As a Canadian of Chinese descent, I have always felt proud of my heritage and my home place in Canadian society. However, in recent years, I have become increasingly aware of the Sinophobia sentiment and sensational (social)media harassment that the Chinese community in Canada has been facing. The phrase “You’re Wong, but you’re not wrong” takes on a new meaning in this context, reminding us that our experiences and perspectives are often dismissed or invalidated because of our ancestral surnames.
Wong, a Cantonese and Hakka romanization of the famous Chinese surname Huang, originated in the Huang Kingdom of China in 704-648 BC. Over the centuries, Wong’s family has spread across Southeast Asia, North America, and other continents through chain migration. In some regions, “Wong” is one of the most common Chinese surnames.
Nevertheless, such a non-Anglicized Chinese name is increasingly seen by some as a cause of wrongs.
A controversial 2015 study of housing transactions “discovered” that 66 percent of the buyers of the 172 homes in the study had names spelled in the way used in the People’s Republic of China. This suggested to the public that they were likely those from PRC, not Canadians. That led to media reports arguing that people from China had pushed housing prices to an unaffordable level. With such overgeneralizations about “foreigner buyers” weaponized against a community with Chinese surnames, they had found a scapegoat.
Another scapegoat was found when COVID-19 was an outbreak. Let alone a politician’s rhetoric of the “China virus,” the media has played a role in perpetuating these stereotypes with sensationalist headlines and racist caricatures. A gifted storyteller derived a grafted translation that “every overseas Chinese is a warrior of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).” This narrative was based on the simple fact that many overseas Chinese worldwide, including many from Canada, donated or helped ship an unimaginable amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) to their loved ones in China for humanitarian care and support. Similar phenomena of Chinese Canadians participating in humanitarian care and support were observed when Ukrainian brothers and sisters suffered in the war zone and Turkish and Syrian friends were impacted by the earthquakes.
Scapegoats are not limited to those from Mainland China. People remember that a rookie member of Parliament (MP), then running for the Conservative party’s leadership, released a video on social media attacking Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam, declaring that she was “parroting” misinformation about COVID-19. This MP asked if Dr. Tam, a Hong Kong-born and U.K.-educated health expert, was “working for Canada or working for China.”
Such witch-hunting has recently entered the democratic participation of Canadians of Chinese descent. Based on publicly unavailable information, some folks in the media and politicians alleged that CCP targeted Chinese Canadians through foreign influence operations. They cherry-picked elected officials or unelected candidates with Chinese surnames as examples of such influences.
A long-time Ontario politician has been targeted by the media and their internal-only-and-friendly sources of information as a case of disloyal citizens and enemy aliens for over a decade. No RCMP charges have been laid against him. A Richmond-based former MP has endlessly cried out that his 2021 defeat resulted from misinformation on China-based social media that influenced some Chinese-surnamed voters’ decisions. No Election Canada conclusion announced that his seat was stolen. An outspoken senator representing B.C. has been labeled as a CCP agent in Canada whenever he speaks out on issues crucial for Canada concerning international relations. He has been repeatedly targeted by one of the famous slurs, “go back China,” on social(media). No China’s household registration record can be found about him.
All wrongs have gotten one thing in common, a Chinese surname. Wong becomes wrong. With such, Sinophobia sentiment seems so comfortable and enjoyable riding to victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny: fear, ignorance, bigotry, and smear against Canadians of Chinese descent.
This is wrong. The Sinophobia sentiment and social(media) harassment are developed and advanced by stereotypical narratives rather than objective and balanced information and logical reasoning. Taking the above PPE case as an example, even if stockpiling PPE were organized by UFWD, there is still a distinguishing line that could be drawn between humanitarian aid and political operations, as well as between individual spontaneous efforts and organized activities. Some media conflates all of this intentionally or unintentionally.
This is wrong as their flawed syllogism goes on: the UFWD represents the enemy and evil CCP government; some Chinese Canadian community organizations and their members are seemingly involved in the UFWD activities in Canada; and therefore, those Chinese Canadians are deemed to be CCP agents—national security threats to Canada.
This is wrong as their slippery slope is a classic case of the fallacies of reasoning. They claim to stand firmly against Beijing. If one disagrees with them, this person must be pro-Beijing. Similarly, if someone holds a similar view as Beijing’s on any random topic, this person must be an agent of Beijing.
This is wrong as their flawed logical argument further goes off into the far extreme. In their view, attacking the Chinese community in Canada becomes a means of attacking China and the CCP. Thus, attacking Chinese Canadians is not racism.
Those media and politicians may argue that they must defend freedom of speech as one of Canadian values and principles. However, calling out Chinese ancestral surnames linked to issues like a high-altitude balloon in public spaces may have intended or unintended consequences that confuse the general public. If well-educated and well-informed journalists, or respectful elected and un-elected politicians cannot figure out who is Hu, it is really easier for average Canadians to count atoms than to differentiate Wong and Wrong.
Freedom of speech is equally critical for Chinese Canadians who have the right to speak out or not to speak out on any random topics, and have the right to agree or disagree on them. Don’t forget, what Franklin Roosevelt insisted was that everyone was entitled to four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. It is wrong saying the freedom of speech but turning willfully blind to other freedoms.
It is important to recognize and confront Sinophobia’s sentimental and social(media) harassment against the Chinese community in Canada. These attitudes and actions are rooted in racism and prejudice and have no place in a diverse and inclusive society. This has led to fears of foreign influence and the perception of Chinese Canadians as a threat to Canadian sovereignty. These fears have been amplified by some politicians and media, who often use Sinophobia rhetoric to appeal to their base.
It is up to all of us to challenge these stereotypes and stand up for the rights and freedoms of Chinese Canadians. As we know when the “Chinese Exclusion Act” was enacted 100 years ago, all ethnic Chinese were excluded regardless of whether their surname was Zhao, Qian, Sun or Li, whether they come from Lu Jia Zui or Tsim Sha Tsui, whether they are followers of Liberalism, Conservatism or in-between.
By challenging stereotypes and advocating for cultural awareness and understanding, we can create a more inclusive and accepting society. Remember, I’m Wong, not wrong, and my experiences and perspectives are just as valid as anyone else’s.
(By Ban Zhang, a Vancouver-based writer. Guangwei Ouyang has a Ph.D. and is a retired professor based in New Westminster. Lu Chan is a Burnaby-based immigration lawyer. All are proud Canadians. This article is updated and shortened from an original piece that appeared on Georgia Straight, on June 20th, 2021.)
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