While most local businesses prepare for the Christmas frenzy, Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty and Tiger Oak Publications are getting ready for the Year of the Monkey. The two companies have combined forces to develop Seattle Luxury Living, a real estate magazine targeting affluent, Mandarin-speaking readers. The magazine’s launch date is set to coincide with the February 2016 Chinese New Year celebration in Seattle, a popular time for Chinese tourism in the Pacific Northwest.
Photo: Realogics Sotheby’s International Realty
Chinese buyers have exploded onto the scene in Seattle since the 2013 release of Beijing Meets Seattle (Finding Mr. Right), a romantic comedy that grossed $85 million in China. The movie follows a young Chinese woman who gets pregnant with the child of a married, wealthy tycoon under criminal investigation. She flees to Seattle to have the baby and avoid scandal before returning to her rich boyfriend, but ends up falling for Frank, a doctor turned taxi driver, and leaving China for good.
Still from Beijing Meets Seattle. Photo: San Diego Asian Film Festival
The majority of the movie was actually filmed in Vancouver with the exception of a few glamorous shots of the Space Needle, but that’s okay. Though not actually showcased in the film, we can confirm that Seattle — with our gloom and coffee shops, glittery skyline and mythical forests, weird troll and gum wall — is indeed the most romantic city on earth.
The Chinese certainly seem to think so. Wealthy Chinese have become far and away the biggest foreign buyers of real estate in Seattle in recent years, accounting for up to one-third of $1-million-plus homes sold in certain areas, according to the New York Times. Seattle real estate agents are hiring Mandarin speakers and opening offices in Beijing. Builders are designing much of their new construction for Chinese buyers.
Photo: Tiffany Von Arnim/Flickr
Another draw for Chinese investors is the EB-5 visa program that gives foreign citizens a way to get a green card and immigrate to the United States in exchange for a capital investment of $500,000 to $1 million in an American development that creates 10 permanent jobs. According to Kevin Stamper, executive director of the Seattle Regional Center, which operates an EB-5 visa program, 85 percent of applicants are from China, Seattle Magazine reports.
Seattle’s shameful history of discrimination against the Chinese
Although Seattle-based businesses now cater to Chinese immigrants, the City of Seattle did not always offer such a warm reception. In the 1860s, large groups of Chinese men began arriving in Seattle to escape the war, famine and persecution that was killing millions in southern China. They were drawn by the abundant labor market — laying railroad, canning salmon and working in the mines were just a few of the many available opportunities.
10,000 salmon on cannery wharf and Chinese worker, ca. 1900. Photo: MOHAI
All was well until the city came under economic hardship in the 1870s and white Seattleites, including German and Scandinavian immigrants, began blaming Chinese immigrants for increasing competition for labor jobs.
Photo: IMLS Digital Collections and Content/Flickr
This hostility led to the national Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. The Chinese Exclusion Act was the first significant law restricting immigration in the United States. Chinese immigration to the United States was suspended for 10 years, and Chinese people already living in Seattle were deemed ineligible for naturalization, reports History Link.
Illustration: Washington State Library
On February 7, 1886, a mob of angry white workers rounded up virtually every Chinese person in Seattle and took them to the Ocean Dock at the foot of Main Street for passage to San Francisco on a waiting steamer. Police tried to escort the Chinese back to their homes, but the racist mob rioted and shots were fired into the crowd.
Illustration: Washington State Library
The situation got so out of hand, that Washington State Governor Squire and President Grover Cleveland declared martial law. Most of the Chinese workers departed, fearing for their lives. Congress eventually paid $276,619 to the Chinese government in compensation for the rioting — but the actual victims in Seattle who played such a large role in the city’s development never received any of that money, writes History Link. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Seattle’s shameful history of discrimination against Chinese Americans.
Illustration: Washington State Library
Despite all of this adversity, the 800 Chinese still living in Seattle in 1909 managed to finance the construction of the Chinese Village for the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition World’s Fair. Ah King, a wealthy merchant led the project, traveling to China for six months to collect authentic Chinese goods to sell and display.
The Chinese Village. Photo: Rob Ketcherside/Flickr
Chinese Lion Dance during Famine Festival Seattle, 1921. Photo: IMLS Digital Collections
In the 1930s Asian Americans in Seattle joined forces to campaign against proposed legislation forbidding interracial marriage. By the 1960s, city council member Wing Luke and Human Rights Commission chairman Phil Hayasaka were connecting Asian American communities to the struggle for open housing in Seattle. Until 1968 it was essentially legal to discriminate against minorities seeking housing.
Wing Luke and his mother, 1962. Photo: MOHAI
1964 open housing protest in Seattle. Photo: MOHAI
The push to attract more real estate investment from China
Fast forward to today when Seattle developers and real estate agencies are doing all they can to appeal to prospective Chinese homeowners. Here a few of the listings on Juwai.com, a real estate listing service aimed at affluent Chinese consumers seeking international property.
Listing – Windermere Real Estate. Photo: Juawai.com
“Meticulously restored 1933 Jewel on Queen Anne’s fabulous South Slope. Commanding views of the Seattle Skyline & Elliott Bay.Ideally situated on a light-filled 18000+ sq-ft lot, this gated & secluded in-city compound features manicured landscaping, sport court, elevated pool & adjoining 530 sqft cabana & outdoor kitchen space; plus 2 extra large 2-car garages, potting room & stunning master suite balcony.” This palace is all yours for just $11.5 million USD.
Listing Windermere Real Estate. Photo: Juawai.com
“Serene sunsets, ferries in the mist, Friends gather in this opulent setting as they toast to a beautiful Washington evening. As the golden light fades behind the Olympic Mountains, savor the warmth of your cozy fireplace. Step out onto your two private terraces and breathe in the Pacific NW air! Rarely available. Two homes combined into one expansive SW corner masterpiece featuring 3BRs/3BAs, encompassing over one of Seattle’s finest views. 2 Master BRs. 2 Parking/2 Storage. 24/7 Concierge.” Got $1,598,000?
Listing – Luxury Portfolio International. Photo: Juawai.com
“Private oasis in the city – Architect Craig Stillwell was careful when designing this transitional home to not miss any details Capturing unparalleled views throughout the home – Fleetwood doors open up the family room wall to outdoor living Clean lines of symmetry and great attention to details.. are unmatched.This masterpiece is over 11,800 square feet of living including an ADU and unheard of 145 feet of private Laurelhurst waterfront on Lake Washington! Equipped with the highest technology and finest finishes.” You can finally spend that $13.25 million you’ve been saving for a rainy day.
Listing – Windermere Real Estate. Photo: Juwai.com
“Live at the top of Madison Tower/Hotel 1000. This west facing 2 bed 3 bath plus den penthouse offers 3,740 sq-ft of extraordinarily designed living space. Breathtaking panoramic views of Elliott Bay, Olympics & city-scape. Entertain and enjoy each guest who enters this phenomenal urban estate. Indulge in world class amenities shared w/Hotel 1000 including the spa, room service, virtual golf, library, conference rooms, valet parking, exercise facility, 24-hr concierge & resident-only roof top terrace.” A steal! Just shy of $5.5 million.
Listing – Luxury Portfolio International. Photo: Juwai.com
“A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience quintessential Victorian Queen Anne architecture in this meticulously reincarnated and painstakingly restored historic Seattle landmark. A home of extraordinary grandeur featuring soaring ceilings, original period fixtures and craftsmanship with unparalleled panoramic views of Lake Washington, Bellevue and the Cascades. 14,000 square feet of stunning, mature landscaping defines privacy for the hot tub cabana on one of the most awe-inspiring view lots in Seattle.” Break open that piggy bank and get it for just a little less than $2.8 million before it’s gone.
Whether this flood of Chinese investors in Seattle will continue is yet to be seen. What we do know is that most of the worst movies set in Seattle — Fifty Shades of Grey, the Twilight sequels, 50/50, Agent Cody Banks, and Carpool — were actually filmed in Canada.