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Chinatown needs end to ‘racist’ vandalism before city applies for world heritage status, business leader says

June 6, 2022

By Vancouver Sun

Organizers of a Chinatown mural that was recently defaced are speaking out in hopes of finding solutions to safety and vandalism issues before the city applies for the community’s status as a world heritage site.

Five weeks after a five-metre panel of an ox, deer, cranes and peonies were spray-painted as part of a Vancouver Mural Fest piece by local artist Carolyn Wong, they were defaced by a tagger at Main and East Pender streets.

“It’s a real slap in the face,” said Jordan Eng, president of the Vancouver Chinatown Business Improvement Association, which commissioned the artwork on the metal security blinds at one of 420 businesses in the community, the Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Company, with support from the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

“The mural itself was curated as outreach to the community, symbolizing peace and harmony between Chinatown and the surrounding communities.”

Fixing the recently defaced mural cost the association about $1,000 of its $500,000 budget, which the city allots for graffiti removal each year.

That act of vandalism, as well as myriad others that have hit neighbourhood including paint having been poured on lion statues outside Chinatown’s Millennium Gate — is no accident, Eng said.

“These are targeted, racist acts. The culprits are sending a direct, intentional message to us. It is their attempt of cultural erasure.”

Since the 1970s, parts of Chinatown, on the outskirts of the Downtown Eastside, have been designated heritage areas by the city and province. As of one Canada’s oldest neighbourhoods of its kind, it was established in the 1890s when Chinese seasonal migrant workers set up shop in the urban centre.

Next week, Vancouver city council is to consider applying to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization to designate Chinatown a world heritage site.

But Eng said more needs to be done before that to end vandalism that is plaguing Chinatown’s businesses and cultural assets.

Sandra Singh, arts and culture manager for the city, said Vancouver is early in the application process, which takes a minimum of five to 10 years.

“If Vancouver’s Chinatown successfully becomes a (world heritage site), it will be the first Chinatown in the world to receive this unique, international recognition.”

Important considerations for the heritage designation are protection and management efforts made for applying properties, according to UNESCO guidelines.

When designated, along with protection being guaranteed under the Geneva Convention, world heritage sites become eligible to receive conservation funding. Additional resources would be “critically important to protecting Chinatown’s heritage, cultural spaces, businesses and improving the living conditions of many low-income seniors,” Singh said.

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