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 province that includes Vancouver.
The metropolitan area of 2.3 million is home to increasing numbers of ethnic-Chinese residents, who made up more than 18 percent of the population in 2011, up from less than 7 percent 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 Canadian dollars ($1.2 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. …
“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.”
Some Chinese immigrants think a supercar is a poor investment, because its value decreases over time. “Better to spend half a million dollars on two expensive watches or some diamonds,” said Diana Wang, 23, a University of British Columbia graduate student who said she owned more than 30 Chanel bags and a $200,000 diamond-encrusted Richard Mille watch. …
Four years ago, to learn the value of money after her friends criticized her spending habits, Ms. Wang spent three days on the streets of Vancouver, playing homeless. She said she had left her mansion with no phone, identification or wallet, wearing Victoria’s Secret pajamas and $1,000 Chanel shoes.
While in voluntary poverty, she lined up for donated food and felt the sting of humiliation after she was kicked out of a Tim Horton’s fast-food restaurant for falling asleep at a table. The experiment, she said, gave her a new appreciation for her parents’ financial support.
“Before that experience, I never looked at a price tag,” she said. “Now I do.”