Chinese diversity reflected in the country's real-estate buyers
After billionaire Li Ka-shing bought Vancouver’s former Expo site in the late 1980s, local media outlets were full of reports about a sharp increase in immigration and investment from Hong Kong.
Some stories mentioned that Chinese property buyers avoided addresses ending in four because when this number is spoken in Cantonese, it resembles the word for death. Conversely, the number eight was reportedly cherished because of its similarity to the word for wealth in Cantonese.
There were also tales about how immigrant buyers from Hong Kong were heavily influenced by feng shui, an ancient Chinese system for designing buildings in a way that promotes a favourable flow of energy.
More than 20 years later, immigration from mainland China exceeds the number of people coming to Vancouver from Hong Kong. And according to Richmond real-estate agent Angel Shu, people from other parts of China don’t always share the beliefs of those in the southern part of the country.
Shu was born in the eastern Chinese province of Jiangsu, which is near Shanghai, and her parents were from Beijing. In an interview at a Richmond restaurant, she tells the Georgia Straight of a businessman from Shandong province who was making a large mining investment in Canada. According to Shu, he didn’t buy into any superstitions about numbers.
“He actually liked the number four,” she says.
As for feng shui, Shu says most mainland Chinese aren’t that knowledgeable about this. But they may pretend to be aware of it if it prevents a loss of face.
Shu once worked in finance in Shenzhen, which is in the southern province of Guangdong, where Cantonese used to be the dominant language. That’s changing with the large influx of Mandarin speakers in recent years. Mandarin is the official national language, but there are enormous cultural differences between provinces, which often have populations larger those of many countries.
For instance, she maintains that people from her home province, Jiangsu, are more likely to focus on education. She says that home buyers who come to Canada from this area are likely to be keenly interested in the quality of the neighbourhood school.
She suggests that this is also true for many buyers from northern China, where she says people tend to prefer discussing politics rather than business. Purchasers from southern China—including Fujian, Zhejiang, and Guangdong provinces—are more apt to focus on a luxurious lifestyle, according to Shu.
“You have to study Chinese consumers’ habits,” she advises. “Most Chinese people come to Canada because they think western countries’ lifestyles are better.”
In early December, Shu helped organize an event at Tojo’s Restaurant to introduce prospective Chinese buyers to the new Trump International Hotel & Tower in downtown Vancouver. It’s targeting an upscale clientele; a marketing video links the project with high-profile brands like Mercedes.
Shu says that mainland Chinese are more likely than westerners to appreciate high-profile brands. She attributes this to mainland Chinese immigrants’ willingness to copy others’ choices because they haven’t been exposed to as many consumer goods in their lifetimes. In addition, new Chinese immigrants aren’t always very familiar with western ways, leading them to copy others to avoid embarrassment.
Shu points out that mainland Chinese only started becoming wealthy in the 1990s as the country’s economy experienced rapid growth. She says this explains why most mainland Chinese real-estate buyers in the Lower Mainland are between 35 and 55 years old.
“Thirty years ago, people’s clothes in China only had three colours—blue, grey, and green,” she says with a smile.
Meanwhile, Shu says, a new term has become incredibly popular in China—tuhao—and it mocks those who show off their wealth in vulgar ways. She reveals that mainland Chinese never like to think of themselves as tuhao, which can roughly be translated as “local tyrant”. But, she adds with a chuckle, they’re sometimes quick to label others in this way.
As for her, she says: “I’m not tuhao! People from Jiangsu are not tuhao.”