According to their website, the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) is “one of Canada’s biggest banks, and one of the largest in the world based on market capitalization.” Their influence can be seen through their ongoing campaign, catchingly titled “What’s Your Money Up To?”. In this campaign, RBC probes their audience to consider investing their money with the bank through an appeal to the viewer’s sense of logos: if you save money with us, we’ll help you save enough to achieve your life goals; to go on the vacation of your dreams. This message is encapsulated through the advertisement above, which was—again—taken from their website. The same iteration of the advertisement can also be seen in various buses in Metro Vancouver.
In this ad, RBC emphasizes the value of financial investment as a gateway to accessing personal, leisure expenses by juxtaposing the local Chinatown with the exotic, grander allure of China. This comparison is a clear invocation of the viewer’s desires to travel—a privilege that is accessible not only to those who belong to a certain class, but those who possess the freedom of mobility as well. Furthermore, this comparison explicitly reduces these two locations as merely “trips,” one of which is inferior to the other. The reduction of both Chinatown and China into travel locations ignores the long and complicated histories of both communities at large, and in particular, this ad erases the ways in which the Chinese community in Canada have been pushed into the margins—not only politically and socially, but geographically as well. In other words, Vancouver’s Chinatown is a physical manifestation of over a century of hardships faced by the Chinese in Canada. The implications that Chinatown is not only a place for a “nice trip,” but also an inferior and inauthentic version of China is thus, quite frankly, insulting, racist, and rooted in western orientalist fantasies.
(To view the full size version of the “Local Effects” and “Global Effects” images, as well as the original images used to Photoshop together, please click here.)
In my jammed of this ad, I wanted to call into question the orientalist implications put forth by RBC’s comparison of Chinatown with China. I replaced the drawing of “Chinatown” with a photograph of Shanghai Alley after the 1907 Race Riots, taken from the Vancouver Archives. On September 7, 1907, the Asiatic Exclusion League staged a parade to call for an end to Asian immigration to Canada. A total of eight to nine thousand whites gathered for this event, with the crowds eventually marching into Chinatown, where they violently destroyed the property and store windows (Yee, p. 28). Although it is impossible to denote the complexities of Chinese Canadian history through only a singular image, I used archival footage to illustrate a particularly significant marker of racialized violence—which was by no means the first nor the last occurrence of anti-Chinese violence—in Vancouver’s history.
In addition, I used Photoshop to overlay portions of the present-day Wing Sang building, as seen in the neon-light artwork that spells out “Everything Will Be Alright” and in the lit windows showing off a brick wall. For some context, the Wing Sang building is the oldest building in Chinatown (Yee, p. 36) but is currently owned as an art gallery space by Bob Rennie, who bought the building in 2004 and renovated it “for personal use” (Maschaykh, 2018). Bob Rennie serves as one of the many examples of the ongoing gentrification that is taking place in Chinatown. In integrating these two images together, I hope to remind the viewer that while the overt displays of racism by white Canada from 1907 may not be as visible today, gentrification is yet another form of racism that continues the insidious legacy of alienating and dislocating Chinese Canadians. These intertwined layers of past and present are deeply embedded within the space of Chinatown and should not be made invisible for an essentialist rendering of Chinatown as a “nice trip.”
In the second image, I replaced the drawing of the Great Wall of China with yet another Photoshopped image, this time of two different landscapes found in Beijing, China: the urban Beijing cityscape on the left, and the tranquility of pagodas on the right. These are the two type of common images that is associated with China. These images—along with food, which I admittedly could not find a way to naturally integrate into the landscape—are the stereotypes of what tourists believe China means.
While China is, no doubt, a beautiful place to visit, I want to problematize the effects of reducing China to these stereotypical landmarks. As with the original ad, which metonymizes the Great Wall to reflect China as a country, these reductions erases the diversity of China on both a geographic and ethnic level. Furthermore, by elevating China’s status as superior to Chinatown, the RBC ad also works to erase the human rights’ violations, workers’ rights, poverty, classism, racism, and corruption that exists in the sino-centric society of China. China is not a monolithic country nor is it a monolithic society—and it certainly does not exist for the sake of a tourist’s “epic trip.”
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