Researcher reveals Asian diversity


Greater Vancouver has North America's highest percentage of residents of Chinese descent, according to research conducted by a UCLA doctoral student. Andrew Yan, a former Vancouver resident now enrolled in UCLA's department of urban planning, told the Georgia Straight that Chinese Canadians formed 16 percent of the regional population in 2001, which vastly exceeds the percentages in New York, San Francisco, Toronto, and Los Angeles.

From 1991 to 2001, he said, the number of Greater Vancouver residents who referred to themselves as "Chinese only" in the census grew by 86 percent, from 167,420 to 312,180. There were 342,665 who self-identified as Chinese, which included people of mixed heritage.

"We see that 80 percent of the Chinese population in [Greater] Vancouver is foreign-born," Yan said. "And only about 20 percent of the population of Chinese Canadians in Greater Vancouver is born in Canada."

He noted that the percentage of foreign-born Chinese is about 10 percent lower in other large cities with sizable Asian populations. Yan also said that there has been a remarkable geographic dispersal of Chinese Canadians across the Lower Mainland over the past two decades. In the 2001 census, the population of Chinese Canadians outside the City of Vancouver surpassed the number living within the city for the first time. Within the population as a whole, this change occurred in 1961.

In 2001, Vancouver was still home to 47 percent of the region's Chinese Canadians. However, Yan said that Richmond had a higher proportion of Chinese Canadian residents, with 36 percent compared to 27 percent in Vancouver. In Burnaby, 24 percent of the population was of Chinese descent in 2001, compared with 16 percent in Coquitlam and four percent in Surrey.

Yan said one of the least-reported stories has been the sharp increase in the number of people of Asian descent living in the Westwood Plateau area of Coquitlam. Between 1991 and 2001, the number more than tripled from 7,205 to 23,600. The number of Koreans in the neighbourhood rose 80-fold from 25 to 2,015 over the same period, whereas the number of people of Chinese descent increased from 1,625 to 8,795. There were also increases in the number of people of Japanese, Filipino, and South Asian heritage in the Westwood Plateau.

"The interesting story is the development of a pan-Asian suburb that will look and feel different from what we see in Richmond and the City of Vancouver," Yan said.

He emphasized that there is tremendous diversity within the region's Chinese Canadian community. Approximately 20 percent were born in Canada, which is lower than other North American cities with large Asian populations. Another 32 percent were born in Hong Kong, though he added that immigration from there has dropped significantly since the former British colony was returned to China in 1997. Another 23 percent came from "eastern and southeastern Asia", which includes Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia. China is the next-largest contributor of foreign-born Chinese Canadians at five percent, followed by Vietnam at two percent and the Philippines at one percent.

Yan said that approximately 51 percent of Chinese Canadian adults over the age of 25 have some postsecondary education. He pointed out that this is in the same statistical range as the general population. Another 31 percent of Chinese Canadian adults did not graduate from high school, which compares with 25 percent of society as a whole.

"You see a population that has a clear high rate of postsecondary education," Yan said, "but also, to a certain proportion, has a number of those who did not complete high school."

Yan's data revealed a relatively low proportion of seniors of Chinese descent, which he attributed in part to Canada's racist immigration legislation during the first half of the 20th century. Beginning in 1903, people immigrating to Canada from China were required to pay a $500 head tax. From 1923 to 1947, the federal government virtually banned all Chinese immigration to Canada with the Chinese Exclusion Act.

He said that 26 percent of Chinese Canadian seniors are living under Statistics Canada's "Low Income Cut-off". Statistics Canada defines the LICO as the level below which people live in "straitened circumstances". Families falling below the LICO spend more than 54.7 percent of their gross incomes on food, shelter, and clothing.

Yan added that one in two Chinese Canadian children are living at below the LICO, compared with one in four children in the general population. After making adjustments for home ownership, Yan said that the LICO rate for Chinese Canadians is "essentially equal".

"Chinese Canadians are not necessarily as well off as many people think," Yan noted.

He added that the median income of Chinese Canadians was $15,000 in 2001, compared with $23,000 for all residents in the region. However, he warned that these numbers should be interpreted cautiously because people may be underreporting incomes.

Yan said he has received help from SFU's Institute of Governance Studies, UBC's history department, and the Chinese Canadian Historical Society of British Columbia.