Education and a new bylaw.
Those are the contrasting views of two, local prominent Chinese-Canadians in response to the brewing concern over Chinese-only business signage in Richmond.
While Henry Beh and David Chung are unified in the need to display signage in both Chinese and English, they differ on how to bring about that bilingualism.
Beh, executive director of the Richmond Chinese Community Society, believes telling new immigrants about the importance of including two languages can be accomplished through education.
While Chung, who runs Jade Seafood Restaurant in Richmond and is president of the BC Asian Restaurant Owners Association, believes a set of rules needs to be formally introduced to ensure conformity.
A delegation to city council on Monday unsuccessfully appealed for a bylaw which would demand a certain amount of English on signs and advertising.
The group also presented a 1,000-name petition, speaking out against the practice.
“We have a population of over 200,000 people here in Richmond. So, a 1,000-name petition is not all that big of a representation,” said Beh, who was quick to add he did not discount the delegation’s concerns.
But, he thought council enacting a new bylaw forcing English to be included on signs was not the best way to deal with the situation, since he feels the matter is not intentional.
“It’s mostly the new immigrants who perhaps do not know better that it’s in their best interest to have signage in both languages,” he added.
Beh has lived in Richmond for the past 40 years and said the initial wave of immigrants from Hong Kong prior to the transfer of sovereignty from British rule in Hong Kong to China in 1997 caused similar concerns that included a furore over so-called “monster homes” in many Richmond neighbourhoods.
He added that a particular segment of immigrants have settled in well and now it’s time for those recent arrivals from mainland China to also adapt to their new surroundings.
Beh, whose organization includes assisting in the integration and assimilation of Chinese-Canadians with mainstream society, said he hoped common sense business practices would be adopted and include both languages.
“I think that if you are a business person, you would want your business to be open to as many people as possible,” he said. “Business people, they want to make money. So, why exclude a segment of your clients with Chinese-only signs?”
For example, he pointed to the significant number of non-Chinese customers who frequent local Chinese herbal medicine shops.
“It would not be in their best interest to have Chinese-only signs,” Beh said.
In partial agreement is Chung.
“It is important to have both languages represented, but if you don’t have it in a bylaw some people will not follow the rules,” he said.
Chung added his restaurant subscribes to the two-language sign philosophy, despite costing more to produce and appealing to just a small portion of his clientele.
“For some (Chinese) businesses it doesn’t make any sense to have English in their signs because 98 per cent of the customers are Chinese,” he said.
“And in a strictly business sense I feel people should have the freedom to do what they want to do.”