By Kenny Zhang, Guangwei Ouyang, and Lu Chan
Wong, a Cantonese and Hakka romanization of the popular Chinese surname Huang, originated in the Huang Kingdom of China in 704-648 BC. In recent times, it has spread across Southeast Asia, North America, and other continents through centuries of chain migration.
Many overseas Chinese have kept a tradition of self-identifying as descendants of the Yan and Huang emperors.
When the phrase “every overseas Chinese is a warrior against the pandemic” was manipulated by a 2020 news report—intentionally or unintentionally—into "every overseas Chinese is a warrior", Wong was seen as "wrong".
Such a news thread has been evolving step by step into an alleged “warrior theory” by producing “detective stories”. These tales regularly rely on shadowy unnamed sources rather than standing as investigative reports that can be replicated by other reporters.
This "warrior theory" is being advanced by stereotypical narratives rather than logical reasoning and by following the path of political extremism rather than objective journalism. This is wrong.
From the simple fact that many overseas Chinese, including some from Canada, donated or helped purchase an unimaginable amount of personal protective equipment (PPE) for their loved ones in China for humanitarian care and support during an unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak, fans of the “warrior theory” derived that all overseas Chinese are warriors of the United Front Work Department (UFWD) of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).
And by using their creative imagination to insert many false assumptions, exciting and horrifying “detective stories” are then produced.
Even if stockpiling PPE was the Chinese Communist Party's strategy and even if it were organized by UFWD, there is still a distinguishing line that could be possibly drawn between humanitarian aid and political operations, or between individual spontaneous efforts and organized activities. The “warrior theory” conflates all of this.
The theory’s flawed syllogism goes on: the UFWD represents the evil CCP government; some Chinese Canadian community organizations and their members are seemingly involved in the UFWD efforts in Canada; and therefore, those Chinese Canadians are deemed to be foreign agents—national security threats to Canada—and part of an organized criminal network operating in Canada, as a 2021 book subtitle suggests.
The theory’s slippery slope is a classic case of the fallacies of reasoning.
Fans of the “warrior theory” stand firmly against Beijing. If one disagrees with them, this person must be pro-Beijing.
In the same vein, if someone holds a similar view as Beijing’s on any random topic, this person must be an agent of Beijing. This reasoning makes people wonder if these fans took a course in logic taught by an art teacher, willfully brushing white, black, red, or yellow together to create colour blindness.
The theory’s impaired logical argument further goes off into the far extreme. In its view, attacking overseas Chinese in Canada or elsewhere becomes a means of attacking China and its CCP. Thus, attacking overseas Chinese is not racism.
When immigrants from China or around the world prepared for the Canadian citizenship test, they learned and embraced Canada’s democratic principles and fundamental characteristics of Canadian heritage and identity, such as the rule of law; freedom of thought, belief, opinion, and expression; and multiculturalism, along with many other Canadianisms.
It is not clear if the author of the “warrior theory” has ever passed the citizenship test, but the half-cooked theory obviously missed many blind spots, as he failed to do a shoulder-check.
In a country with the rule of law, it is not a journalist, nor a politician, but only a judge or jury who can convict suspected individuals or groups of being criminals.
Calling out names of Chinese Canadians as being part of a criminal network without a proper judicial proceeding is far beyond the discipline and ethical standard of basic journalism. Let alone if it is in line with the spirit of the Canadian Constitution.
Equally important, in a country upholding human rights and freedom, it is a sacred right for individuals to have freedom of speech, regardless of whether it is pro-Beijing, against Beijing, or somewhere in between.
A quote often attributed to the French philosopher Voltaire (but actually written by one of his biographers to reflect his thinking) declares: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
The “warrior theory” and its fans have every reason and every right to dislike the CCP or attack Beijing, but they definitely have no single reason nor any right to stop others from expressing different and independent views unless prohibited by Canadian laws.
When the “warrior theory” was cooked up, many Canadians of Chinese heritage—including those who were born in Canada, moved to Canada at a time before the founding of PRC or came from sources other than People's Republic of China—were frightened and outraged.
This time, instead of always remaining silent, many members of the Chinese community spoke out to defend their rights and freedom. They protested such nonsense in Canadian ways, including signing online petitions, writing letters to the editor, publishing commentaries in newspapers, and seeking legal aid to hold the author accountable to Journalism 101.
More importantly, in a country where diversity is celebrated and differences are respected, personal characteristics such as one’s skin colour, ethnic surname, and emotional tie to the place of origin is not a sign of doing anything wrong, but an indication of being a member of a big multicultural family.
Seeing the Chinese Canadian community’s protests, fans of the “warrior theory” turned this upside down, suggesting those demonstrations were mobilized by the CCP trying to shut up the Canadian journalists. They went on to investigate individuals participating in the protests, including other Canadian journalists who had criticized the theory, attempting to make up another story of them being secret agents of CCP in Canada.
The “warrior theory” seems so comfortable and enjoyable riding to victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny: Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry, and Smear.
It's unfair to say that the “warrior theory” specializes in attacking all overseas Chinese. In fact, it is also good at praising selected ones who are like-minded fans, including some with anglicized Chinese names.
In a controversial 2015 study of housing transactions, a researcher with an anglicized Chinese name specifically isolated “non-anglicized Chinese” names (romanized in the way of the PRC) listed on land titles. Among his findings were that 66 percent of the buyers of the 172 homes in the study had names spelled in the way used in the PRC.
This suggested to the public that they were likely recent arrivals from mainland China. 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.
The foreign ownership study was released when housing prices were soaring, and politicians and media were rushing for a quick answer to respond to the public outcry.
The foreign buyer was an easy target. Using the “non-anglicized Chinese name” as a proxy, it was creative thinking, for good or bad, because at the time no real data was available reporting foreign buyers in the B.C. housing market.
No wonder this study was praised by fans of the “warrior theory” as “fearless”.
Fearless of what? While some community groups criticized the foreign ownership study as racist, the author was fearless in defending his questionable methodology.
Despite the small sample of 172 homes in a few blocks on Vancouver's West Side, the proxy of “Chinese buyers”—advanced by the media based on anglicized or non-anglicized Chinese names—had serious flaws and limitations.
Here is why. The coauthors of this article, Lu Chan and Guangwei Ouyang, would be classified as “non-anglicized Chinese" names but Kenny Zhang would be considered an “anglicized Chinese" name, if things were that sample.
Opposite to the way this ownership study was widely interpreted, both Chan and Ouyang came to Canada in 1986 whereas Zhang came to Vancouver in 2000.
By the time of this infamous ownership study, the two with non-anglicized Chinese names had been in Canada for 29 years and the latter had called Vancouver home for 15 years. None of them was a newer immigrant, nor a foreigner.
Arguably, the three names of this article's coauthors are a tiny example that may not accurately represent an entire population. That is exactly why we would expect the author to update his pioneering but outdated ownership study by adding more samples, perhaps by including surnames such as Einstein, Mohammed, Singh, or Suzuki, if he is serious about this subject.
This is the kind of evidence that the “warrior theory” uses in its narratives scapegoating a Canadian community with the surnames of “Zhao, Qian, Sun, or Li”—the most popular family names representing public people in Chinese literature. As such, the theory tries to prove being Wong means wrong.
MP embraces warrior theory
The “warrior theory” also has many high-profile fans. People remember that just over a year ago, a rookie member of Parliament (MP), then running for the leadership of the Conservative party, released a video 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, who was born in Hong Kong, was “working for Canada or working for China”.
Ironically, this MP, then in the caucus of the Official Opposition, listed the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and the CCP together as his objects of opposition on his Twitter feed. This came when international collaboration was widely accepted as critically important for every nation in responding to the pandemic.
That was apart from his groundless accusation about Dr. Tam based on her Chinese surname.
It is no wonder this MP’s attack on Tam drew backfire. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau declared that “intolerance and racism have no place in our country.” Even his Conservative caucus mates described this kind of attack as “outrageous”, “embarrassing”, and “garbage".
Clearly, any disagreement over “warrior theory” is not an argument if it is right or wrong to be against the CCP. Nor is it an argument about whether there are or aren’t secret agents of CCP in Canada.
Rather, it's to argue if it is right or wrong to accuse every overseas Chinese of being a warrior of the CCP.
If anyone had told us that such “detective stories”, stereotyped narratives, and political extremism would have nothing to do with recent rising anti-Asian racism and resurgence of McCarthyism, we would have called that man an idiot who is losing his sight, losing his mind, and losing his wisdom.
Historically, the settlement of Chinese immigrants in Canada can be traced back to the late 18th century, long before Canadian Confederation in 1867. Over the centuries, waves of Chinese immigrants sought their livelihoods in this country to avoid wars, famines, horrors of personal attacks, or lack of freedom in their regions of birth under different regimes.
Many immigrants from China could have enjoyed a peaceful life here as they knew that this is a land of prosperity and hope, which is safeguarded by the rule of law.
They could also have kept their peace of mind because they've learned that this is a society where no one deserves to live in fear or danger because of their skin colour, their rooted family names or their emotional ties to where their heritage originates.
They could even have achieved peace of heart as they embraced the belief that this is a community in which every member lives equally and respects each other.
But on that day when they saw the shaking weak body of a 92-year-old senior pushed onto the ground, and when they saw such a tiny young girl knocked down to the street, they were seized with fear.
On those days when they heard the endless slurs of "f--- you Chinese," or “go back China,” and when they had seen this repeated hate graffiti in Chinatown, they were seized with anger.
On that day when they read the news that Vancouver was named the anti-Asian hate crime capital of North America, and when they had watched footage of leftover coffee being thrown in a shop manager’s face, they were seized with despair.
Canada is a land of hope.
Love All Your Neighbours, a message taken from the Bible, is an art piece created by local artist Jocelyn Wong during the 2020 Vancouver Mural Festival.
Wong’s mural comes as a heartfelt reminder—being Wong is not wrong.
Let’s embrace love not hatred, harmony not calumny, and hope not horror.