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A rally in solidarity with Hong Kong protesters, in Vancouver, on Sept. 29, 2019.

JENNIFER GAUTHIER/Reuters

Members of the Hong Kong and Taiwan diasporas have been asking people from their communities to identify themselves as Hong Kongers and Taiwanese on the 2021 federal census, rather than Chinese. For many, it’s a move to seek better recognition and preservation of their heritages and cultures – for others, it’s an effort to disassociate themselves from China and its government.

For the first time, the census lists more than 500 ethnic or cultural origins for respondents to identify themselves. Canadians can classify themselves as Basque, Kurdish or even as a Prince Edward Islander. They can now also refer to themselves as Taiwanese or Hong Kongers, the latter newly added to the list this year.

The purpose of the expanded list is to help produce a more granular picture of the cultural makeup of Canada, said Geoff Bowlby, director-general at Statistics Canada responsible for the census. The 2016 Census included 255 reported ethnic origins.

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Mr. Bowlby said as Canada becomes more diverse, there’s a growing desire for more disaggregated data, and the 2021 census was designed to allow respondents to be more specific about their heritage.

“There’s a realization that the users of our data want this information more than ever,” he said.

Why ‘Canadian’ shouldn’t be an option on the census

Many members of Canada’s expat Hong Kong community no longer want to be identified as Chinese, partly because of ongoing political pressure from China to curtail the region’s autonomy.

“Canadian Hong Kongers have existed for a very long time. We have always been lumped into a broad generalization with other Han or Asian identities, and we want that to stop,” said Maya Lee, an organizer of the #IAmHongKonger online campaign.

For Ms. Lee, 24, who was born in the former British colony, the unique identity of being a Hong Konger comes from the region’s food, culture and language – those from Hong Kong speak Cantonese and write in traditional Chinese, different from mainland Chinese.

But for other Hong Kongers like Bill Chu, the refusal to be identified as Chinese is also an effort to distance himself from what he sees as China’s authoritative regime.

“We should not treat each other as homogeneous, because otherwise we would be looked upon ... by outsiders [that] Chinese are all sharing the same ideology – we certainly do not share the same ideology as the CCP,” said Mr. Chu, president of Canadians for Reconciliation, a group founded to express support for the student democratic movement in China now focusing on fostering reconciliation with Indigenous communities.

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A parallel movement to reclaim their own heritage is also under way within the Taiwanese community. In addition to referring specifically to Taiwanese as their ethnicity, a grassroots campaign also mobilized residents originally from Taiwan to specify that their mother tongues are Taiwanese Mandarin, Taiwanese Hakka, Taiwanese Taigi and Formosan languages spoken by Taiwan’s Indigenous population.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Canada shared articles about the movement on its Facebook page, with the hashtag #IAmTaiwanese.

Charlie Wu, managing director of the Asian-Canadian Special Events Association, which organizes the annual TAIWANfest in Vancouver, said the generalization of simply selecting “Chinese” as an ethnic identity doesn’t reflect Taiwan’s unique heritage and stories.

Mr. Wu, who has been working to highlight Taiwanese Canadian identity for more than two decades, said “Taiwanese” is a better signifier to describe the complexity of people from Taiwan. Like Canada, he explained, Taiwan is also a diverse country with an Indigenous population and many Taiwanese also have mixed ethnic backgrounds such as Dutch, Spanish, Japanese and more.

“Chinese is just only a part of Taiwanese,” he said.

Mr. Wu said he does not deny political motivation may be behind some Taiwanese people’s insistence that their identity is not simply Chinese, given ongoing tension between Taiwan and China. He added it is difficult for the Taiwanese to differentiate themselves culturally because the Chinese government has a tendency to manipulate identity for political purposes.

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The embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Canada didn’t reply to an inquiry from The Globe and Mail seeking comment on the issue.

In the past, the number of Hong Kongers was lumped together as part of the Chinese ethnicity in the data released by Statscan. The last census only showed the number of immigrants who were born in Hong Kong (208,940).

Now, through their push for ensuring their distinct identity is captured in the census, Canadian Hong Kongers and Taiwanese Canadians hope the data from this year’s census will help influence policy.

“It’s really important, because without the reliable statistics, the policies that this government make will not reflect and serve the needs of our population,” said Cherie Wong, executive director of Alliance Canada Hong Kong.

Statscan’s Mr. Bowlby said the plan is to break out the data as much as possible, and the agency expects the number of Hong Kongers to appear in the disaggregated table of the output from the census that will be released in 2022.

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