Alan Yu runs an auto repair shop in northern Richmond, B.C. Last month, Yu discovered his business was caught up in a political debate that is raging across the Pacific.
A Facebook group published a crowdsourced list that categorizes his eight-year-old business as “yellow,” meaning he supports the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
Yu said he was “surprised” but happy that his business had been identified as one that supports the protesters, who since last spring have staged massive demonstrations calling for political change in Hong Kong.
“If the people like it, I can put the Lennon Wall in my office,” he said, referring to a space for Post-it notes written with solidarity messages for the protesters thousands of kilometres away.
Yellow vs. blue shops
In Hong Kong, people who sympathize with pro-democracy movements call themselves “yellow ribbons.” Those who support the Chinese government and the police’s use of force on protesters call themselves “blue ribbons.”
The idea to form a “yellow economic circle” originates from a protest slogan being circulated on a Hong Kong discussion forum: “Boycott the blue businesses, shop at the yellow businesses.”
The Canada Hongkonger page, liked by nearly 13,000 users, has been inviting Metro Vancouver “netizens” (politically conscious people using the internet) to report which local shop is yellow, blue or green (meaning political neutrality).
The 46-year-old immigrated to Canada several months before the former British colony was reversed to China in 1997. He said the yellow solidarity campaign may have the same impact of pro-democrats’ landslide victory in the district council elections: “Maybe the Chinese government will try to adjust something for the Hong Kong people.”
‘Yellow’ means corporate responsibility
Albert Chan was a pro-democratic district councillor and legislative councillor in Hong Kong for three decades before moving back to Vancouver two years ago. He praised Yu for participating in the developing “yellow economic circle” for the Lower Mainland.
The 64-year-old said being a yellow business is a matter of corporate responsibility and social conscience: “If you can support a government killing people without reasons, that reflects your values. With people holding those values, how can you trust them to run a business?”
The retired politician said Hong Kong is being economically controlled by Beijing and yellow shopping is to terminate this situation. He said Canadians should also buy yellow because of what he called the “alarming” Chinese infiltration into their way of life, citing B.C. seniors’ homes failed care standards after takeover by a Chinese government-controlled company.
“If the Trudeau government refuses to do anything to control that, sooner or later Canada will become a colony of Communist China,” Chan said of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Canada Hongkonger administrator Rick Lau said his Facebook group has connected with Yellow Avengers, an initiative to compile a global yellow shopping guide for Hong Kong travellers.
‘Yellow economy’ may create division
Leo Shin, a history professor at the University of British Columbia, said the idea of using spending power to pressure on a government is not new, quoting the global Anti-Apartheid Movement where international companies disinvested from South Africa.
Shin looks at the shopping with caution, saying it could potentially cause “a great deal of division within the Chinese communities.”
“We should always keep in mind that the ultimate goal is not to encourage division, but to promote coming together in one form or another,” the historian said.
But Yu suggested yellow and blue can coexist: “They believe what they believe, I believe what I believe. In Vancouver, you have freedom of speech… That’s the foundation of Canada’s democracy.”
CBC News contacted B.C. businesses labelled as blue on the list. They all disputed the label and declined interview requests.
With files from Salimah Shivji