Trans-Pacific Mobilities: The Chinese and Canada
November 27, 2019
Review By David Ley
This book examines the trans-Pacific mobility of migrants, products, images and ideas as part of the great global diaspora of Chinese people. As China has modernised and globalised, aspects of its self-transformation have been exported to other societies, not least to Canada. The book’s 16 chapters and 27 interdisciplinary authors are ably marshalled and introduced by Lloyd Wong, who has made significant contributions of his own to the study of immigration to Canada from Greater China.
The varied disciplines represented by authors lead to diverse methodologies, from historical analysis, to interviews and surveys, ethnography, media analysis, and the use of large data bases. The contributions are accessible and comprehensible to a general reader. What emerges is a rich and varied series of chapters that include a number of studies of immigrant sub-groups: new immigrants from China (by Eva Xiaoling Li and Peter S. Li), highly skilled migrants (an informative Canada-US comparison by Lucia Lo, Shaolu Yu and Wei Li), ‘techno-immigrants’ (Karl Froschauer and Lloyd Wong), students and permanent residency (Yixi Lu and Li Zong), family members and their spatial dispersal (Eric Fong and Jenny Li), professional women (Guida Man and Elena Chou), adopted children (Sara Dorow), immigrant children in Canada (Yan Zhang and Yan Guo), and a fascinating study of return migrants to Beijing (Shibao Guo). An interesting set of chapters addresses cultural and institutional forms established by the Chinese in Canada: the Chinese-language Fairchild media group (Shuyu Kong), Pacific Mall in suburban Toronto (Ho Hon Leung), and congregations in Hong Kong and Vancouver that meditate on the work of a cultic scholar (Paul Crowe). Marcella Sisqueira Cassiano, Sara Dorow and Heather Schmidt examine mainstream media representations of Chinese investment and labour practices in Alberta.
The collection begins with two expansive historical chapters on the boldly articulated Cantonese Pacific (Henry Yu and Stephanie Chan), which deftly blends spatial scales in its use of network analysis and oral histories, followed by an essay on Chinatowns in Canada, where David Chuenyan Lai adds references to the opium trade and the trans-Pacific repatriation of the bones of deceased Chinese to more familiar examples of immigrant mobilities. The book ends appropriately with Kay Anderson’s insightful revisionist interpretation of the reconfiguration of Sydney’s Chinatown in light of the emergence of a confident, global China.
Lloyd Wong has ambitiously sought to bring coherence to the collection through the mobilities perspective developed by sociologists and geographers, and laid out in his helpful Introduction. Most chapters start by referencing this approach, cross-referencing other chapters, and citing a few authors who have advocated a mobilities perspective (notably John Urry and Tim Cresswell), thereby bringing some success to establishing a common project through the volume. With the emphasis on immigration, however, many chapters then move into the more familiar discourse of transnationalism. In my view, transnationalism with its evocation of cross-border movements of people, trade and cultures within a globalisation meta-narrative provides a richer conceptual language and theoretical object of study than the empirically unspecified notion of mobility. There is a danger too (noted by Lo et al.) in over-identifying mobility and opportunity and overlooking immobility and constraint, when even the experience of skilled migrants can be as restricted as the self-referential language of ‘immigration jail’ suggests.
This collection significantly advances our understanding of the varied experiences of immigration among Chinese arrivals in Canada. Those experiences, shaping their developing sense of identity, are effectively nested within the changing historical and economic contexts of Chinese encounter with Canadian land and society.
Trans-Pacific Mobilities: The Chinese and Canada. Vancouver: UBC Press, 2017, 361pp. $34.95 paper.