Hong Kong extradition bill
Get more with myNEWS
A personalised news feed of stories that matter to you
Learn more
Kevin Huang, head of the Hua Foundation in Canada. Photo: Supplied

‘A Chinese kind of democracy’: why young Chinese-Canadians in Vancouver support Hong Kong’s anti-extradition bill protests

  • Not all of them have connections to Hong Kong, but they see the protests as a means of activism to seek democracy that is ‘not framed in a Western way’
  • But other ethnic Chinese people in Vancouver insist Hong Kong affairs are an internal matter for China
On the same day an open letter supporting anti-extradition bill protests in Hong Kong appeared in Canada’s English-language press, an advert praising tough police action on demonstrators appeared in two of the country’s Chinese-language newspapers.

The letter, published on June 21 in the Toronto Star, was signed by a group of 20 young people in Vancouver who described themselves as “young social change advocates” belonging to the “Asian Diaspora for Hong Kong”.

Many of the signatories said they had deep ties to Hong Kong and feared the bill – which would allow the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions the city does not have an extradition agreement with, including mainland China – would make it unsafe for them to visit the territory. “We fear that future generations of children of the diaspora will lose their connection to their families and ancestral homeland,” the letter said.

The inside story of Lam’s bid to push through extradition bill

Meanwhile, in the Vancouver and Toronto editions of the Sing Tao and Ming Pao newspapers, an ad paid for by different chapters of the Chinese Benevolent Association (CBA) across Canada read: “The affairs of Hong Kong are the internal matters of China … We oppose any intervention by any foreign forces.”

The two statements have showcased ideological rifts within Vancouver’s community of 411,000 ethnic Chinese residents, that may not be drawn along the lines of birthplace, language and culture.

Jun Ing, vice-president of the Chinese Benevolent Association. Photo: Handout

Jun Ing, the Vancouver-based vice-president of the CBA, said the protests had divided the Chinese community and some had complained the ad was intimidating.

But Ing, who was born on mainland China but grew up in Hong Kong, said based on what he observed of protesters’ actions and the police response, “both sides have to take responsibility”.

“I am so far away so I don’t have first-hand information but think that the students are instigating [mischief],” said Ing, an engineer in his 60s.

“To me it stops the city, the economy and deters tourists from coming to the city. I think it’s doing more damage than good.”

To Kevin Huang, co-founder of a Vancouver-based NGO to promote cultural heritage and social change, those who signed the letter were driven by a real fear of losing their connection to Hong Kong.

“A lot [of us] want to visit, still have family and want to reconnect with Hong Kong … the letter speaks to a generation’s fight for what our future should look like,” said Huang, the 33-year-old executive director of the Hua Foundation.


Dora Ng, one of the signatories of the open letter, said the implications of the bill were worrying.

“Any kind of infringement on the identity of Hong Kong is concerning to me,” the 31-year-old said. “Everybody worries about the potential implications of this extradition bill.”

What’s to stop Hong Kong blending in to Beijing? Nothing

But CBA’s Ing said he did not believe all Vancouver youth with ties to Hong Kong felt the same way as the letter’s signatories. And in the same way, not all members of the CBA supported the ad, he pointed out.


“I am in contact with younger generation because I teach martial arts, and I would say almost half of them have roots in Hong Kong,” Ing said.

“They generally don’t talk about it, don’t think it’s an issue, don’t have a position one way or another. These are the young people I am dealing with.”


Ethnic Chinese began settling in Canada in the late 1700s, when they entered the country mostly as labourers.


Since the 1950s, more skilled and wealthy migrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, mainland China and Southeast Asia have flowed in, largely settling in the Toronto and Vancouver areas.

There was a spike in Hong Kong-born migrants in the 1970s and 1980s, especially after Britain agreed to hand Hong Kong back to China in 1997. In recent years, China has been among the top sources of immigrants.

The 2016 census showed that in metro Vancouver for example, there were 188,865 people born in mainland China, 71,520 in Hong Kong and 37,425 in Taiwan.

From Singapore to Manila, how Asia sees Hong Kong protests

Yves Tibergien, a professor and director emeritus of the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia, said Vancouver residents who support the protests were likely to be of the first wave of Hong Kong immigrants, who left the city after Beijing’s 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, when troops fired on student-led pro-democracy protesters.

“Anyone whose link to Hong Kong [is through] family who left because of Tiananmen will feel threatened by the extradition treaty … Their fear was that the system and way of life in Hong Kong would be eroded; they don’t trust mainland China,” he said.

“My observation is that the sentiments from people of Hong Kong origin [is not shared by] people who come from the mainland. Those two groups react differently.”

A Vancouver resident born in mainland China, who did not want to be named, said Hongkongers “identify with the West, but live in the East”.

“It’s hard for mainlanders to understand this – you need a lot of empathy. You can’t miss what you never experienced,” he said in reference to Hong Kong’s rule of law, which it maintains under the “one country, two systems” model by which Beijing governs the city.

The view from Singapore: Hong Kong is a city tearing itself apart

Chris Chien, a doctoral candidate at the University of Southern California specialising in Hong Kong history and settler colonialism, said some members of the Hong Kong diaspora have sought to differentiate themselves from other ethnic Chinese migrants, especially those from the mainland, who have been seen as “boorish members of the new money aristocracy”.

“All of these emotions [can also] play a part in explaining why Hong Kong-Canadians feel a sense of solidarity with people in Hong Kong, and why participation in Canadian anti-extradition protests have been so energetic.”

But not all of the 20 people who signed the letter did it solely for reasons of cultural affiliation.

“Not everybody [in our group] may feel invested in the cultural identity of the Hongkonger,” said Dora Ng, who added they were invested in the democratic movement behind the protest.

The letter also described the group as “immigrant settlers” of the Asian diaspora, a result of generations of people moving from “our ancestral homelands in Asia to the indigenous lands that we now inhabit”, and this meant they had taken part in colonialism and been granted the privilege of freedom of speech. So they had to “use their privilege to speak truth to power and for justice”, the signatories said.

Chris Chien, doctoral student at the University of Southern California. Photo: Handout

Chien said it reflected how Vancouver’s liberal values had shaped the perspectives of some Chinese-Canadians.

“I think there’s some Canadian exceptionalism at play,” he said. “As a prosperous, liberal democracy, Canada as a nation often sees itself as a moral guide on the world stage, especially in contrast to the US.”

Chien also highlighted there were underlying frustrations driving the protests in Hong Kong, and Chinese-Canadians wanting to amplify the voices in the territory should be mindful of that.

“Many [younger] Chinese-Canadians are often unaware of the long-standing problems in Hong Kong that predate or have nothing to do with the current tensions with the mainland,” he said.

Hong Kong extradition law protests: is this a colour revolution?

“Housing, mental health, elderly poverty, as well as the indentured servitude of ethnic migrant workers are all issues that have roots in capitalist inequality, something that both Hong Kong elites and the mainland contribute to,” Chien said.

Ng said the group wanted to show their support of the “incredible democratic spirit” in Hong Kong, given the perception that “Chinese people are inherently conservative, pro-police and pro-government”.

“With all the democratic movements happening, why do we feel so connected to this one? We see a kind of hope for activism and democracy that is not just framed in a Western way, but we can have a real Chinese kind of democracy … a democracy that is still culturally ours.”

Connect with us on Twitter and Facebook

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: fugitive bill opens vancouver rift