Quote EndQuote Cross-Cultural Strategy

What do Mainland Chinese Really Think About Canada?

Posted by Tina | 06.07.14

It’s always interesting to hear what other people say about you. It’s equally as interesting to hear what foreigners say about Canada…

Prior to 2010, travel between China and Canada was supremely restricted. People from Mainland China were only allowed to travel to Canada for either business or for official government visits. Since June 2010, Canada has acquired the coveted Approved Destination Status (ADS), and with ADS, Chinese tourists are now traveling to Canada not just for business, but also for leisure. Traditionally, they travel in larger groups, but individual travel has been increasing. This is also good news for Canadian tourism. Canadian companies can now directly advertise their services abroad and can cater specifically to the newly opened Chinese market.

Why Chinese Tourists are flocking to Canada: An Infographic

Click on the link above and you will see the many reasons why Chinese travelers are choosing to visit Canada.

Even better, according to the Canadian Tourism Commission (CTC), in 2014, visits from Mainland Chinese are forecasted to rise by as much as 18.2%! This will create a 20.3% rise in spending that will directly benefit the Canadian economy. This is why tourism groups such as the Vancouver, Coast & Mountains Tourism Region are working hard to promote Canada as a leading world destination, especially to the large Chinese market.

But before designing marketing strategies, especially for the tourism sector, it is first important to know what people think of Canada, particularly those who have never been here before. We need to think of Canada as a brand and that means being aware of our image. If we want people to come for a visit, we need to understand what makes Canada appealing to Chinese, as well as talk about some of the more negative impressions we might encounter.

West Canada Weekly recently interviewed people living in Mainland China and people were asked two very important questions: 1) What was their overall impression of Canada? 2) Do they have any friends or relatives who have moved to Canada? The second question being necessary, to see if their answers were influenced by a more personal connection.

“Now, their answers might not surprise a Chinese person, but for some Canadians, the results could be a revelation. In fact, the answers provided an interesting window into Canada’s international reputation. Below, we have provided select translations of the actual interviews. For those who might need a little more explanation, we’ve also provided some notes in Blue.


Ms. Deng, Age 27, media industry:


Her impressions of Canada: “Very cold and maple leaves. Many Chinese immigrate or go study there. I also think about Chinese living in Vancouver. The reason for mentioning Vancouver is that I may have seen a TV production about it, but I don’t remember the name…”

A romance/drama TV series, called “Bye, Vancouver” was shot in Vancouver and aired in 2003. It starred many popular Chinese actors.

She also added: “I feel that immigrating or going to studying in Canada is easier (than other countries).”

When asked, did she have Friends and Relatives in Canada? She answered: “My ex-boyfriend has gone to study there.”


Mr. Xu, Age 30, Software engineer:


His impression of Canada: “First impression is the maple leaf, since a maple leaf is on the flag. My impression is that the country is a country of maple leaves. Other things that I can think about is a huge land of ice and snow, since Canada is high in latitude. Also, they held the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver. Canada also has great views. I’ve seen many beautiful photos.”

He also adds: “Canada’s social benefits are very attractive, in terms of housing, medical care and education, although I don’t know many details. But the situation that many lower class and poor people face in China wouldn’t exist in Canada, would it? My impression is that Canada is a democratic society. Everyone can vote, that’s the basic indicator of a democratic country, right? Canada is situated very close to US, but I don’t know much about their differences. I also know about hockey in Canada. I know the best hockey league is NHL. Countries that are strongest in Hockey are Canada, USA, and Russia. However, I can’t talk about popular hockey players, because I don’t know any.”

Interviewer then asked about Norman Bethune…

For those of you who don’t know, most people learned about Bethune though the article “In Memory of Norman Bethune” written by Mao Zedong. People were forced to learn all about Mao Zedong’s works during the 2nd World War, as well as during the Cultural Revolution. Even nowadays the article “In Memory of Norman Bethune” is in every elementary and/or high school curriculum and although people do consider Bethune a hero who provided great help to China, the perception of him is too closely related to the communist party and thus not always positive.

His answer was:  Ah, if you didn’t mention (Norman Bethune), I’d forget. Is he Canadian?

Then, he was asked: Do you have Friends and Relatives in Canada? “My cousin’s family moved to Toronto. A good friend also went to study in Vancouver. Canada is one of the most preferred destinations for immigration. I often hear other friends mentioning about immigrating to Canada. Actually it’s a dream of mine to immigrate there, but the requirements for the skilled worker category seem to go higher and higher, especially when it comes to English language skills, so this dream may not come true.”


Anonymous Male, Age 43, social worker:


His impression of Canada: “Canada has maple leaves, and beaches…oh wait, that’s Australia! I got confused because they are both immigration countries. I don’t have many other impressions of Canada.”


Interviewer then asks about Norman Bethune…

Interviewee answered: “I thought about Bethune at the very beginning, but I didn’t want to talk about it. We talked about him too much in the old days. Not interesting.”

The person was asked, do you have Friends and Relatives in Canada?  They answered: “No. Actually I’m considering sending my son to study there, so that he can avoid facing what I call the ‘single plank bridge’, the College Entrance Exam, and also the big crowd of job seekers.”

In many Asian countries, because of the intense competition for jobs, most employers now consider a Bachelor’s degree a basic requirement. Candidates from top schools are usually considered first, which means that it’s vital to succeed in the College Entrance Exam. It is the most important test for anybody born after late 1970’s. That is why the College Entrance Exam is compared to a ‘single plank bridge’  by the interviewee.

The interviewee then added: “But it’s too expensive to send him to Canada.”

For an undergraduate degree, an international students will pay three times higher than a Canadian resident. The only reason Chinese students study abroad is if the benefits outweigh the cost. That is, a Canadian degree has to translate into better career prospects when they return home or it may not be worth the expense. To give you some idea of how expensive that bill can be: A bachelor’s degree for an international student at SFU costs around CAD$84,000. This includes tuition and living cost. In 2011, the average income in Beijing was around US$730 per month, which means, on average, a person’s four-year income totaled only $35,000 and this is the highest ranking salary in the entire country.

Interviewee then stated: “I rather he choose a major he likes in China, so then he’d have time and money to travel and go on road trips. A year’s tuition here is RMB 300,000 …. RMB 300,000 is equivalent to US$50,000… “That’s enough to travel around the whole of Europe!”


Mr. Zhu, Age 26, graphic designer:


His impression of Canada: “The maple leaf is my first thought, because of the flag. Also Canada seems to be the only country that uses a plant on its flag? I always feel that maple leaves must have a very special meaning to Canadians. There must be many stories. You see, the cherry blossom is the national flower of Japan, but there is no cherry blossom on Japan’s flag. Aren’t there kangaroos in Canada? Oh, that’s Australia.”

“Actually my impression about Canada is also a bit sad, because of Vancouver. In 2002, I watched a TV series called “Bye, Vancouver”… The same one as mentioned by the first interviewee. “The whole series has a gloomy tone, quite depressing, making people feel that the life of students studying abroad isn’t that enjoyable. Why go abroad then?”

Do you have Friends and Relatives in Canada, they asked him? He answered:No.”


Mr. Lu, Age 29, sound engineer:


His impression of Canada: “Canada has great views, grand waterfalls and maple leaves. Canada’s potash fertilizer is also famous. Long time ago when I was watching “Zhengda Variety Show”… An educational TV show that is the longest and most broadcasted TV show ever produced by the most authorized national TV station in China, CCTV. The show was first aired in 1990… “A commercial kept rotating about Canada’s potash fertilizer,” he added, “so I learned about it when I was little.”

Do you have Friends and Relatives in Canada? “In high school, my first girlfriend went to Quebec to study. That’s how we broke up. After I graduated, a best friend of mine also moved to Canada.”


Mr Zhou, 34 executive position:


His impression of Canada: “Of course maple leaves, (since there’s one on) Canada’s flag. Everyone knows Niagara Falls. I also know Joey Wang [a famous Hong Kong actress] is in Canada, Leslie Cheung [a famous Hong Kong actor/singer] used to live in Canada also. Many stars have gone to Canada after they retire. Talking about famous people, didn’t Lai Changxing [a corrupt smuggler] run to Canada? Good that they caught him and took him back. Aren’t there lots of corrupt (Chinese) officials hiding in Canada?”

Interviewer mentions about Norman Bethune…

Interviewee:  “Bethune? That’s how long ago? Now you mention Bethune, it just reminded me of Dashan…

This related to a Canadian named Mark Henry Rowswell, a Caucasian who actively performs in Chinese variety shows in China. He is well-known in China for his high proficiency in Mandarin.

He’s probably more famous in China!” The interviewee added.

They asked, do you have Friends and Relatives in Canada? “My uncle and his family used to live in Canada and my little cousin was born in Canada. She’s a Canadian citizen. But now the whole family has moved back to China. My uncle wants her to be educated here. He wanted her to be well-taught from a young age. Also, a few of my old classmates have immigrated to Canada, but we’ve lost contact.”


What are we to conclude about how Chinese people view Canada?


Except for the one person who considered immigrating to Canada, the rest of the interviewees didn’t seem to know much about Canadian culture. As you can see, people often confused Canada and Australia, as both countries are big immigration destinations and have huge tracts of land. Many Chinese have seen photos of Canada and seem to think that Canada is full of beautiful natural settings and spectacular scenery. Yet, similar to other impressions around the world, many Chinese think it’s very cold all across Canada and that winter is our dominant season.


So, what can we do to appeal to Chinese travelers?


To attract more Chinese tourists, the focus should be on promoting Canada’s natural scenery and its wildlife, two of Canada’s most distinctive and well-known features. We should also strive to educate travelers about the true weather in Canada. We need to correct the impression that it’s always cold or snowing all year round. We should reinforce the fact that the weather in each province varies according to the seasons and that our provinces can be temperate and quite sunny.

It’s also important to keep pace with Chinese culture and to remain culturally relevant to people abroad. We should make ourselves aware of the different information streams in which people learn about Canada, and keep updated to any changes. We should pay attention to popular TV series that are shown in China, like “Bye, Vancouver” and other educational programs that may be shown abroad. It’s also important to learn about Chinese social media, and also about Canadian stars who are sometimes better known in China than they are at home. In fact, it may be a good idea to incorporate even more recognizable Chinese personalities into our promotions and ads, so that the Chinese audience can easily relate. We need to leverage positive images and counter negative impressions. That way, it will make the experience of traveling to Canada seem more exciting and intriguing and will hopefully inspire the Chinese people to visit this beautiful land of ours!