PEI’s Chinese Newspaper

A bilingual monthly takes root in Canada’s smallest province.

By: Niko Bell

A bilingual monthly takes root in Canada’s smallest province

By: Niko Bell

Hamish Redpath (right) interviews Luis Lui for the October edition of Nihao PEI. (Photo: Niko Bell)

The editor of Canada’s newest Chinese newspaper is named Hamish Redpath. He lives in Prince Edward Island, stands 6-2 and speaks seven words of Chinese, including “downstairs” and “lobster.” His monthly paper, Nihao PEI, published its fourth edition in October. “Nihao” is one of Redpath’s seven words; it means “hello” in Mandarin.

Nihao PEI is unique. It is a Chinese newspaper, published in Prince Edward Island by a Montrealer of Scottish heritage. It is not only the sole Chinese language paper in the Maritimes, but also the only English-Chinese bilingual paper in Canada.

Today, Redpath is interviewing Luis Lui, an acupuncturist who moved to Charlottetown from Taiwan. Redpath towers over Lui, notebook in hand, and struggles to take down the spelling of Lui’s name. Lui’s English is halting and limited, but between the two they communicate which “U” and “I” belongs where.

Redpath organized this brief Tuesday morning photo-op at the Health Within Holistic Centre. A profile of Lui and his practice will join a dozen other stories about Prince Edward Island culture and life, printed on twelve full colour pages of bleached newsprint and translated into Mandarin. Redpath writes a few notes, takes half a dozen pictures with an automatic digital camera and delivers his overpowering handshake with a beaming smile surrounded by bristling grey stubble.

Redpath, a Charlottetown realtor, created the newspaper after he noticed a rise in Chinese clients looking to buy land on Prince Edward Island.

[pullquote] [We] feel isolated. Without something in my own language, I don’t know what’s going on around me.

– Lisa Zhen, Recent Chinese immigrant. [/pullquote]

“I started to get to know more Chinese families, and it came about very quickly,” he says. “I could see a need for it. They would discuss with me how P.E.I. is great, but maybe not for your average Chinese. There’s not enough stimulation; not enough people were reaching out to embrace them in the community.”

That’s when Redpath saw an opportunity. P.E.I.’s Chinese population is growing fast. If he could help Chinese Islanders to feel more at home, more Chinese people would stay in P.E.I. If newcomers bought houses, his business would benefit.

Redpath brought his inspiration to Ellen Andrews, a multimedia student at Holland College, and Jason Liu, a young Chinese immigrant. In six weeks, the three of them put together an eight page newspaper. Three thousand copies of the first edition were published on June 1 with the front page headline, “Lobster Season Begins on PEI.”

Nihao PEI lies somewhere between newspaper, magazine, and coffee table reader. Articles include an explanation of fishing regulations, profiles of local MLAs, restaurant reviews, and an obligatory introduction to Anne of Green Gables.

Each page is divided between English and Chinese. Andrews designs and lays out the paper without being able to read the articles.

“It’s sometimes difficult to work with,” she says, “but you’ve just got to trust who you’re working with and hope for the best, really.”

Redpath is the great, great, great grandson of Montreal Scottish sugar pioneer John Redpath. Like his ancestor, the younger Redpath is a man of big ideas. He worked in marketing before coming to Charlottetown, and now styles himself as Prince Edward Island’s unofficial marketing branch. Under his copyrighted slogan, “Canada’s Island Paradise,” he runs his own private online campaign for the Island.

Redpath likes to say, “It all ties together.” It’s his own slogan. His newspaper is a blend of journalism, personal and provincial promotion, and enthno-cultural engineering. He says the purpose of the paper is not to make money.

“If the paper can pay for itself then I’m happy,” he says. “Obviously if it can generate leads for real estate… that’s where the value is for me. It started as a marketing strategy, but then I’ve always loved to write.”

As the second and third editions were printed in July and August, Nihao PEI’s supporters grew. Jason Liu left the project, but he was replaced by Jiang Min and Liu Xingchen, a 49-year-old couple who moved to Charlottetown from Beijing.

Mandarin or Cantonese?

Do Chinese newspapers publish in Mandarin or Cantonese?

Neither, really.

Unlike European languages, Chinese characters represent meaning, not sound. That means that while Mandarin and Cantonese speakers cannot necessarily understand each other, they both read and write the same way. In fact, Chinese includes dozens of regional dialects, all united by a single written language. That’s a boon to publishers, who can print a single newspaper for the whole Chinese diaspora.

In the 1950s, the People’s Republic of China simplified many Chinese characters for ease in reading and writing. Chinese people from Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas often still use traditional characters. Most Canadian newspapers publish in traditional, which can be understood by most Chinese on or off the mainland. 

Jiang’s eyes sparkle with poetic passion as she talks about translating for Nihao PEI.

“When I first saw Nihao PEI, it left a very strong impression,” she says. “I think if you can open up your field of vision, you will become more tolerant. People like us come to a new place, and a lot of our habits are already fixed. But absorbing new things makes life much happier and more complete.”

Wu Fenghua teaches Mandarin at the University of Prince Edward Island. Like Jiang, she followed her husband to Canada 12 years ago with hardly a sentence of English. She spent her first few months in Waterloo, Ontario, isolated from the world by a bewildering language barrier. Determined not to give up, she forced herself to learn English from a book.

When she heard about Nihao PEI, she wanted to help other people bridge the gap between locals and newcomers. She now writes a column about Chinese language for Islanders.

“At first I assumed it was a Chinese running the newspaper,” she says in the northern burr of her hometown, Harbin. “When I found out it was a local, I felt a lot of admiration. I think it’s very brave. We all speak Chinese, but we never made this happen.”

Nihao PEI has also caught the attention of organizations like the P.E.I. Association for Newcomers to Canada and the Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce. They hope to slow the “revolving door” of immigrants in and out of Prince Edward Island. That means making newcomers more comfortable with Island culture and Islanders more receptive to change.

Redpath will have to produce more than just enthusiasm, however, to keep Nihao PEI alive. Paying for printing and design costs requires advertising, and advertisers require a large and consistent readership.

Chinese Canadian Media at a Glance

Sing Tao Daily:

Sing Tao is Canada’s most popular Chinese newspaper, with a readership of almost 400,000 in the Toronto and Vancouver areas. It is partly owned by the Toronto Star’s parent company Torstar Corporation. Sing Tao has been a feather in Torstar’s cap, producing steadily rising profits even as the Star flagged in the face of an economic downturn. Sing Tao covers a broad range of Canadian, Hong Kong, Taiwanese and mainland news.

Ming Pao:

Ming Pao is Sing Tao’s closest competitor in Canada. A branch of a venerable Hong Kong newspaper, Ming Pao expanded into Canada in 1993. Ming Pao’s online presence is smaller than Sing Tao’s, and is only available in Hong Kong and Taiwan’s traditional script.

Today Commercial News:

A newcomer to the Canadian Market, this paper began its life as Today Daily News before re-branding itself this year. Content has remained mostly the same: flashy tabloid style news, big headlines, and plenty of advertisements.

Epoch Times:

Available in nearly every major city in Canada, this international newspaper reaches beyond just Vancouver and Toronto. It publishes in a dozen languages, and claims millions of readers around the globe. New immigrants and mainland Chinese often turn up their nose at the Epoch Times because of its close affiliations with the Falun Gong movement.

Sherry Huang is the president of the P.E.I. Chinese Association. She also runs an online forum for P.E.I. Chinese. She says she doubts that Nihao PEI will be sustainable.

“For a newspaper you need a large audience,” she says. “It’s not like online.”

Huang believes the Chinese population boom in P.E.I. is only temporary. The rush of immigration will end, she says, and Chinese families will follow their children to Ontario and B.C. Without the current Chinese community, a newspaper like Nihao PEI will have no real audience.

Small Chinese newspapers do exist. The Manitoba China Times runs a monthly edition, and Ottawa’s Canada China News runs a weekly. The Markham Communicator was Canada’s only Chinese-English bilingual newspaper, but closed in 2001. The Maritimes even had the East Coast Chinese Newspaper for three years, before it shut down in 2007.

Ivy Wang, a founder of the East Coast Chinese Newspaper, says she doesn’t think the Maritimes can support another like it. Her paper was only able to pay one employee, and depended on continuous volunteer labour. Without outside funding, she says, such a small community is not enough.

The world of Chinese newspapers, however, has changed in the past decade. Wealthy Chinese immigrants are making the Chinese market a lucrative prize. Redpath’s advertisers include a casino, a racetrack and a golf resort.

A week before the September issue went to press, Redpath scored an important victory: a half-page ad from BMW in Halifax. That single ad will pay the $1,500 printing costs for September. 

Ed Bachman, manager of BMW in Halifax, says Chinese clients now account for 30 per cent of his sales. He has run Chinese ads in the Chronicle Herald, and is looking for a Chinese speaking salesperson. He says that his challenge is to make Chinese customers feel welcome.

“We tend to be a pretty redneck population,” he says. “I’m concerned about the kind of treatment that students are getting in Atlantic Canada… I don’t think we make people feel very comfortable in Nova Scotia. And we need those people. We need people with money.”

Whether he continues to advertise in Nihao PEI depends on one thing: a visible return in customers. To convince advertisers like Bachman, Redpath will have to prove that his newspaper really can influence wealthy buyers.

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Ethnic Chinese are the largest and one of the fastest growing Canadian minorities. About four per cent of Canadians are Chinese, three quarters of whom speak Chinese as a first language. The new wave of Chinese immigrants are often wealthy, come from the mainland of China and speak Mandarin.

Lisa Zhen has only lived in Canada a year, and still has little grasp of the language. Flipping through a copy of Nihao PEI in a downtown Chinese grocery store, she reads an article about P.E.I. Green Party founder Sharon Labchuck from beginning to end. She says the newspaper helps her connect.

“We who have just arrived and don’t speak English well feel isolated,” she says. “Without something in my own language, I don’t know what’s going on around me.”

Four out of five Chinese Canadians live in the metropolitan centres of Vancouver or Toronto. However, the Chinese population in Prince Edward Island is expanding like no other place in Canada. The province has been operating the problem-ridden provincial nominee program to fast track Visas in exchange for a large investment in P.E.I. business.

Redpath says 300 copies of the October Nihao PEI were picked up at the downtown TD Bank in the first week. (Photo: Niko Bell)

 Under the nominee program, P.E.I. gained more than 800 permanent residents last year, ten times as many in 2002. More than half were Chinese. The P.E.I. Chinese Association now estimates there are more than 1, 500 Chinese in P.E.I., eight times the population a decade ago. 

Anna Zheng is one of the new wave of immigrants, and is capitalizing on the meeting of Chinese and Island culture. At 10:30 a.m. she is scrubbing the floor of her restaurant before business starts for the day. She opened King’s BBQ only three months ago, following the example of her sister who owns the noodle house three blocks down. The room is clean, bright and modern. A shrine to the god of success is tucked under a table with offerings of apples, tea, and half a chocolate-glazed doughnut.

Anna is proud of her authentic Cantonese cooking, and her skill at explaining Chinese food to Islanders. She has lived in Canada for 13 years, but only moved to P.E.I. this year. She still calls non-Chinese “foreigners” in her mother tongue.

She says communication is the key to success. When “foreigners” come to eat her food, she helps them to understand Chinese cooking. Then they will come back to buy ingredients from the little grocery store tucked in a back room.

Outside of the Chinese restaurants and grocery stores that have sprung up in the past five years, the change is visible all over Charlottetown. Chinese students stroll in clusters through the Confederation Mall. On Queen Street, three Chinese men argue in loud Mandarin. Inside the adjacent CIBC, a Chinese mother is discussing a new bank account in her native language. Like most downtown banks, this one has a Chinese-speaking employee. 

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Charlottetown businesses have noticed the change as well. Nihao PEI’s advertising space is filled by companies who want to reach the new Chinese market. Like Ed Bachman at BMW, their loyalty relies on results.

Audiopros Electronics manager Layton Tippett hopes to use Nihao PEI to get word of mouth out to the growing Chinese community. He has not seen any results yet, however, and will only keep trying until the Christmas season before pulling his ad.

Outdoor equipment store Sporting Intentions dropped its ad in Nihao PEI after three issues. The store displays a prominent sign on their door saying “welcome” in Chinese to attract immigrant customers. The experiment in Nihao PEI yielded no results, and the store has shifted its money elsewhere.

At the Health Within Holistic Centre, Redpath is already moving on. After finishing his profile of Luis Lui, he talks to the centre’s owner Denise Arsenault. She hopes to draw in more Chinese business as well. Redpath suggests a promotional deal: if the centre takes out some advertising, then the newspaper will do a profile on her business. “A little kickback,” as Redpath jovially calls it. This is Redpath’s business model: “it all ties together.”