Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Correspondence with a Friend in Montreal about Dual Canadian and Chinese Citizenship

Yes that is right about the 1997 Canada-China Consular agreement. Basically the implication is that if a person born in China submits a Canadian passport with an application for a visa to enter China and gets the Chinese entry visa, then the Chinese Government has recognized this person as a Canadian. But quite a few Chinese-born Canadians enter China on Chinese passports with their acquired Canadian passport in their pocket. This way they need not apply for any visa and can retain their urban residency status (hukou) in China. When such people get in trouble with the Chinese police while in China they typically produce their Canadian documents and ask that the Canadian Embassy be contacted to provide them with consular assistance. Often this works despite the 1997 agreement. You may recall the case of Zhang Kunlun who had been a visiting scholar at McGill, stayed in Canada after 1989. and returned to China in 1996 using his Chinese passport. He later got imprisoned on the basis of being an unrepentant Falun Gong practitioner. In that case Canada successfully intervened and Mr. Zhang was eventually allowed to return to Canada. An interesting variation is senior Chinese Government officials who present public purposes Chinese passports to the Canadian Embassy in Beijing because they are part of official Chinese delegations to Canada. When they are checked the Embassy finds that a small number of these visa applicants are in fact Canadian citizens (citizenship usually acquired after a period of study in a Canadian university). Canadian citizens of course do not require visas to enter Canada so this presents a bit of a problem for us. But I believe the Immigration Section of the Canadian Embassy to China tends in these cases to simply stamp a visa into the Chinese passport anyway. To my knowledge these Chinese officials holding Canadian passports have deomonstrated no loyalty to Canada whatsoever.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Visiting my Childhood Home in Ottawa for the Last Time After My Parents Moved into a Retirement Residence

In 1963, my family moved from rooms in the basement of Rideau Cottage in Government House grounds to a new house my father built at 204 Lakeway Drive in the new section of Rockcliffe Park on the other side of MacKay Lake. It cost $55,000 to build. Last year we sold the house for $850,000 and my parents moved into two rooms in the Edinburgh Retirement Residence nearby.

Returning to my childhood home for the last time a few months ago after the sale had gone through was a signal moment for me. Memories flooded back of the exciting day we moved into the new house when I was 9 years old. It was so bright and clean and modern!

But 42 years later, the carpets were badly worn, the interior walls desperately needed a fresh coat of paint, the curtains threadbare, the furniture upholstery frayed; in general the house looked tired and old. The house where I had grown up was now a dingy and lifeless place and no one lived there any more.

Actually, I still have the keys to the front door that I took with me when I moved out to go to the U of T in 1974.  I imagine that by now the locks have been changed, fresh paint applied, new carpets laid, another family's photographs mounted on the mantlepiece.

Perhaps there is another child playing in the room where I once ran my clockwork trains?

Correspondence with a Friend in Cambridge about My Chinese Language Instruction There

When I was in Oriental Studies at Cambridge in 1976 while we did learn history under Denis Twitchett (who I later encountered again at Princeton), and some really fun classes in sociology with Barbara Ward (who had the eight of us to her room in College for tea one morning a week), etc. the stress was on modern language. We took classes in that jointly with a group from the Foreign Officer getting training for postings in China. We did the Classical Chinese with Michael Loewe along with students in the Japanese program. My main Chinese instructor was Richard King who later became a Canadian and actually succeeded me as Counsellor for Cultural Affairs after my first posting in Beijing. My memory of it was that the quality of instruction was pretty good then. Richard was a committed and patient teacher and we later became very close friends. The program had also developed its own textbook under the direction of a dynamic enthusiast, Captain Bob Sloss. I do remember having a tutor for written Chinese though, Peter Nancarrow who was evidently not much for pedagogy. My first assignment was get a Chinese dictionary and re-translate a passage from a Chinese translation by Chao Yuen-ren of Alice in Wonderland back into English and to see Mr. Nancarrow in his office with the upshot a week hence. It was very difficult to look up the characters without guidance. But I did manage it after a number of late nights. Nancarrow had me read back the Chinese original and my translation with some exegesis on grammar while he shuffled some papers on his desk. Evidently he was very busy with something else. At one stage he got up and headed for the door --- me in mid-sentence. As an after thought he looked back as he was striding out and said to me: "Do carry on, Mr. Burton, I'll be right back." I continued like this by myself for a couple of minutes and then paused and silently awaited his return which occurred about 5 minutes before our time was up.

Friday, February 16, 2007

About Appearing On-Stage in Toronto at the 2007 Chinese New Year Show and Impressing my Twelve Year Old Daughter

Due to my minor celebrity among the Canadian Chinese community because of my occasional appearances on the Toronto Omni-2 TV's Mandarin News program as a political commentator, I was approached about the possibility of my co-hosting the Toronto "2007 Chinese New Year Show." This gala show is modelled on the enormously popular TV variety show broadcast every year on the eve of the lunar new year in Mainland China to an audience of close to 1 billion. The "2007 Chinese New Year Show" was originally scheduled to be put on at the Hummingbird Centre in Toronto. With some trepidation, I agreed to do it. It appealed to my vanity to see if I could pull off an ersatz Dashan and also because the Hummingbird Centre is the new name for the O'Keefe Centre for the Performing Arts which has a family connection for me. It was re-named "The Hummingbird Centre" in 1996 in recognition of a major gift from a Canadian software company. But the O'Keefe Centre was originally built in 1960 as a project of my relative, E.P. Taylor, who had committed the funds for it in 1954 (I have posted more details about E.P. Taylor at So appearing on stage at the Hummingbird Centre aspect appealed to me because of this past connection. But in the end the show was moved to the Toronto Centre for the Arts in 5040 Yonge Street. That is the former North York Centre for the Arts. But it seats 1,727 and the show did sell out.

Later, after had I committed to do the show, I was asked to also perform a Chinese comedy dialogue (xiangsheng) as an addition to the program. About a week before, the scripts with my lines were e-mailed to me by Jin Dong. Jin is a well-known personality from Mainland Chinese TV now working in Chinese language TV and radio in Toronto. After looking over the scripts, I started to seriously worry about whether I could really carry all this off and decided to seek advice from the real Dashan, Mark Rowswell, by e-mailing him all the scripts. Mark's replies and reassuring advice considerably set my heart at ease, but Mark also suggested that to be one of the hosts as well as doing a crosstalk all in one show was a lot to ask. It turned out he was quite right about that. I found it hard to memorize the Chinese lines, especially the Crosstalk. Fortunately Jin Dong is really a very generous and kind man who worked hard with me on the Friday and Saturday. My success in performance owes much to his patience.

Basically all I has to do was to walk into the spotlight on stage wearing a Chinese style silk jacket and say a few simple sentences along the lines of "A new year, new events, new beginnings!" (新年新事起点新!) and "In the Pig Year may your every wish be fulfilled!" (猪年万事都如意!). The Crosstalk was about how maybe we should be nicer to pigs in their year, cut out pork and change disparaging sayings about pigs
to more positive ones. Much of it involved making plays on words about the Pig character in the Chinese classic novel Journey to the West. Essentially while a Chinese press article published afterwards (see characterized me as a "2nd Dashan" my performance did not require much talent. Mark Rowswell is genuinely talented. To be frank about it: me, not so much. But the crowd gasped and laughed at my every word because white people speaking good Chinese is to them an affirmation of China's civilization and this means a lot. Well I am happy and honoured to perform this function as I have so much admiration for Chinese culture myself.

Jason Kenney, Secretary of State for Multiculturalism and Citizenship attended the show along with a number of other federal members of Parliament, members of the Provincial legislature, municipal mayors, PRC Consul-General in Toronto, etc. I know Mr. Kenney well and had testified before the Parliamentary Sub-Committee on International Human Rights and Development that he chairs last fall. He seemed surprised (maybe even mildly stunned), but
I think, pleased to see me there and to have me introduce him on-stage. But most of all my daughter Lucy loved the show--- the dragons. the brilliant performance by Li Teng who is principal violist of the Toronto Symphony, the Chinese flute solo, the Cantonese opera selection. But she also seemed truly pleased to see the audience reaction to her Dad performing on stage. So, my 12 year-old daughter was evidently genuinely impressed by something her old Dad did! As I am sure most fathers of pre-teen girls would agree, this rare moment made it all worthwhile for me. I think I will draw my performing career to a close now.

Photos of the show can be found (in the folder "Spring Fest Show 2007") at

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Comment to a Friend in China about the Celil case

I think it is important that Canada make no sign of accepting the Chinese Government claim that Canadian citizenship acquired by refugees from China is invalid. So regardless of "success or failure" Canadian diplomats should just remain in Urumqi as a objective gesture of protest. After reading the Chinese MFA press briefing I realize that this is also about the Chinese authorities unhappiness that we give refugee status to people from the PRC that are deemed to be at risk of political persecution if returned to China.

The Chinese language release posted below uses word "nanmin" (refugee) and reads in part:
"Yushanjiang was born in Xinjiang. In 2001 he was accepted by Canada as a refugee. In 2006 while in Uzbekistan he was arrested by the Uzbeki authorities. He was deported back to China on the grounds of suspicion that he participated in terrorist activities" Yushanjiang is Celil's Chinese name. The reference to being accepted by Canada as a refugee is not a random comment in there in my view.

Chinese Foreign Ministry Statement on Celil Case of February 8, 2007


央视国际  2007年02月08日 17:41 来源:

  新华网北京2月8日电(记者马文博 孙侠)外交部发言人姜瑜8日表示,中国公民玉山江是国际恐怖组织“东伊运”的骨干成员,他涉嫌参与了一系列暴力恐怖组织活动,是国际通缉犯。





Monday, February 05, 2007

Comment to a Friend about the Celil case

I quite agree that the Chinese authorities will likely finger Mr. Celil for things that he did not do in a future proceeding. As we know Mehmet believes that the whole thing is about trying to intimidate Uyghurs abroad, so it is not actually about anything specifically Mr. Celil did in China, Canada or anywhere else. Certainly the Canadian Government has already requested his immediate return to Burlington. But from a human rights prespective there is by international treaty supposed to be due process of law extended to Canadians (and of course Chinese citizens as well) who are arrested while abroad. My feeling is that simply demanding Mr. Celil's release does not serve our cause as well as demanding that the Chinese Government get into compliance with its international obligations. Of course if the trial turns out to be inconsistent with international norms for openness and proper use of evidence as is most likely then the Canadian Government should demand he either gets a proper hearing or immediate release as we don't think there is sufficient basis for his imprisonment. It would be ideal if the Chinese authorities acknowledge he is innocent of all charges and releases him, but that happy result would be well-nigh unprecedented. But they are less likely to respond to our simply telling the Chinese Government what it should do unconditionally, in my view.