Review of East by South: China in the Australasian Imagination



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Review of East by South: China in the Australasian Imagination

Charles Ferrall, Paul Miller and Keren Smith (ed.s), East by South: China in the Australasian Imagination, Victoria University Press (2005)

ISBN 0 86473 491 3 Trade paperback rrp $49.95

Reviewed by Jason Young



East by South is a volume of essays on the question ‘How do antipodeans imagine/represent/construct the Chinese?’ Rich in historical and literary detail, the volume charts the representation of Chinese in the Australasian imagination from the early 19th century through to today. Primary sources, including both texts and images, provide a rich backdrop to the discussion and make this volume a welcome addition to the wider critique of narrow interpretations of nationalism and national history writing in Australasia (both fiction and non-fiction). Primarily using literature to discuss antipodean representations of Chinese in colonial and contemporary Australasia, East by South also explores media, film, fashion and music, uncovering a history of antipodean narratives of fear directed at Chinese and fed by political opportunism and racism in the populace. This volume of essays contends that “both Australian and New Zealand national identity has so often been constructed either in opposition to the ‘yellow peril’ or as some embrace of the ‘exotic other’” (P.7) and acts as a catalyst for the long awaited debate over the excluding, fearing and ‘writing out’ of Asia from the national memories of the two nations. Including the introduction by Charles Ferrall, this volume contains 20 essays divided into two parts. Part A focuses on ‘Australasian Sinophobia and Sinophilia’ and is divided into two sections, ‘Socio-Political Perspectives’ and ‘Aesthetic Perspectives’. Part B looks at ‘Alternatives to Australasian Orientalism’. The essays vary in length and quality and there is some repetition between them. As a whole East by South is an excellent resource for those looking to explore and critique the antipodean imagination and gain access to the stories of Chinese in Australia and New Zealand.

After a brief preface by the editors, Charles Ferrall, Paul Miller and Keren Smith, Charles Ferrall overviews the book with ‘An Introduction to Australasian Orientalism’. Ferrall begins the discussion by outlining early Chinese migration to Australasia beginning with indentured labour to Australia in the 1840s and the early gold seekers to Australia and New Zealand in the 1860s. Ferrall begins the volume by conveying some of the inhuman representation (dirty, disease ridden, insect-like) Chinese in the antipodeans were subject to and by over-viewing some of the exclusionary legislation that worked as the foundation for the ‘White Australia and White New Zealand policies’. Ferrall brings in the concepts of sinophobia and sinophilia, showing how there was both fear expressed through exclusionary policies and racist bigotry in colonial Australasia as well as a coexisting Australasian (largely via Britain) exotic reading of ‘Chineseness’, ‘Chinoiserie’ and the ‘Far East’. As early Chinese immigration reached its colonial era peak in the 1870s and began to decline due to exclusionary legislation, the end of the gold fields, the desire of most Chinese labour migrants to return home and because of events in China, Chinese was largely erased from the national histories of both countries, except through sinophilia readings of Chinese art and culture. As Ferrall argues, “China was the ‘other’ onto which white insecurities were projected and against which white identity was affirmed; but it was also the exotic locale through which the mechanised or desiccated modern self could be renewed.” (Pp. 15-16)

The return of a fear of Asia, particularly in Australia, resurfaced during WWII and the Cold War. The ‘Asian invasion’ narrative returned and was used by politicians and writers to set Australasia back in solid opposition to Asia and China. Increasing amounts of Chinese migration to Australasia in the 1980s and 1990s led to the return of exclusionary arguments (Pauline Hanson’s fear of ‘Asian swamping’) but also began the important debates and discussions of Australasian national identity that this volume covers. Ferrall notes that Chinese have significantly shaped the nature of these two countries and adds some very important caveats to the debates presented in the volume. He notes that Chinese is a broad term covering a diverse population and cautions against Orientalist binary opposites such as the opposition between Oriental collectivism and Occidental individualism. Ferrall challenges the reader to look past these binaries and simplistic conceptualisations of Chinese in Australia and New Zealand and to see the complexity, opportunity and rich contribution a better understanding of Chinese can make to the national histories and imagination of the antipodeans: “Nearly half of those who identify as Chinese in Australia and New Zealand come from places such as Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan or Malaysia. Similar distinctions can be made for people of Chinese descent who were born in Australia or New Zealand, many of whom belong to some of the oldest non-indigenous communities in those countries. It is entirely appropriate that some of the most important history now being written concerns the lives of these peoples rather than, as has traditionally been the case, the mythical Chinamen conjured by the sinophobias and sinophilias of Pakeha, Maori and Anglo-Celtic Australians. East by South makes a significant contribution to this new history.” (P.19)

Mark Williams follows on from the introduction with an essay titled ‘Sentimental Racism’. Williams outlines the dominant negative settler view of Chinese in colonial New Zealand and Australia covering the Australasian colonial period from the 1840s to the early 1930s. Williams shows great uniformity between the New Zealand and Australian discourses on a Chinese presence in the British colonies and contrasts this with European settler representations of Maori and Australian Aborigines. Williams shows that throughout Australasia’s colonial period Chinese and ‘Asiatics’ were actively excluded and demonised as the significant ‘Other’ and that a wide range of public opinion, expressed through unions and political parties, directly advocated ‘White Australia’ and ‘White New Zealand’ policies, and concludes that this was part of the process of nation-making in the two British colonies.

Paul Jones’ essay, ‘The View from the Edge: Chinese Australians and China, 1890 to 1949’, analyses the role Chinese settlers and sojourners played in both Australian politics and the politics of China from 1890 to 1949. He notes that Chinese numbers in Australia reached 35,000 in 1890 but had dropped to 9,500 by 1945 and that the transitory settler that worked in the gold fields for most returned to their homeland in face of the exclusionary policies. Those that stayed were pushed to the margins of towns and cities, often becoming market gardeners. Jones shows how these settlers became the victims of Australian racial mores. Jones’ essay is important as it covers the advent of Chinese newspapers in Australia and tracks their discourse concerning both political events in China and the political events occurring in the burgeoning Australian colony. Jones argues that Chinese in Australia at that time were confronted with a bind of dual exclusion, no longer directly linked to their homeland but also excluded from full participation and acceptance in Australia. Jones’ use of Chinese newspapers in Australia adds excellent insight into the role and agency of Chinese in Australia.

Noel Rowe’s essay, ‘The Misty Ways of Asia’, provides a close reading of Australian writing of ‘Asia’ from the early colonial period and first two decades of Federation. Rowe focuses on the ‘anxious’ poetry writing of the Australian Bulletin noting not only the influence of the ‘White Australian policy’ and racist social norms, but also anxiety about masculinity and an “… epistemological uncertainty that might be said to characterise, even constitute, an antipodean imagination.” (p.72) Rowe argues that the poetry ‘displaces epistemological uncertainty by attacking the unknown’ (China and Asia) and contends that “The advantage of such a reading is that it uncovers more complexity, and more continuity, in Australian writing of ‘Asia’ than a reading which simply divides Australian writing into a racist past and an enlightened present.” Rowe lists works that fit both ‘the misty ways of Asia’, those that still portray a ‘demonic Asia’ and those that represent ‘Asia’ as both exotic and threatening and concludes that it is this epistemological uncertainty and anxiousness about ‘Asia’, the question of how to represent and engage with the unknown, that continues to determine Australian writing about ‘Asia’.

Tony Ballantyne’s essay ‘Writing Out Asia: Race, Colonialism and Chinese Migration in New Zealand History’ critiques the neat binary logic of narratives of biculturalism and explores the ways in which Maori-Pakeha relationships have framed debates over Asian migration. Ballantyne argues that, “… the power of biculturalism as a state ideology and as a marker of national identity, both at home and abroad, exists uneasily with the reality that New Zealand is, and always has been, a society that contains a complex and hybridised mix of racial, ethnic, linguistic and religious communities.” (P.87) Moreover, Ballantyne argues that reorientation of the economy towards Asia and the associated capital and migratory flows, as well as changing political discourse, “… call into question visions of New Zealand as a bicultural nation (or older visions of New Zealand as the ‘Britain of the South’).” (p.88) Ballantyne critiques the writing of New Zealand history, arguing that first Pakeha nationalists and the later bicultural historiography has framed the national story around Pakeha-Maori relationships, having a strong influence on shaping the nation and meaning that non-European migrants are denied a place in the narratives of the nation. Ballantyne contends that “… there seems to be a general reluctance to discuss the questions of ethnicity, race and nationalism that lie at the heart of New Zealand’s often anxious relationship with Asia…” and that “… within New Zealand a persistent emphasis on Asian difference and otherness remains.” (pp.90-91) Ballantyne then contrasts this antipodean representation with the long and important history of Asian populations in New Zealand, including the first significant populations in the 1860s and the significance of New Zealand’s first imperial market for whaling and sealing – Qing Dynasty China.

The myth of New Zealand egalitarianism is again put under the spotlight as Ballantyne covers the anti-Chinese arguments of leading Fabian Socialist and one of the key architects of Liberal reform, William Pember Reeves (who praised the success of the anti-Chinese Acts of 1881) and Liberal Member of Parliament for Taranaki Thomas Kelly. Ballantyne contends that socialist and working class fears of competition from Asian migrants, stereotypes of Chinese as ‘socially conservative opium addicts and sex fiends’, as well as acts such as the Asiatic Restriction Bill (1896) helped erase Chinese from New Zealand’s historical narrative. Ballantyne then moves his critique to contemporary times noting that from the early 1970s New Zealand’s history was re-imagined and with time biculturalism supplanted the dominant assimilationist tradition but that also the history of New Zealand’s mobile populations remains largely unwritten (not only Chinese gold miners but whalers, sealers, sojourners and those who kept on to Australia and or North America) and Asian New Zealanders remain ‘written out’ of New Zealand history, only included as the objects of white racism. Ballantyne highlights the problematic relationship between Chinese migration and nationalism and concludes that, “… historians not only need to fashion new, imaginative histories of mobility, but they also need to be much more critical about the continued ‘contract’ between history writing and the nation-state. New Zealand historians, in particular, must recognize that the borders of the nation state have always been porous and that these borders were constructed, racialised and ‘naturalised’ against transnational flows of Asian migration.” (P.101) “At the very moment when New Zealand diplomats are championing free trade and calling for commitment to cementing ties with Asia, historians are still wedded to a vision of the past that erects cultural borders insulating New Zealand from Asia and erasing Asians from the national imaginary. It seems that in this age of transnationalism, historians are as deeply invested in the concept of the nation state and its boundaries as were the authors of anti-Asian immigration laws in the 1890s.” (p.103)



Timothy Kendall’s essay, ‘Using the Past to Serve the Present: Renewing Australia’s Invasion Anxiety’, critiques the ‘invasion narratives’ of the Cold War period in Australian history. Kendall argues that ‘invasion narratives’ first became popular in Britain during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71) and then spread to the British colonies with a unique ‘Asian invasion’ take-up in Australia. These narratives included a fear of physical attack, uncontrolled migration, ideological subversion and economic competition and have been directed at many groups throughout Australia’s short history, including, French, Germans, Russians and Chinese (late 19th century), Vietnamese and Indonesians (2nd half 20th century), Communists, migrants, Muslims, ‘boat people’ and even ‘tiger economies’. Kendall’s essay focuses on the way Chinese have continued to be a feature of invasion narratives in the twentieth century and makes a clear link between the way the Menzies government utilised the ‘invasion narrative’ (Yellow Peril and Cold War domino theory) and the way such ideas about China ‘proliferated to become accepted forms of public knowledge.’ “For over two decades, Australians were fed a diet of racist and anticommunist propaganda as the LCP helped engineer community anxieties about the possible communist invasion of Australia. Menzies repeatedly spoke about ‘the menace of Chinese Communism (and) its primitive Marx-Engels gospel of aggression and violence’ and employed a series of ethnocentric and Orientalist stereotypes to influence the Australian electorate.” (p.113) After outlining Menzies’ political campaign, Kendall correlates this campaign with studies of the fear of Asia in Australia during this period, showing not only a marked fear of China and Asia within the population but also a great deal of ignorance about Asia and China. These studies are also supported by readings of John Hay’s (1968) The Invasion and the comic Iron Outlaw and Steel Sheila face the Yellow Peril (1971). Then Kendall moves his analysis into contemporary times, arguing that the invasion narratives of the Cold War, (themselves shaped from previous ‘invasion narratives’), remain renewable, that old story telling forms can be adapted to suit contemporary times. Pauline Hanson and John Howard’s political rhetoric are used to illustrate this point, highlighting both direct use of the ‘invasion narrative’ (Pauline Hanson) and indirect use (Howard). “… Howard exploits narrative, like the narrative of invasion, as a means of transforming official edict, or ideology, into public opinion. The belief that Australia was under siege from communism ensured that Menzies was re-elected in 1954; the fear that Australia was again under siege [from ‘boat people’] saw that John Howard was re-elected in 2001.” (p.129). Kendall concludes with the important observation that not only fiction writers are engaged in the narrative construction of reality, but that policy makers are as well.

The last essay in the first section is David Walker’s ‘Godless Heathen: China in the American Bestseller’. Walker considers three international bestsellers (American authors widely distributed and read in Australia): Clive Cussler’s, Flood Tide (1997); Stephen J Cannell’s, Riding the Snake (1998); Tom Clancy’s, The Bear and the Dragon (2000). Walker notes that in each case the role of China in world affairs is portrayed as one in which the elite are aggressive uncivilised and lust for world domination. The US, on the other hand, is represented as the world power that guarantees world order and is the bastion of truth and goodness. Each author plays on the good/evil, modern (democratic/free)/barbaric, truth/theory dichotomies and portrays China as a threat to world peace. Male Chinese characters in these novels also conger up images of Dr Fu Manchu (the original literary ‘evil Chinaman’) and are portrayed as evil, sadistic, and lacking masculinity. Chinese women are portrayed as exotically beautiful and Chinese men as feminine and sadistic. Walker’s essay shows clearly that stereotypical and racist narratives still hold much sway with the Australian fiction reading public and that far from reaching a new ‘enlightened’ present, western representations of China and the Chinese remain Orientalist and full of the fear that creates both sinophobic and sinophilac responses.

Paul Millar’s ‘’Canton Bromides’: The Chinese Presence in Twentieth-century New Zealand Fiction’, opens section two of the first part of this volume by exploring how Chinese have been represented in twentieth-century fiction. Millar argues that the use of Chinese characters in New Zealand fiction is not about the Chinese themselves but rather part of a commentary of settler culture. Millar begins with works from the pre and post WWI period that demonise and associate Chinese (‘the Chow’) with sexual depravation and dirtiness. Katherine Mansfield’s Ole Underwood (1912) is an example of this and uses an antipodean representation of Chinese to depict the lowest, dirtiest and most uncivilised of Wellington culture. John A. Lee’s Children of the Poor (1934) is also explored in a similar way. Then, the writing and letters of Iris Wilkinson (penname Robyn Hyde) are used to show some resistance to the ‘White New Zealand policy’ – ‘pity and justice for all men, or else for none at all’. Hyde’s The Godwits Fly (1938) and Nor the Years Condemn (1938) shows both white stereotypes of Chinese and tempers this with other characters who get on and value the Chinese. Also reviewed is, Roderick Finlayson’s Sweet Beulah Land, Brian Bell’s Po-Ling, and Colin Bell’s children book version Po-Ling, The Cook from Ti-Tree Point, A Quiet Tale of the Good Old Days, which sets up two mid-century Pakeha stereotypes—the comic affable Maori (Hori Bob) and the inoffensive, feminised little ‘Chinaman’. Millar also resurrects the words of politician and Liberal leader Richard John Seddon, who described the ‘chow element in New Zealand like a cancer eating into the vitals of our moral being and slowly and insidiously encompassing the doom of its victim.’ Similarly, a committee for Native Affairs Minister Sir Apirana Ngata concluded that “The indiscriminate intermingling of the lower types of races—i.e. Maoris, Chinese and Hindu—will in the opinion of the Committee have an effect that must eventually cause deterioration not only in the family and national life of the Maori race, but also in the national life of this country, by the introduction of a hybrid race, the successful absorption of which is problematic.” (P.164)

Millar argues that from the 1960s onwards, depictions of Chinese in New Zealand tended to be either symbolic or realist, citing Janet Frame’s The Bull Calf and Lloyd Jones’ realist novel Splinter (1988) as examples. Then from the 1980s an interest in New Zealand history’s small, neglected narratives developed as allegiance to Britain was fading, the population was becoming more accustomed to belonging to the Asia-Pacific region and demographically more mixed by the reintroduction of Asian migration. Millar argues that in this period racial scapegoating was more likely to be challenged and resisted. Vincent O’Sullivan’s (1998) novel Believers to the Bright Coast (questions mainstream stereotypes of Chinese) and Kelly Ann Morey’s (2003) novel Bloom (the most sympathetic and fully realised portrait of a Chinese sojourner) are used as examples to show this contemporary literary shift. Millar leaves us with the image of Wung Ti from Hume Nisbet’s The Rebel Chief (1897?) which he argues shows ‘not only the prejudices of the past, but also a critique of our own comfortable present.’ (p.170)

Duncan Campbell’s ‘‘What lies beneath these strange rich surfaces?’: Chinoiserie in Thorndon’ explores the seemingly contradictory relationship between the well documented and intense levels of sinophobia that characterised early New Zealand society and sinophilia. Campbell compares the discriminatory portrayal of Chinese by Katherine Mansfield’s Ole Underwood (1912) with an exploration of the interior of the Katherine Mansfield Birthplace (built 1888 and now restored to that period). Campbell uncovers western readings of Buddhist motifs, ‘Chinoiserie’ wallpaper, willow-pattern plates and a ‘Chinese’ dining room style and shows that, “… the legacy of the hodgepodge of style, ornament, incomprehension and deliberate frivolous mis-representation that constituted Chinoiserie lived on in the domestic interiors of the far-flung reaches of British settlement.” (p.181) As another example of the co-existence of sinophobia and sinophilia, Campbell provides a water colour illustration (NZ landscape with a ‘Chinoiserie’ fisherman in the centre) by Lionel Terry, the man who perpetrated New Zealand’s most notorious single incident of irrational and insane sinophobia when he shot to death on Haining Street the 68 year old Joe Kum Yung. Campbell concludes that, “Like other new settler societies such as Australia and America, early New Zealand was prone in the late turn-of-the-last century period to extreme forms of sinophobia… At the same time, New Zealand was also subject to the shifting global tides of taste and consumerism, including, briefly, the sinophilism embodied in Chinoiserie, albeit now perhaps doubly displaced and towards the tail end of its vogue. Juxtaposed in this manner, sinophobia and sinophilia do not present a paradox; rather they are the two sides of the same coin. Both equally are forms of intercultural dissonance that cause the over-inscribed surfaces of both the Chinese living here and the objects in the ‘Chinese’ style that we made use of in our daily lives to become ciphers for our own twinned desires and fears, thus masking from us the commonality of our humanity.” (p.182)

Henry Johnson’s ‘Performing Identity, Past and Present: Chinese Cultural Performance, New Year Celebrations, and the Heritage Industry’ outlines the contributions of Chinese in Otago, New Zealand in the form of Chinese New Year celebrations and argues that, “By negotiating and contesting their place in historical and contemporary New Zealand, Chinese migrants facilitate their own cultural imaginary, while widening the cultural understanding of non-Chinese.” (p.219) Johnson compares the records of festivities from two major periods, the gold rush era and the present. First outlining the exclusionary legislation and rampant social discrimination Chinese bore the brunt of during the gold mine era, Johnson shows through newspaper analysis how Chinese in Otago during the 1880s and 90s contributed to the construction of local community and attempted to break down barriers between the differing ethnic groups by providing open and welcoming Chinese New Year celebrations for all communities to partake in. Comparing this to contemporary parades and celebrations, Johnson argues that, “Cultural performance such as the Chinese New Year, whether during the gold rush or today, is a statement of identities and very much part of a construction of communities.” (p.236)

Ouyang Yu’s ‘How Post Are They Colonial: An Enquiry into Christopher Koch, Blanche d’Alpuget and Bruce Grant’s Representation of Chinese in Recent ‘Asian Writing’’ begins with a brief historical account of Australia’s relationship with Asia and notes a marked change of attitudes towards Asia politically and culturally since the 1970s as Asia became more important to Australian interests. After briefly over-viewing Australian writing about Asia, which begun in the 1890s and is noted for its sinophobia and sinophilia, the body of the essay focuses on a reading of Christopher Koch, Blanche d’Alpuget and Bruce Grant’s representation of Chinese in their recent ‘Asian Writing’. Yu argues that, “The changes in the political and ideological atmosphere, however, appear to have had little or no impact on the popular imagination as expressed in the works of Christopher Koch, Blanche d’Alpuget and Bruce Grant...” (p.243) Yu views current writing, whilst different, as not necessarily better or worse than previous and states that in contemporary ‘Asian writing’ ‘representations of the Chinese are arguably new variations of old stereotypes.’ “For the image of Asia, and of China, for that matter, has been swinging between fear and admiration ever since the late nineteenth century. What is different now is that the pendulum of Orientalism has swung back towards admiration with the now fashionable interest…” (p.245) Yu concludes that whilst there is at least now an awareness of the importance of Asia, stereotypes remain, including the assumption that Chinese are culturally and racially inferior to ‘white’ Europeans but superior to other ‘coloured’ people groups. Yu argues that writers take advantage of this ‘middle man’ quality and essentially represent Asians as inferior. Also, Asian men are represented as beautiful and feminine and Asian women as exotic and submissive dolls. Yu concludes that, ‘… the grand scheme of becoming part of Asia is fraught with uncertainties, problems and wishful thinking. … Integration and hybridization, however, remain unattained, but not unattainable, goals.” (Pp.255-256)

The remaining three essays in this section explore antipodean representations of Chinese in travel writing, opera and fashion. Jane Stafford’s essay ‘Robin Hyde’s Dragon Rampant and 1930s Travel Writing’ discusses the travel writing of Robin Hyde (went to China in the 1930s), focusing on her text Dragon Rampant and reads this against three similar works: James Bertram’s Unconquered: Journal of a Year’s Adventures among the fighting Peasants of North China, Agnes Smedley’s China Fights Back: An American Woman with the Eighth Route Army and Christopher Isherwood and W.H. Auden’s Journey to a War. Dugal McKinnon’s essay ‘Other Notes: Jack Body’s Alley’ explores the opera Alley, focusing on its representation of Alley and China (the sexual, cultural and musical) in an attempt to debunk many of the myths around Rewi Alley. The last essay in this section is Keren Smith’s ‘The Compass of Fashion’ which explores the history of ‘Chinoiserie’ in New Zealand fashion.

Part B (Alternatives to Australasian Orientalism) begins with Kylie Message’s interview with Clara Law, a filmmaker born in Macau in 1957 and who grew up in Hong Kong before spending time in Europe and moving to Australia in 1993. Her films include, They Say the Moon is Fuller Here (1985); The Other Half and the Other Half (1988); The Reincarnation of the Golden Lotus (1989); Farewell China (1990); Autumn Moon (1992); Temptation of a Monk (1993); Wonton Soup (1994); Erotique (1994); Floating Life (1996); The Goddess of 1964 (2000). The interview discusses her life, work, identity and comments on contemporary China and life in Australia. Law argues that the multicultural opportunities of Australia in the 1990s have been lost and that, “It could have been more progressive and enlightened than it is.” (CL p.321) Law concludes with a biting critique of Australian politics and a glimmer of hope for the future:

Australia has a dark history based on how Aborigines have been treated. The main political parties don’t want to acknowledge this history, but I think that as long as they can’t confront the past, Australia cannot move forward. There’s a hypocrisy and dishonesty associated with this position that aims to erase the country’s own memories. Until this past is acknowledged, Australia will be a very immature and colonial country. Everyone, unless they are aboriginal, is an outsider in Australia. Everybody’s cultural roots come from other places, even if they’re born here. That might be why we liked Australia when we first came here. Although I could have stayed in England after I finished my graduation, I didn’t want to because there is such an overwhelming sense of a singular British culture there. Although the stories of Indian people and other groups are starting to be told, the Chinese story cannot be so easily told in Britain. At that time, I felt that I didn’t want to be in a country where I couldn’t voice or express my own culture. But I feel that I can here.” (CL p.322)

Phillip Mann’s ‘Inter Aliens: The Impact of China on the Creation of the Science Fiction Novel The Eye of the Queen’, takes a self reflective look at the influence of China on his science fiction novel written in China whilst working for Xin Hua Shi (The New China News Daily) in Beijing between 1978 and 1980. Whilst never directly referring to China or consciously using China for inspiration, Mann comes to realise that the novel was influenced by writing in China in many ways, including, food, language, the Buddhist Statues in Yungang near Datong in Shanxi Province, Lao Tzu and the Tao Te Ching. The next essay in the volume is Adam Lam’s ‘Cyber Space Freedom vs. Homeland Confinement: Virtual Chinese Communities and Diasporas’. Lam “… seeks to explore relationships between virtual Chinese communities and Chinese diasporas as the latter are opened up and redefined through cyberspace…” (p.356) Lam highlights the diasporic state of the internet, the freedom and postmodern loss, and notes that ‘China and Chinese’ are no longer geographically confined. The, “…Internet itself seriously calls into question the concept of Australasian presentations of China or the Chinese … representations of China or the Chinese are in fact no longer confined to particular geographical regions, but are dispersed through the Internet, satellite TV, newspapers and other media. In the course of transmission, such representations may also undergo modification through translation, interpretation and (re)definition.” (p.359)

Peta Stephenson’s essay ‘Beyond Colonial Casualties: Chinese Agency in the Australian Post/Colonial Endeavour’, explores cross-cultural alliances between Indigenous Australians and Chinese in Australia, focusing on white responses to Indigenous/Chinese cross-cultural alliances, white political and legislative responses to these alliances, Aboriginal and Chinese communities resistance to government-sanctioned efforts to keep them separated, and the ramifications in the contemporary era of Chinese agency in the colonising endeavour in Australia. Stephenson argues that, “Cross-cultural alliances between Indigenous and Chinese peoples have existed in Australia for more than 150 years. However, these complex and ambiguous engagements are largely missing from the dominant national narrative and from dominant renderings of Australian historiography. The constructed nature of Australia’s national memory involves a process of forgetting as well as remembering. In recovering some of the stories that have been lost or forgotten from national consciousness, this chapter points to the need for a new reading of Australian historiography that crosses national and territorial boundaries. It shows that the web of connections between Chinese migrant and Indigenous groups suggests a new social and geographical imaginary that refuses essentialist notions of the nation state.” (p.368)

Stephenson wishes to “break open the black/white and Asian/Anglo binaries that characterise dominant narratives of nation and accepted versions of Australian historiography” (p.369) by showing that Chinese and other Asians in early colonial Australia were not only victimised by the dominant white settler populations but also implicated in the colonising mission. Stephenson questions the construction of Chinese in Australia as only ‘victims or casualties of colonisation’ and argues that, “Like their white counterparts, Chinese sojourners and settlers were also pioneers or ‘invaders’ who shared the Anglo-Celtic ambition of exploiting Aboriginal waters, land and labour for personal profit.” (p.369) “Unlike their Indigenous counterparts, the Chinese were not vilified so much for their inability to prosper, as for their capacity to compete successfully with whites for the same limited resource…” (p.370) Stephenson cites the newspaper Age in 1896 to back up this point, “The aboriginals [sic] were of too low a stamp of intelligence and too few in number to be seriously considered. If there had been any difficulty, it would have been obviated by the gradual dying out of the native race. What we have to be afraid of is that, from our geographical position, we shall be overrun by hordes of Asiatics.” (p.371)

Whilst showing the differing white settler responses to Chinese and Indigenous communities, Stephenson argues that there was a common racial ideology underpinning white colonial responses – to separate these communities at all costs. Cohabitation, inter-marriage and Chinese employing Indigenous workers were all vehemently opposed and legislation, such as the Aboriginals Protection and Restriction of the Sale of Opium Act, acted as the legal means to remove children and physically separate Aboriginal and Chinese communities. Stephenson shows that Chinese in Australia, whilst discriminated against by white settlers and not treated as social or political equals, were also not as disadvantaged as the Indigenous population and were on a similar colonising mission in which they would often align themselves together in order to exploit the resources of the land they were ‘opening up’. Stephenson notes that Chinese identify with ‘the land they had won through hard labour’. “Like their Anglo-Australian counterparts, many Chinese-Australians base their feelings of entitlement to Australia on the hard work they performed in clearing and cultivating the land, and in the building of the goldfield settlements, and vital infrastructure such as the railway line to Pine Creek…” (p.378) and critiques dominant conceptualisations of Chinese as only victims of white settler racism arguing that, “Without seeking to diminish or underestimate the real traumas that Chinese migrant and refugee communities have suffered, unless they are able to appreciate the ongoing ramifications of colonisation and their agency within it, they will not be truly involved in working towards change.” (p.382) Stephenson concludes by returning to the question of the construction of Australian national history and argues that, “The experience of these ‘imagined communities’ straddle the landmass of Australia and traverse the porous water masses of the Indian Ocean. Perhaps it is less about finding the right national narrative to contain and explain these cross-cultural identities and experiences than recognising that these supra-national networks of meeting contest the very viability of the nation state as an entity.” (p.384)

Brian Moloughney’s essay, ‘Translating Culture: Rethinking New Zealand’s Chineseness’, also explores the question of the construction of New Zealand national identity and argues that not only does New Zealand history writing need to make more effort to incorporate the stories of Chinese and other non European settlers or sojourners in New Zealand into the national historiography, more critically, there is too much focus on the state and the interface between the individual and the state when ‘relations with the state are not the sole influence in shaping of our daily lives.’ (p.400) Moloughney begins with a discussion of a contemporary misrepresentation of Chinese in a portrait (that he uses to illustrate popular misconceptions) before reviewing early New Zealand missionary relations in China and other early New Zealand linkages with south China. Then he analyses early Chinese migration to colonial New Zealand and the rise of settler nationalism, such as that of colonial nationalist William Pember Reeves. Moloughney argues that, “In pursuit of an ideal society, and intent on leaving behind the religious and class divisions of the Old World, these colonial nationalists wanted to exclude all those they felt might threaten this goal. The Chinese gold-seekers bore the brunt of this idealism… Imperial connections helped moderate the desire of Reeves and his colleagues to put in place legislative restrictions on those they wished to control and exclude. But by the mid-1890s the colonial nationalists had had their way.” (p.394)

Moloughney critiques the dominant historiography of New Zealand as a bicultural/multicultural dilemma, noting that New Zealand has always been a multicultural society and that the bicultural framework excludes anyone that does not fit into the categories Maori and Pakeha. Moloughney argues, “The study of the waves of migration which have peopled this place, including the factors which led to initial migration, the relations between migrant and other ethnic communities, and the ties which still bind them to their homelands, can recast the writing of New Zealand’s history. Such an approach would refine our understanding of the birth of New Zealand identities and New Zealand as a nation.” (p.395) Moreover, “Now that the government has made an official apology for the Poll-tax years, it would seem opportune to move towards a better understanding of the place of the Chinese in New Zealand, and the extent to which we all share, to some degree, elements of Chineseness.” (p.396) Moloughney argues strongly for recognition of the ‘Chineseness’ of New Zealand history and contemporary life, citing the uptake of Chinese flowers and plants as well as tea drinking and the culture associated with it. “Elements of Chineseness are part of everyone’s lives in New Zealand, not just those who are ethnically Chinese, and this has been the case from even before Chinese were first invited to Otago in the 1860s. Settlers from Britain, for example had already internalised aspects of Chinese culture before coming to New Zealand, so much so that these things came to be dissociated from their Chinese roots.” (p.398) Moloughney concludes with a challenge to scholarship in this area to record the way aspects of Chinese cultural heritage ‘have become part of all our lives’ arguing that this ‘is central to the whole process of ‘rethinking New Zealand’s Chineseness’.’ (p.400)

The last essay of the volume is Wenche Ommundsen’s ‘Behind the Mirror: Searching for the Chinese-Australian Self’. Ommundsen begins by discussing the intellectual pitfalls of the question ‘How do antipodeans imagine/represent/construct the Chinese?’ noting the importance of the categories Chinese and antipodean, as well as the issue of who is doing the imagining/representing/constructing. Ommundsen argues that when these categories remain mutually exclusive it is a relatively straight forward question to answer. But, as is the case in reality, when Chinese migrate and live in the antipodeans, questions of ethnicity and national identity become increasing complex: “Neither recent waves of Asian immigration nor multicultural national agendas have succeeded in eradicating the cultural/ethnic/racial bias inherent in older models for national identity. It is not that local Chinese have not figured prominently in the antipodean imaginary from colonial to present days; it is not even that they have not themselves contributed to the representational work through which the far-flung European colonies have acquired their distinctive identity. It is rather that in most such constructions (and self constructions), they figure as Chinese, not Australians or New Zealanders, as being observed, or as observing from the outside, rather than as integral parts of the enterprise of the ‘antipodean imagination’.” (p.406) Ommundsen returns to theories of the construction of Australian identity to inform this point, arguing that the ‘othering’ of Asia and Asians is not a historical accident but fundamental to the very construction of Australia as an imagined community. ‘White Australia’ is not possible without a non-white alternative in the form of a ‘yellow peril’ that defines racial and cultural whiteness. The fundamental paradox of being Asian Australian is that Australian is defined in opposition to Asia and so Asia is located outside the national imaginary. The Anti-Chinese riots on the goldfields, the Immigration Restriction Bill, the racism of The Bulletin and Pauline Hanson’s fear of being ‘swamped by Asians’ are used as evidence of this point.

The remainder of the essay explores this paradox by using examples of ‘doubles’ (the duplicate identity of Asian-Australian) from literary texts to question and put pressure on some of the assumptions underlying the quest for ‘Chineseness’ in Australia. The literary works cited are, Brian Castro’s Birds of Passage (1983) (first novel published by an Australian of Chinese descent), Ouyang Yu’s The Eastern Slope Chronicle (2002), Lillian Ng’s Swallowing Clouds (1997), Lau Siew Mei’s Playing Madame Mao (2000) and Beth Yahp’s ‘Place Perfect and the Other Asia’ (autobiographical essay – 1996). Ommundsen concludes that the double acts as a literary device that ‘enables an exploration of gender and sexuality across cultures’ and in the case of the works cited it asks the reader to consider, ‘What does it mean to be Chinese—in China, in Australia, or elsewhere, and who decides? Is the pull of ethnic identification stronger than that of national belonging? How can I, as an individual, negotiate the changing identities projected onto me by different peoples and cultures?’ Ommundsen notes that Asians in Australia want to construct their identity on their own terms and look to a time when ‘Asian’ and ‘Australian’ can coexist without contradiction or conflict. Ommundsen also argues that the term ‘Chinese’ ‘suffers from the presence of too many discourses, internal as well as external’ and does not recognise the human and cultural heterogeneity that is glossed over by the umbrella term.



At the end of the volume there is a brief introduction to all of the contributors and a helpful index for quick reference and cross-referencing of important terms and concepts.
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