‘In Vancouver, there are lots of kids of corrupt Chinese officials. Here, they can flaunt their money’
Andy Guo, an 18-year-old Chinese immigrant, loves driving his red Lamborghini Huracán. He does not love having to share the car with his twin brother, Anky.
“There’s a lot of conflict,” Andy Guo said, as a crowd of admirers gazed at the vehicle and its vanity licence plate, “CTGRY 5,” short for the most catastrophic type of hurricane.
The $360,000 car was a gift last year from their father, who travels back and forth between Vancouver and China’s northern Shanxi province and made his fortune in coal, said Andy Guo, an economics major at the University of British Columbia.
The car is more fashion than function. “I have a backpack, textbooks and laundry, but I can’t fit everything inside,” he lamented. And that is not the worst of it. “A cop once pulled me over just to look at the car,” he said.
China’s rapid economic rise has turned peasants into billionaires. Many wealthy Chinese are increasingly eager to stow their families — and their riches — in the West, where rule of law, clean air and good schools offer peace of mind, especially for those looking to escape scrutiny from the Communist Party and an anti-corruption campaign that has sent hundreds of the rich and powerful to jail.
With its relatively weak currency and welcoming immigration policies, Canada has become a top destination for China’s 1 percenters. According to government figures, from 2005 to 2012, at least 37,000 Chinese millionaires took advantage of a now-defunct immigrant investor program to become permanent residents of British Columbia. The metropolitan area of 2.3 million is home to increasing numbers of ethnic-Chinese residents, who made up more than 18 per cent of the population in 2011, up from less than 7 per cent in 1981, according to government figures.
Many residents say the flood of Chinese capital has caused an affordable housing crisis. Vancouver is the most expensive city in Canada to buy a home, according to a 2016 survey by the consulting firm Demographia. The average price of a detached house in greater Vancouver more than doubled from 2005 to 2015, to about $1.6 million, according to the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver.
Residents angry about the rise of rich foreign real estate buyers and absentee owners, particularly from China, have begun protests on social media, including a #DontHave1Million Twitter campaign. The provincial government agreed this year to begin tracking foreign ownership of real estate in response to demands from local politicians.
The anger has had little effect on the gilded lives of Vancouver’s wealthy Chinese. Indeed, to the newcomers for whom money is no object, the next purchase after a house is usually a car, and then a few more.
A large number of luxury car dealerships here employ Chinese staff, a testament to the spending power of the city’s newest residents. In 2015, there were 2,500 cars worth more than $150,000 registered in metropolitan Vancouver, up from 1,300 in 2009, according to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia.
Many of Vancouver’s young supercar owners are known as fuerdai, a Mandarin expression, akin to trust-fund kids, that means “rich second generation.” In China, where the superrich are widely criticized as being corrupt and materialistic, the term provokes a mix of scorn and envy.
The fuerdai have brought their passion for extravagance to Vancouver. White Lamborghinis are popular among young Chinese women; the men often turn in their leased supercars after a few months for a newer, cooler status symbol.
Hundreds of young Chinese immigrants, along with a handful of Canadian-born Chinese, have started supercar clubs whose members come together to drive, modify and photograph their flashy vehicles, providing alluring eye candy for their followers on social media.
The Vancouver Dynamic Auto Club has 440 members, 90 per cent of whom are from China, said the group’s 27-year-old founder, David Dai. To join, a member must have a car that costs more than $100,000.
“They don’t work,” Dai said of Vancouver’s fuerdai. “They just spend their parents’ money.”
“In Vancouver, there are lots of kids of corrupt Chinese officials,” said Shi Yi, 27, the owner of Luxury Motor, a car dealership that caters to affluent Chinese. “Here, they can flaunt their money.”