canadian political establishment must begin with Adrienne Clarkson, who retired as Governor General in 2005 after almost six years in office (see Huang 1992, pp. 166–85). Three other Canadians with Hong Kong connections have been Lieutenant Governors of Canadian provinces. The late David Lam (1923–2010) arrived in Vancouver soon after the Second World War and served two terms as Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia, from 1988 to 1995 (see Huang 1992, pp. 58–69); Norman Kwong, born in Calgary of Cantonese parents who arrived via Hong Kong, became Lieutenant Governor of Alberta in 2005; and Philip S. Yee, who was born and raised in Hong Kong, has been Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba since 2009.

20In 1998 Vivienne Poy, daughter of the prominent Hong Kong businessman and philanthropist Richard Charles Lee (see Poy 2006), became the first Asian Canadian to be appointed to the Senate. From 2003 to 2006, Senator Poy served as Chancellor of the University of Toronto, where she had obtained her history doctorate with a thesis entitled “Calling Canada Home: Canadian Law and Immigrant Chinese Women from South China and Hong Kong, 1860–1990.” Senator Poy has founded the Richard Charles Lee Canada–Hong Kong Library at the university, where a Hong Kong property tycoon has also endowed the Cheng Yu Tong Library for East Asian Studies.

21Raymond Chan, who arrived from Hong Kong in 1969, was elected Member of Parliament on the Liberal Party ticket in 1993 and served as Minister of State for the Asia–Pacific region in the Department of External Affairs from then until 2000. There are now five members of Hong Kong origin in the federal House of Commons, and quite a few Hong Kongers have been elected to provincial legislatures and municipal councils across Canada.

22Paralleling the massive traffic in education and migration, trade, services and investment also flow across the Pacific, testimony to Hong Kong’s role as facilitator and bridgehead for Canada’s economic, social and cultural links to East Asia, with particular effectiveness as a launch pad for Canadian business entering the China market. Canada attracted 130,100 visitors from Hong Kong in 2001 and 122,800 in 2002. The SARS epidemic caused a decline to 94,000 in 2003, but the total rose again to 121,000 in 2004, and reached 113,404 in 2007 and 128,139 in 2008, making Canada the twelfth most popular destination for Hong Kongers. Hong Kong saw growth of 17.7 percent in the number of visitors from Canada, which hit a record of 395,170 in 2007, then declined to 379,046 in 2008 because of the global recession, but still made Hong Kong Canadians’ twelfth most popular destination. Air Canada and Cathay Pacific run seventy-one weekly passenger flights across the Pacific, forty-two servicing Vancouver and twenty-nine Toronto, including thirty-five non-stop direct flights, often at full capacity.

23Hong Kong is consistently among Canada’s top fifteen trading partners, and is Canada’s fifth largest market for information technology and its third largest market for beef. Canada’s total exports to Hong Kong reached a value of 1.59 billion Canadian dollars in 2006 and increased to 1.77 billion Canadian dollars in 2008. In 2005, Canada ranked twenty-second among suppliers of goods to Hong Kong, with merchandise imports from Canada valued at CA$ 1.5 billion. The value of Hong Kong‘s exports to Canada totalled CA$ 3.46 billion in 2008, while CA$ 1.16 billion worth of Canada-made goods were re-exported by Hong Kong to the rest of the world. Cumulative investment from Hong Kong in Canada reached CA$ 6.3 billion in 2006, while Canadian investment in Hong Kong totalled CA$ 6 billion in 2008. These figures exclude extensive local assets owned by Hong Kongers who became Canadian passport-holders. Hong Kong is Canada’s key spearhead into mainland China, which is Canada’s second largest trading partner, with bilateral trade valued at more than CA$ 50 billion in 2008.

24According to official figures, as of August 2009 thirteen Canadian companies had located their regional headquarters in Hong Kong, while another thirty-two had regional offices there, amid a pool of more than 150 Canadian companies with offices in Hong Kong. Another 600 firms had representatives there. Twelve Canadian brokerage and investment advisory firms were active on the financial scene, and so too were eight Canadian insurance companies, including Manulife and Sun Life, and all of the big five Canadian banks (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Toronto Dominion, Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal and Royal Bank of Canada). The Canadian Chamber of Commerce–Hong Kong, which has more than 1,200 members, is the largest such body outside Canada. A Canadian Trade Commission was first established in Hong Kong in 1928, and now the Canadian Consulate General, with twenty-three Canada-based diplomats and 117 local staff, is among Canada’s largest missions abroad. Reflecting Hong Kong’s special importance, the Consulate General reports directly to the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade in Ottawa while Canada’s other consulates in China, in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Chongqing, report to the Canadian Embassy in Beijing.

25Being thus linked to Canada through extensive human ties, social and cultural exchanges, and substantial economic interests, Hong Kong has long been much more than a remote foreign policy item for Ottawa, which closely followed Hong Kong’s retrocession to China and the establishment of the Hong Kong Special Autonomous Region. Even before the retrocession Ottawa hosted such benign undertakings as the Canada Festival in Hong Kong in spring 1992 and the Hong Kong Festival in Toronto that autumn. The growth of the Hong Kong immigrant communities has also enhanced Canada’s search for opportunities in East Asia, especially mainland China. The maturing of the Hong Konger community in Canada, as second- and third-generation descendants come of age, has provided a new crop of Canada-educated professionals blessed with a special empathy for Chinese culture and deeply rooted Hong Kong sensitivity. As Canada’s valuable Greater China assets, they function as powerful trans-Pacific human bridges.

Canadian Contributions to Hong Kong

26It is to be expected that, as a mature democracy with high regard for civil liberties and the rule of law, Canada would wish to share with Hong Kong and the entire Chinese nation its vast knowledge and rich experience in the realms of human rights, social justice, constitutional reform, political pluralism and environmental protection, as well as advances in science, medicine and technology.

27In 2002 and 2003, the authorities of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region set out to pass a national security bill that would translate the provisions of Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law into local legislation, and clamp down on “any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion” against Beijing, “prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities” in Hong Kong, and “prohibit political organizations or bodies ... from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies.” Regina Ip, then Hong Kong’s Secretary of Security, complained to this author on March 16, 2003, about vocal Canadian official criticisms of the draft bill, claiming that the Canadians were acting as if they were “surrogates of the departed British colonialists.” By several estimates, around 50,000 Canadian passport-holders were among the 500,000 residents of Hong Kong who demonstrated against restrictions on civil liberties on July 1, 2003. Concerned parties in Hong Kong sought Canadian inputs into the drafting process, and the final version of the law as sent to the legislature by the regime (that was later forced to shelve it after the mass protests) did draw extensively, if not always accurately, on the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms and other Canadian legal studies and precedents. (see Chan and Lo 2006, pp. 47-49).

28Canada’s society and economy have been enriched by inputs from Chinese who either hailed from Hong Kong or descended from Hong Kong immigrants. Likewise, many Hong Kongers have benefited from their Canadian upbringing, education, professional training and work experience, which have given them significant head starts in their lives and careers. In their hearts and minds, and through their lives and work, many have attempted in good faith and with deep conviction to transfer to Hong Kong some of Canada’s finest attributes, institutions and processes, as well as its values and priorities. They naturally wish to share with their fellow Hong Kongers all the positive aspects of Canadian society that they hold dear.

29Ottawa and the Canadian people are keen to see the successful realization of the “one country, two systems” formula in Hong Kong. The Toronto Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading daily, devoted more coverage to political stories than to economic news concerning Hong Kong between 1997 and 2007 (see Salaff and Greve 2007). Canadians’ vividly expressed concern for, and vocal public commentary on, Hong Kong matters should be regarded as friendly suggestions, to be received in good faith, as they mean no offence and harbour no ill will.

30The levels of economic attainment in Canada and Hong Kong are converging fast: in 2006 GDP per capita in Canada was US$ 38,757 and in Hong Kong it was US$ 27,500, but in 2008 the figures were US$ 39,100 for Canada and US$ 43,700 for Hong Kong. Yet economic indicators are far less crucial than the realm of values and ideals that Canada embodies and is willing to share with Hong Kong and the entire Chinese nation. Canadian values of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, social and political pluralism, and multiculturalism, as well as Canada’s traditions of striving for conciliation and accommodation of differences with mutual respect, and promoting unity in diversity, should constitute the most magnificent gifts that Canada could bestow on the students, immigrants and citizens of Hong Kong origin who wish to share these with their homeland peers. Indeed, Hong Kong is a potent transmitter of Canada’s “soft power” toward Greater China. Perhaps enlightened Chinese may prefer China to evolve eventually into a more Canada-like society, rather than becoming a replica of the United States as a stressful global superpower.

Links between Canada and Macao

31Canada and Macao have been interacting for more than 200 years, mainly through trade and immigration. Canada’s Consul General in Hong Kong has served concurrently as Consul General to Macao since 1972. Enhanced by its common membership of the World Trade Organization, and riding on a booming economy driven by gaming and tourism, Macao is a promising market for Canadian products and services, and for cultural and academic exchanges.

32The enduring and dynamic links between Canada and Macao were little affected by Macao’s relatively smooth retrocession to China on December 20, 1999, after nearly 450 years of Portuguese rule. Unlike in Hong Kong, where the “1997 blues” triggered an exodus to Canada, Macao’s Chinese population adopted a calmer approach. A migratory trend did emerge among the minority Macanese, mixed-race descendants of Portuguese and Chinese or other Eurasian families, with Canada as their most popular destination after Portugal. Now there is a thriving network of social and cultural associations among Macanese immigrants across Canada, including the Casa de Macao Vancouver, the Casa de Macao Toronto and the Macao Cultural Association of Western Canada, which has been based in Vancouver since 1989. These form parts of the international network of Casas de Macao, with sister organizations located in Lisbon, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Sydney, San Francisco and Hong Kong, though the Vancouver Boletim Macaense is the only monthly newsletter issued by any of the Casas de Macao.

33In 2004 a Canadian Chamber of Commerce was set up to promote the interests of Macao’s burgeoning Canadian business community, as the city moves toward becoming a hub for leisure tourism, conventions, and exhibitions, attracting an annual inflow of more than twenty million tourists from Greater China and the rest of East Asia. In 2009, Canadian exports to Macao reached a value of CA$ 14,952,586, while Macao’s exports to Canada totalled CA$ 22,271,035, and 73,384 Canadians visited Macao, less than in 2008, when 82,136 Canadians visited, due to the global recession.

34Post-colonial Macao enjoyed double-digit economic growth and rapid transformation under the leadership of Edmund Ho, the first Chief Executive of the Macao Special Administrative Region, who was in office from 1999 to 2009. Ho attended high school in Ontario and graduated from York University in Toronto. Lawrence Ho, son of the casino tycoon Stanley Ho and founding President of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in Macao, is a graduate of the University of Toronto, and runs his own Melco group of casino-hotel resorts. Another prominent community leader, Executive Councillor Vai Tac Leong, is a graduate of the University of Waterloo. Several dozen Canadian university graduates are faculty members at tertiary institutions in Macao, and the Macao Associated Canadian Alumni Union, operating since 1998, acts as a bridging organization by hosting business and social events that foster alumni relations and Canadian linkages. Canadians are increasingly visible and play active roles in Macanese society, notably through the establishment in 2002 of the only international school in Macao, which follows the Alberta curriculum. Cultural and arts exchanges include a permanent venue for Cirque du Soleil at the Venetian Macao, the city’s largest casino, hotel and convention centre. Right next door, with a Maple Leaf flag flying at its entrance, is the Four Seasons Macao, managed by the Toronto-based hotel chain. Smaller than the US-owned and operated Las Vegas-style ultra-opulent Sands, Wynn and MGM casino-hotels in Macao, this elegantly refined hotel aptly symbolizes the low-key yet much appreciated Canadian presence in Macao.

Undersides of Hong Kongers’ Canada Saga

35Any nuanced overview of Hong Kong immigrant experience in Canada should include some account of the various undersides that have drawn public interest and media coverage. This section is informed by the insightful first-hand observations of a number of Canadian Chinese of Hong Kong origin with long professional and family experience in Canada.

36Cross-border crimes, especially gang activities in major Canadian cities with large Chinese populations, have involved Hong Kong immigrants. Some Hong Kong immigrants have also attracted resentment for their giant mansions, fancy cars and expensive tastes, and their speculative dealings that have driven up local property prices (see Matthews 1983, Cannon 1989 and DeMont and Fennell 1989). Some younger Hong Kong immigrants have shown an acute lack of interest in learning more about Canada, treating their Canada sojourn as a mere schooling interlude while obtaining Canadian passports as political insurance before returning to Hong Kong. There have also been some cases of broken marriages, due to prolonged spousal separation as husbands work in Hong Kong while wives stay in Canada with children in school, and problems among youth due to inadequate parental guidance, resulting from the parents’ long absences from Canada.

37The Hong Kong immigrant communities that sprouted in Canada in the 1980s and the 1990s have experienced stagnation or even shrinkage with the apparent success of the “one country, two systems” formula in Hong Kong since 1997. Many discontented immigrants have reverse-migrated back to Hong Kong to take part in the Greater China economic boom or to enjoy the Hong Kong lifestyle that they find difficult to forego. Most of the mid-career immigrants who landed in Canada during the 1980s and 1990s are now in their late fifties or sixties, approaching retirement. As their children come of age, it is less likely that one or both parents have to work in Hong Kong to support their decent living standards in Canada. Hence the problem of broken marriages and dysfunctional families due to prolonged spousal separation and parental absence is now less prevalent among Hong Kong immigrant families. Rather, a new trend has emerged: while their Canada-educated children work in Hong Kong, many parents living in Canada regularly visit their children back “home.” Eventually, some of them move back to Hong Kong to join their children and grandchildren. Many immigrants who have returned to Hong Kong continue to collect Canadian social benefits, a windfall from their Canadian passport-holder status.

38Reflecting the pulling effects of their Hong Kong roots and Greater China’s career prospects, numerous immigrant children have returned to Hong Kong, probably permanently, to pursue their careers upon graduation from Canadian universities instead of working in Canada. As a result, the growth of the Hong Kong immigrant communities in Canada has peaked. Further growth will be much slower and will depend less on inflows from Hong Kong than on whether Hong Kongers’ circles on both sides of the Pacific capitalize on the entrenched links between Canada and Hong Kong. Some Hong Kong families have suffered uneasy adaptation and downward economic mobility in Canada, so their longing for the “good old days” in Hong Kong is understandable. Other Hong Kongers with Canadian degrees and work experience have sought work in Hong Kong rather than in Canada because they perceive the prospects of promotion in Canada to be less promising, due to their minority status. Nevertheless, Canada remains Hong Kongers’ most favoured destination for migration and education. Among the professional bodies in Hong Kong there is a recent increase in membership of those with Canadian education, reflecting the intimate links that will shape a proportion of the next generation of Hong Kong elites.

39Perhaps the expansion of the Hong Kong/mainland Chinese communities in major Canadian cities does not promote the inculcation of “Canadianness” among new immigrants. The concentration of Chinese immigrants and their descendants in a few major Canadian cities has resulted in almost cocoon-like communities, whose members have little need to interact with mainstream Canadian society. One Hong Kong immigrant banker in Vancouver admits that he has felt no pressure from the local “old timers,” as Canada’s government and society have embraced immigrants so well that many new immigrants do not bother to become “Canadianized.”

40Greater China immigrants today come from more diverse sources than Hong Kong and Guangdong, and have different reasons for immigrating to Canada. The recent upsurge of immigrants from mainland China and Taiwan has intensified the process of internal ethnic and cultural negotiation, making community politics among Chinese immigrants more layered and complicated. This influx of mainlanders has significantly reshaped facets of Canada’s Chinese communities. The Canadian editions of Sing Tao and Ming Pao now publish sister newspapers in simplified Chinese characters for mainland immigrant readers. Staff in Chinese restaurants, shops and other businesses in Canada’s Chinatowns and “Hong Kong Malls” now speak Mandarin to serve their mainlander clients, adding to internal Chinese diversities within Canada’s multicultural mosaic.

41An interesting recent phenomenon is the decline in criticisms of some Hong Kong immigrants’ flamboyant lifestyles. This may be attributable to greater Canadian openness and tolerance, but it could also be due to the “political correctness” adopted by Canada’s mainstream media after prolonged exposure to and interaction with Hong Kongers. The impact of Hong Kong immigrants has definitely altered the physical, social and cultural landscapes of major Canadian cities and the global outlook of many Canadians. After more than twenty years of adjustment and adaptation, mainstream Canadians have come to appreciate their country’s links with Hong Kong and Greater China. The saga of Hong Kongers in Canada should be studied in a contrasting perspective, not just as compared to their counterparts from mainland China and Taiwan, but through broader comparisons with other immigrants in Canada.

True Friends in Good Times and Bad

42In a profound historical sense, the ties between the peoples of Canada and Hong Kong were cast in blood and tears when Hong Kongers and Canadians served together as comrades in arms. More than 550 men among the 1,975 Canadian soldiers of the Winnipeg Grenadiers and Quebec Royal Rifles sacrificed their lives defending Hong Kong against Japanese forces at the outbreak of the Pacific War in December 1941 (see Duff 1942, Ye 1984 and Greenhous 1997). These brave young Canadians have forever left their hearts and bodies in the Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery on Hong Kong Island. With a heroic and tragic twist of fate, these Canadians’ unfulfilled dreams, aspirations and hopes for education, career, family and well-lived lives have been transferred to the Canadian youth of Hong Kong descent, who should contribute their best for the good of their Canadian homeland, and their ancestral homeland as well, as a token repayment of an historical debt.

43The future of Hong Kong may depend on its evolution as a unique Chinese global city at the competitive cutting edge, contributing to China’s social and economic advancement. If Hong Kong continues to flourish as an economically vibrant, politically open and socially free global hub, then, given Canada’s open arms toward overseas students, professionals and other immigrants, the extensive linkages between Canada and Hong Kong will continue to thrive. The multiple networks, cosmopolitan outlook and international exposure that have developed through migration between Hong Kong and Canada, as experienced by many of Hong Kong’s best and brightest, will be essential to Hong Kong’s role in China’s transformation. However, if economic opportunities available in Canada lag behind those in other parts of the Asia–Pacific region, it is possible that there will be a bigger wave of reverse migration among Canadian Hong Kong Chinese, leading to significant losses in the human capital that Canada has built up. It is imperative for Canada to retain the human resources that it has nurtured and benefited from.

44The next chapter in relations between Canada and Hong Kong is unlikely to involve a repetition of the large-scale inflows of the 1980s and 1990s, but may well feature an intensifying of social, economic and cultural exchanges, reinforcing a mutually beneficial relationship whereby Hong Kong enjoys the positive influence of free, tolerant, compassionate, progressive and democratic Canadian values, while Canada benefits from having an edge in its trans-Pacific outreach. Many wish that Hong Kong and the entire Chinese nation could have more true friends like Canada, which has time and again extended its hands across the Pacific as a good partner.

45It is to be hoped that Canadians of Hong Kong origin will leave positive imprints on Canada’s society, politics, culture and economy, and become Canada’s spearhead into Greater China, as human bridges across the Pacific. Their efforts will sustain the multiple connections between Canada and Hong Kong, which form an exceptionally enriching, fruitful and mutually beneficial North American outreach to Asia. By developing its vibrant bonds with Hong Kong, Canada exemplifies transnational partnership and cross-cultural collaboration. Indeed, endowed with unrivalled Hong Kong “assets,” Canada enjoys uniquely privileged and highly effective access to Greater China. Through its potent Hong Kong bonds, Canada is well-positioned to engage and partner with a rising China, whose growing economic might and expanding strategic influence are of global significance. As Prime Minister Stephen Harper said during his visit to Hong Kong in 2009, Hong Kong is definitely Canada’s most important Asian city, and in many ways is also a major Canadian city. Hence, Hong Kong’s special role as a gateway and bridge must not be neglected in discussions of relations between Canada and China. Hong Kong will remain an essential hub through which Canada’s links with mainland China and Greater China will continue to be fostered. The strengthening of the bonds between Canada and Hong Kong, as well as Greater China, will be a vital factor in the 21st century, which will be the Asia–Pacific century.

46Perhaps one day the occupant of 24 Sussex Drive, Ottawa, will be someone of Hong Kong origin. Such a prospect is definitely not an impossible dream, and should constitute an uplifting aspiration for all Asians in Canada. Blessed with a deep reservoir of friendship, buttressed by an impressive repertoire of trans-Pacific bonds, and harbouring versatile talents, generous outreach capacities and noble ideals, Canada should shine as a trusted global partner and cherished old friend, contributing to Greater China’s advancement in the years to come.


47This chapter is a revised and expanded version of the keynote lecture for Asian Heritage Month delivered by the author at the Asian Institute of the University of Toronto on May 29, 2007, marking his thirtieth visit to Canada since December 1966. The author is grateful to Professor Joseph Wong, the Director of the Institute, for the invitation to deliver the lecture, and to Senator Vivienne Poy for her introduction. The author also appreciates the efforts of Prof. Simon Shen, Hong Kong Institute of Education, in providing sources for some reference notes in this essay’s second draft revision in autumn 2009.



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Was born in Hong Kong where he completed high school. He obtained three US degrees, including a Ph D in history from Stanford in 1975 at the age of 25.
He is a visiting fellow, Center for East Asian Studies, Stanford University, where he was Visiting Professor of Chinese History, 1992-93. As a Research Fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution 1999-2008, he ran the Hong Kong Documentary Archives project. During 1980-97, he taught in the History Department, University of Hong Kong, where he was twice elected “Best Teacher” by the Students’ Union. He served as the John Heath Professor at Grinnell College, 2006-07, and the Julian & Virginia Cornell Professor at Swarthmore College, 1993-94. He was also visiting professor at Duke University, Mount Holyoke College, UCLA and El Colegio de Mexico.
Ming Chan has published 12 academic volumes and over 60 articles/book chapters on Chinese history, China- global links, and Hong Kong/Macao studies. He is General Editor of the Hong Kong Becoming China multi-volume series published by M E Sharpe, New York, with 12 titles issued since 1991. His recent books are: Crisis and Transformation in China’s Hong Kong (M.E. Sharpe, 2002); Historical Dictionary of the Hong Kong SAR & the Macao SAR. (Scarecrow Press, 2006); China’s Hong Kong Transformed: Retrospect & Prospects Beyond The First Decade (City University of Hong Kong Press, 2008); and Perspectives on Lingnan Modern History: Guangdong and its Hong Kong Links, 1900-38 (Commercial Press, 2010).
Presented 80 plus papers in international conferences, Ming Chan has lectured at over 90 universities in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia. As an Asian affairs commentator, he is frequently interviewed by television, radio and the printed media, including Canadian newspapers and TV/radio networks. He is a trustee & principal of the Hong Kong Oral History Foundation

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