Author: Kate Bagnall

‘A Chinese New Year’s Day’, Sydney, 1899

On Saturday, 18 February 1899, Sydney’s Evening News published ‘A Chinese New Year’s Day’, an illustrated article that gave a (white male) journalist’s impressions of the new year celebrations held by Sydney’s Chinese community a week earlier. The new year ushered in that February was, like 2019, a Year of the Pig.

The article, transcribed below, is typical of how the mainstream Australian press wrote about Chinese in Australia at the turn of the 20th century, particularly the ‘Chinatown exposé’-type articles found in the popular press. Both the language used and perspective presented in the article firmly ‘other’ Chinese people and Chinese culture, but the article can also be read as a source of information about Chinese cultural practices in Australia on the eve of Federation. So then, how did Sydney’s Chinese community celebrate new year 120 years ago?

‘A Chinese New Year’s Day’, Evening News (Sydney), 18 February 1899.

BANG! Fizz!! Bang!!! A firework display, or what? The Post Office clock had just chimed 12 at midnight, when these sounds greeted my ears as I was making my way home on the night, or, I should say, early morning, of last Friday, February 10, 1899. Coming round the corner of a street I had to cross on my homeward journey, I was assaulted by a combination of shrieks of delight and explosions that woke the echoes of the street and scared the inevitable cat from off the roofs of the neighbouring houses and sheds. Half-blinded by the sparks that flew up, and smothered by the sulphurous smoke, I found myself in close proximity to about twenty or thirty dancing capering demons, as I took them to be, busily engaged in letting off various abominable samples of the common or garden firecracker of my early youth. As I stood wondering at these things being allowed in the quiet streets of Sydney at this late, or, rather, early house of the morning—Phizz! bang! pop! pop! pop! numerous; it seemed to me hundreds of pops. The clatter, banging, and smashing of tin pans, blowing of horns, scraping of some awful musical instruments—only seen or heard in Eastern countries—portended that a ceremony of great importance must now be going on. I stopped and gazed spellbound on the scene. Just then my eye rested on a tall, dark figure leaning up against a lamp-post. A policeman, thank goodness! I’ll now find out what’s the matter, thought I; and approaching him, I said, “Funny racket this, eh?” He looked at me with an eye of suspicion, as though he was contemplating a “run in,” which could be sworn to in the morning as being an assault on the police and damaging, etc., fine 10s, and costs, with 21s for uniform; but on the magic word “press” he explained to me that it was simply the opening of the Chinese new year. The new year was, I subsequently found, the year 5650, and is known as “Kee Hoy” [己亥], or the dynasty of “Ching” [清], whose family has reigned over China for the past 400 years. The name of the present Emperor is Quong Soy [光緒] (no relation to the inventor of the celebrated sauce of that name). “Why,” said I to the policeman, “they make a fuss of our way of celebrating ‘our New Year’ with noise, shouting, and performances on the trumpets, but what about this?” “Oh, they’re all right, and harmless enough; and to-morrow they’ll keep it up in great style, you take my word for it. If you’ve got nothing else to do you take a trip over to the Glebe to their josshouse about 8 in the morning, and you’ll see some fun; and then do a tour round the Chinese quarters. Talk about a time? Why our New Year’s Day is nothing to theirs.” “Thanks, I will,” and with a parting “good night” to the officer of the law, and a parting grand double-barrelled salute on the part of the happy Celestials, who just then let off about—well goodness only knows how many bungers, crackers, and other Celestial fireworks—I wended my was home, resolving in my mind, as I fell asleep, to spend a day among the Chinese residents of the city of Sydney on their great day of the year, namely, “New Year’s Day”, and as I fell asleep, I seemed to be wafted away on the wings of dim and dusky Chinese angels, amidst corruscations of golden light, sparks of fire, and amidst a general concatenation of hideous sounds and awfulness.

The Chinese residents of Sydney, or I may say of Australasia in general, celebrate their New Year by making a general holiday of at least three days, during which no work is done, and the time is given up to calling on each other, and wishing a happy New Year, or in their own vernacular, “Goon Hee Fad Choy [恭喜發財].” The Chinese New Year’s card is a quaint one, and consists of a slip of particularly brilliant red paper 9½in long by 4½in in width, on which are written the names of the sender, wishing the recipient a heartfelt greeting for a prosperous New Year. On entering the house of a friend they advance with the slip of paper folded in a certain way held in both hands, and after expressing themselves in the words quoted above the slip is deposited in a china plate placed for the purpose on a table in the centre of the room, around which are other tables covered with gorgeous tablecloths and numerous china dishes and bowls, containing dried melon-seeds, ginger, biscuits, dried fruit, and other simple dainties. They do not forget liquids either, as the very finest brands of champagne, brandies, whiskies, and gins, with first-class brands of cigars and cigarettes are to be seen; and the hospitable host presses one and all who visit him to partake of the good things provided, and as you leave hands you a cigar, with expressions of pleasure at your doing him the honor of calling. There he is arrayed in the very finest of his gorgeous Eastern silks, bespangles with gold, and lovely silk embroidery, his hair twisted up in snake-like folds almost hidden by a black silk cap, diamonds glisten on his tapering fingers, and his smiling face and twinkling black eyes meet yours with expressions of mirth and goodwill towards you and yours in the coming new year. The Chinese ladies of the family are never seen; but they children, if any, are resplendent in their finery, and pleased to meet and accept any presents which may be brought. The Chinese at this time of the year make a point of settling up all their outstanding accounts, and the day before their New Year’s Day, is generally spent in going round settling up their indebtedness, both among their own people and their European friends, as they do not deem it lucky to enter into a new year owning anyone money.

‘Interior of joss house’, Evening News (Sydney), 18 February 1899.

A Chinese josshouse is a place which well re-pays a visit. There will be found Chinese of all descriptions, from the rich merchant to the humble gardener, arrayed in their best clothes, with presents of fowls, sucking pigs, fruit, flowers, and other delicacies dear to their Eastern tastes. The priest, arrayed in garments vying with the peacock for splendor, with curious shaved head and solemn mien, bowing and gesticulating before the altar, one which sits perched up on crimson and golden starred cloth, strange carved wooden gods, hideous in their dark mahogany carvings, or grotesque China images, representing the golds of air, light, water, and the various gods of the household. Paper flowers in profusion, long gilt bamboo sticks, tipped with some strange preparation, are stuck into pots of earth, slowly burning, and filling the dimly lighted chamber with a fragrant incense that rises in soft mauve velvet colored clouds to the richly decorated roof. Here, after a service of curious ceremonies, and presenting of presents of money and other things, they disperse, chattering and wishing each other compliments, etc., to their homes, where friends both European and Chinese will call during the ensuing days.

‘Chinese merchant receiving visitors’, Evening News (Sydney), 18 February 1899.

Amongst the more ordinary Chinese, such as cabinetmakers, fruiterers, gardeners, and hawkers, the first day of their New Year is held as a holiday, and they are very pleased indeed to see any and all of their own countrymen, and also any white man whom they have met in the ordinary course of business during the past year. Their reception of you is just as cordial as in the richer quarters. Spread out in little China plates are the inevitable dried melon seeds, little bits of preserved ginger, small cakes, and tea, real Chinese tea, which is served up in delicate, fragile little china cups, no milk, but sugar if you wish; also they offer you a kind of spirit, white and very strong, made, I believe, from rice, or some other grain; it is by no means unpalatable, but is very potent, and anyone taking several of these nips would regret it next morning. You will notice in many cases that the Chinese wear a bangle of peculiar greyish, green-looking stone on their wrists. This may be of real jade, a valuable commodity, but in many instances it is only imitation, and procured for a shilling or two. These bracelets are supposed to bear a certain charm for the well-being of the wearer, and the idiotic superstition regarding the lovely, but very often despised opal, does not seem to have much weight with them, as you will find that gem very much in vogue as rings, breastpins, and studs, either plain or set round with diamonds. The Chinese are great admirers or good genuine jewellery, and on the occasion of the New Year, don as much as they may own. I saw one rich merchant with diamond of great value in his shirt front, and rings on every finger, set with the same magnificent stones. As he manipulated his cigarette, rolling it between his long slender fingers, a perfect blaze of light played round his hands. I heard from another Chinese that he had over £900 worth on him. Gold chains and very richly embroidered slippers complete their attire on these festive occasions. Although the greater part of the holiday is spent in calling from one house to the other, and partaking of various beverages, not by any means temperance, you will not find any unseemly conduct on the part of the Chinese, or at any hour of the day or night come across a drunken one. They must have different constitutions from Europeans, as I have met several who had been spending their day amongst the genial Cathaians, not wisely but undoubtedly too well. Taking altogether the curious ceremonies, festivities, and peculiarities of the Chinese, the chance of spending a few hours amongst them on this, the greatest day of their year, is one that you will remember, and talk about for many days to follow.

‘Chinese New Year’s Eve in a well-known street’, Evening News (Sydney), 18 February 1899. The ‘well-known street’ is probably Wexford Street, Surry Hills.

During the evening, bands of celebrated musicians, amongst the Chinese, are engaged to enliven the houses of the rich merchants, and anyone passing by during the evening will be struck with the peculiar twanging of their strange instruments, the tum-tum of drums, , the clashing of symbols, and the staccato voices of the Celestials rise out upon the still, moonlit night, filling one with thoughts of far-away Eastern cities, and dreams of strange customs in far Cathay. The Chinese newspapers, whose title is rather a long one, and would undoubtedly be a stumbling block in the mouths of the usual Sydney newsboy, the “Kwong Yik Wah Bo” [廣益華報], the only Chinese paper in the Southern Hemisphere, owned by Europeans, comes out in gorgeous colored cover, and contains pictures, almanac, and double-page supplement, containing numerous red spaces, on which are printed the names of the leading merchants and bankers, wishing their Chinese clients in the Chinese fashion the complements of a Chinese New Year.


You can view the 1899 ‘Chinese New Year Number of the Chinese Australian Herald’ (廣益華報), mentioned above, in Trove. It was published in Sydney on Friday, 10 February 1899. Some interesting pages to note are:

Wishing everyone a happy Year of the Pig 2019! 恭喜發財!

Were Chinese women naturalized in British Columbia?

One of the projects I have been working on over the past couple of years is a database of Chinese who were naturalized in British Columbia up to 1914.* Working from records held by the British Columbia Archives in Victoria, I have identified 1934 Chinese who were granted naturalization in BC between 1863 and 1914. Of these, three were women: Jsong Mong Lin, Leong Lee Fung, and Wong Bick Yung (also known as Esther Yung).

Jsong Mong Lin was the wife of merchant Loo Gee Wing. She was naturalized on 15 June 1899 at Victoria. She had lived at least ten years in British Columbia, and she signed her name in English. It was noted on her Oath of Residence that the oath was read over and explained to her in Chinese before signing. Her husband Loo Gee Wing was naturalized in 1895.

More information about Jsong Mong Ling and her husband Loo Gee Wing can be found on the Building Vancouver website.

Oath of Residence of Leong Leen Fung, 1889. British Columbia Archives, GR-1554, Box 21, File 1.

Leong Leen Fung 梁連鳳, of Victoria, was the wife of Fung Choy. She was naturalized on 3 November 1899. She had lived in British Columbia for at least five years. Leong Leen Fung signed her name in Chinese, and it was noted on her Oath of Residence that the oath was read over and explained to her in Chinese before signing. Fung Choy was naturalized in June 1899.

Wong Bick Yung, also known as Esther Yung, of Victoria, was naturalized in Victoria on 21 July 1911.

(I have not yet located a full naturalization record – Certificate of Naturalization, Oath of Residence and Certificate Under Section 10 – for Wong Bick Yung, but her name appears on a list of individuals naturalized by the County Court of Victoria on 21 July 1911.)

I am not certain why the two wives were naturalized, as under s 26 of the Naturalization Act Canada 1881 (44 Vic c 13): ‘A married woman shall, within Canada, be deemed to be a subject of the State of which her husband is for the time being a subject’. It does not appear that either Jsong Mong Ling or Leong Leen Fung were widowed. I have not yet identified whether Wong Bick Yung was unmarried, married or widowed.

References: British Columbia Archives, GR-1554: Box 19, File 10; Box 21, File 1; Box 41, File 5.

* Big thanks to Karen Schamberger and Sophie Couchman who have undertaken much of the thankless task of data entry for the BC naturalization database. Sophie and I are still working on completing the data entry, and then tidying up the data, but once that is complete I will make the database publicly available.

2018 in review

This has been the final full year of my DECRA fellowship, and I’ve been focusing on completing some writing projects and getting my international research finished.

Consequently I’ve spent a lot of time away from home this year, with two long international research trips to New Zealand and Canada, as well as trips to China in January for the second Hometown Heritage Tour and in December for a conference at Wuyi University. I’ve also been to Adelaide and Sydney, and up and down the highway between Canberra and Wollongong.

I’m particularly happy that my essays on Charlie Allen’s letters and the Potter v. Minahan High Court case have finally made it to print, and that our co-edited volume on Chinese Australian women’s history is well on it’s way too. I am a slow scholar – in the past because I’ve had to fit my research around other paid work and family responsibilities, but I realise that even now I need time to read and sit with my sources, to write and rewrite and craft my words. I’m very glad to have had the pleasure of co-writing work this year with Tim Sherratt, Sophie Couchman and Julia Martínez, all of which I hope will be out next year.

I have a further six months of my DECRA in 2019 before I move into a different role at the University of Wollongong from July 2019. It’s already looking like a busy time: a third Hometown Heritage Tour and a lecture at Hong Kong University in March; another research trip to Wellington, New Zealand, and a webinar for the Society of Australian Genealogists in April; a Digital Humanities Research Seminar at UTS in May; (hopefully) a conference in Hong Kong in June; and various writing projects to complete along the way.

But before all that, a good long holiday.

Publications

Articles and book chapters
Other writing
The Tiger’s Mouth blog

Publications in progress

Manuscripts submitted
  • Locating Chinese Women: Historical Mobility Between China and Australia (co-edited with Julia Martínez), Hong Kong University Press (reviewers reports received November 2018; forthcoming 2019)
  • ‘The people inside’ (co-written with Tim Sherratt) for Kevin Kee and Timothy Compeau (eds), Seeing the Past with Computers: Experiments with Augmented Reality and Computer Vision for History, University of Michigan Press (forthcoming 2019)
  • ‘Memory and meaning in the search for Chinese Australian families’ (co-written with Sophie Couchman) for Kate Darian-Smith and Paula Hamilton (eds), Remembering Migration: Oral Histories and Heritage in Australia, Palgrave Macmillan (forthcoming 2019)
  • ‘Chinese women in colonial New South Wales: From absence to presence’ for a special issue of Global History Review 全求史評論 on ‘Women and Gender from a Global Perspective’ edited by Qin Fang
Manuscripts in progress
  • Writing: Article on ‘uncovering the history of naturalisation using digital methods’ (co-written with Tim Sherratt) for a special issue of the Journal of World History on ‘Digital Methods/Empire Histories’ edited by Antoinette Burton (to be submitted in February 2019)
  • Writing: Article on ‘the transnational Chinese family in the Tasman colonies (NSW, Victoria, Tasmania and New Zealand’
  • Writing: James Minahan’s Homecoming LODBook digital humanities project (with Tim Sherratt)
  • Editing: Special issue of Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies in memory of Dr Barry McGowan (forthcoming September 2019)
  • Editing: ‘Subjects and Aliens’ edited volume based on my 2017 symposium at UOW (to be submitted to ANU Press in 2019)

Conferences and public lectures

  • Presented the keynote at ‘Amidst Empires: Colonialism, China and the Chinese, 1839-1997’, Flinders University, Adelaide, 29–30 January 2017: ‘“All the rights and capacities”? Chinese naturalisation and colonial mobility’
  • Presented a public lecture as part of the Global Dunedin Series, Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin, New Zealand, 10 June 2018: ‘Gold Mountain guests: Cantonese settlers across the southern colonies’
  • Presented at the Australian Historical Association 2018 at the ANU, Canberra, 2–6 July 2018: ‘Chinese Australian families and the legacies of colonial naturalisation’ (as part of a panel with Emma Bellino and Sophie Couchman)
  • Presented at the International Federation for Research in Women’s History, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, Canada, 9–12 August 2018: ‘White women, Chinese men: Interracial intimacies in colonial New South Wales’
  • Presented at the 2018 International Symposium on Transnational Migration and Qiaoxiang Studies: International Migration Research from a Gendered Vantage Point, Wuyi University, Jiangmen, China, 8–9 December 2018: ‘White women and the transnational Chinese family in colonial New South Wales’
Presenting at the 2018 International Symposium on Transnational Migration and Qiaoxiang Studies, Wuyi University, Jiangmen, China, 8 December 2018

Research

  • January: Village fieldwork in Xiangzhou (Zhuhai) and Cuiheng (Zhongshan), Guangdong, China (3 days)
  • May: Archival research on NZ Chinese naturalisation in Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand (2 weeks)
  • June: Archival research on NZ Chinese naturalisation in Archives New Zealand, Presbyterian Archives, Hocken Library, Toitū, Dunedin, New Zealand (2 weeks)
  • August: Archival research on BC Chinese naturalisation in Libraries and Archives Canada, Ottawa (2 weeks) and British Columbia Archives, Victoria (2 days)
  • December: Fieldwork in Kaiping and Jiangmen, Guangdong, China (3 days)
  • Managed two research assistants undertaking research for my DECRA project (Dr Naomi Parry and Dr Sophie Couchman)

Outreach

With Selia Tan and the 2018 Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour group in one of the restored houses in Cangdong village, Tangkou, Kaiping, January 2018 (photo credit: Sophie Couchman)

Peer review

  • Australian Historical Studies
  • Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
  • History Australia
  • University of Sydney Press
  • ARC 2018 Discovery Project review
  • Royal Society of NZ 2018 Marsden Fund review
  • Fabrications: The Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians, Australia and New Zealand

Supervision and teaching

  • HDR supervision of Emma Bellino, PhD candidate, UOW
  • Delivered a guest lecture on ‘Theory & skills – Working with digital archives: The Chinese in Australia’, History Honours HIST470, University of Wollongong, 4 May 2018
  • Delivered a guest lecture on ‘Developing a research project: Charlie Allen’s transnational childhood’, Hands On History HIST281, University of Wollongong, 17 September 2018

Professional activities and networking

  • Met with Lin Zhihui, PhD candidate, Department of History, Baptist University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 14 January 2018
  • Met with Dr Selia Tan, Wuyi University, Jiangmen, 17–19 January 2018, and 10–11 December 2018
  • Met with Dr Elizabeth La Couture, University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, 24 January 2018
  • Attended ANU School of History seminar by Shauna Bostock-Smith, ‘From Colonisation to My Generation: The History of an Aboriginal Family Group over Several Generations’, 28 February 2018
  • Attended UOW Feminist Research Network seminar by Associate Professor Jane Haggis, ‘Indian Women Touring Europe in the 1930s’, and launch of Dr Sharon Crozier-De Rosa’s book, Shame and the Anti-Feminist Backlash, 19 March 2018
  • Met with Professor Sydney Shep, Professor Duncan Campbell and Ya-Wen Ho, Chinese Type Project, Victoria University of Wellington, 25 May 2018
  • Met with Richard Foy, Chief Archivist, Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand, 28 May 2018
  • Met with Dr Jane McCabe, Dr Lachy Paterson and Associate Professor Angela Wanhalla (Otago University), Associate Professor James Beattie (Victoria University of Wellington), James and Eva Ng (community historians), Dunedin, New Zealand, June 2018
  • Attended Dr Tim Sherratt’s Digital History Drop-In held in conjunction with the Australian Historical Association Conference at the ANU, Canberra, 2 July 2018
  • Met with writer Dr Mirandi Riwoe, Canberra, 24 July 2018
  • Met with Dr Laura Madokoro, McGill University, Ottawa, 15 and 20 August 2018
  • Met with Associate Professor Shawn Graham, Carleton University, Ottawa, 16 August 2018
  • Attended funeral of Dr Barry McGowan, historian of Chinese in rural NSW/Victoria and Chinese mining in Australia, 7 September 2018
  • Attended ‘Fundamentals of Higher Degree Research Supervision’ training by Hugh Kearns, 10 October 2018
  • Attended a UOW Centre for Colonial and Settler Studies guest lecture by Professor Alison Bashford, ‘World History and the Tasman Sea’, University of Wollongong, 24 October 2018
  • Met with Associate Professor Henry Yu, University of British Columbia, Jiangmen, China, 10–11 December 2018

Media

With John Jarratt at the National Library of Australia in Who Do You Think You Are? Series 9

Citations

Citations to my work are included in the 2018 publications listed below.

  • Ruth Balint & Zora Simic, ‘Histories of migrants and refugees in Australia’, Australian Historical Studies, vol. 49, no. 3, pp. 378–409, 2018, DOI: 10.1080/1031461X.2018.1479438
  • Ashley Barnwell and Joseph Cummins, Reckoning with the Past: Family Historiographies in Postcolonial Australian Literature, Routledge, 2018
  • Rebecca Cairns, ‘The Representation of Asia in Victorian Senior Secondary History Curriculum’, PhD thesis, School of Education, Deakin University, 2018
  • Ellen Broad, Made by Humans: The AI Condition, Melbourne University Publishing, Melbourne, 2018
  • Natalie Fong, ‘The significance of the Northern Territory in the formulation of “White Australia” policies, 1880–1901′, Australian Historical Studies, vol. 49, no. 4, pp. 527–45, 2018, DOI: 10.1080/1031461X.2018.1515963
  • Rohan Howitt, ‘The Japanese Antarctic Expedition and the idea of White Australia’, Australian Historical Studies, vol. 49, no. 4, pp. 510–26, 2018, DOI: 10.1080/1031461X.2018.1509881
  • Erin Ihde, ‘A Chinese-hating American in colonial Australia?: Misconstruing “Monitor Hall”, Journal of Australian Colonial History, vol. 20, July 2018, pp. 123–38
  • Nicholas Jose, ‘Gifts from China: The big story of Sino–Australian relations‘, Griffith Review 61: Who We Are, July 2018, https://griffithreview.com/articles/gifts-from-china-australia-relations/
  • Alanna Kamp, ‘Chinese Australian women’s “homemaking” and contributions to the family economy in White Australia’, Australian Geographer, vol. 49, no. 1, pp. 149–65, 2018, DOI: 10.1080/00049182.2017.1327783
  • Tiger Zhifu Li, ‘Dancing with the Dragon: Australia’s Diplomatic Relations with China (1901–1941)’,  M.A. (Res.) thesis, University of Sydney, 2018
  • Elizabeth Malcolm and Dianne Hall, A New History of the Irish in Australia, New South, Sydney, 2018
  • Trevor Owens, The Theory and Craft of Digital Preservation, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, 2018
  • Nadia Rhook, ‘Affective counter networks: Healing, trade, and Indian strategies of in/dependence in early “White Melbourne”‘, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History, vol. 19, no. 2, 2018
  • Rachel Stevens & Seamus O’Hanlon, ‘Intimate oral histories: Intercultural romantic relationships in postwar Australia’, Australian Historical Studies, vol. 49, no. 3, pp. 359–77, DOI: 10.1080/1031461X.2018.1486444
  • WANG Min 王敏, ‘The lack and reconstruction of female history in Chinese Australian studies in the 19th century‘ 19世纪澳洲华人研究中女性史的缺失与重构, Journal of Overseas Chinese History Studies 华侨华人历史研究, no. 3, September 2018, pp. 22–29
  • Mitchell Whitelaw, ‘Mashups and matters of concern: Generative approaches to digital collections’,  Open Library of Humanities, vol. 4, no. 1, 2018, DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/olh.291
  • Michael Williams, Returning Home with Glory: Chinese Villagers around the Pacific, 1849 to 1949, Hong Kong University Press, Hong Kong, 2018
  • Michael Woods, ‘Rural cosmopolitanism at the frontier? Chinese farmers and community relations in northern Queensland, c.1890–1920′, Australian Geographer, vol. 49, no. 1, pp. 107–131, 2018, DOI: 10.1080/00049182.2017.1327785

Canada research trip, August 2018

I spent much of August 2018 in Canada, attending a conference and undertaking more of my DECRA research on Chinese naturalisation in British Columbia.

9–12 August, Vancouver: I presented a paper ‘White women, Chinese men: Interracial intimacies in colonial New South Wales’ at the International Federation for Research on Women’s History conference at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. My paper was part of a panel called ‘Struggles for marriage: Race and indentity’, alongside Karen Hughes from Swinburne University, Rui Kohiyama from Tokyo Women’s Christian University and Junko Akamatsu from Bunkyo Gakuin University in Japan; the panel was chaired by Kristin Celello from Queen’s College CUNY.

On the last day of the conference I went on a Chinatown walking tour run by Judy Lam Maxwell – it was, to be honest, somewhat of a disappointment. The conference program had stated that the tour would be about the women of Vancouver Chinatown, but there wasn’t any particular focus on women and some of the historical information Judy provided about Australia (in the context of White Canada/White Australia) was just plain wrong. I did, however, independently go and eat some delicious dauh fuh fa (豆腐花) at the Chinatown Pop-up Market, part of the Vancouver Chinatown Summer Events program.

13–14 August, Vancouver to Ottawa: Travel, email and life admin.

15–17 August, Ottawa: Research at Library and Archives Canada. I began looking at Canadian Government archival material relating to Chinese naturalisation (LAC only permits you to order 10 archival boxes per day, and they take 24–48 hours to be delivered to the reading room), as well as books, theses and historical writings on the Chinese in Canada, citizenship and so on. I also caught up with the lovely Laura Madokoro (McGill University) and Shawn Graham (Carleton University).

View from the Library and Archives Canada 3rd Floor Reading Room over the Ottawa River towards the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, with the Supreme Court building at right. Also, lots of Canadian flags.

18–19 August, Ottawa and Gatineau: Weekend! I went to the Canadian Museum of History to see how Chinese Canadians figure in the museum’s telling of Canadian history. Having always approached the history of Canada from the Pacific, in the Canadian History Hall it took an unexpectedly long time (and a long walk) to finally get from east to west, to the part where British Columbia enters the national story. Exhibits that included information about Chinese Canadians were:

  • ‘From Sea to Sea’ (1867–1885) – building the Canadian Pacific Railway
  • ‘Transforming a Dominion’ (1885–1914) – early twentieth-century migration, Chinese head tax and the 1907 Vancouver riot
  • ‘Diversity and Human Rights’ (1914–today) – Chinese Immigration Act 1923, the Head Tax Apology and Redress, and the introduction of Canadian citizenship in 1947.

This blog post by curator James Trepanier reflects on telling Asian Canadian histories in the Canadian History Hall.

The Canadian History Hall was big and impressive and busy, but the exhibition I enjoyed most was quietly tucked away on the lower ground floor in a gallery for exhibitions from the collections of Library and Archives Canada. The exhibition, ‘A Little History: The Hidden Stories of Children’, featured paintings, photographs, letters and documents by and about children, including the 1922 head tax certificate of ten-year-old Chong Do Dang from Chew Yung Lee in Hoiping.

1922 head tax certificate for Chong Do Dang (Sam Family Fonds, LAC: MG55/30-No166)

20–24 August, Ottawa: More research at Library and Archives Canada.

25–26 August, Ottawa to Victoria BC: Travel and a day off.

27–28 August, Victoria: Research at the British Columbia Archives, following up on material that I didn’t get to see when I was in Victoria two years ago.

29–31 August, Victoria to Canberra: I watched Crazy Rich Asians, then flew out of Victoria International Airport, to Vancouver, to Melbourne, and then finally home to Canberra!

 

Ten years of the Tiger’s Mouth

Ten years ago today, on 8 August 2008, I published my first post on the Tiger’s Mouth. An auspicious day for the opening of the Beijing Olympics, and an auspicious day to start a blog, I reasoned! Since 2011 the National Library of Australia has been archiving the Tiger’s Mouth in Pandora.

The blog’s name comes from the Bocca Tigris, or Bogue, or Humen (虎門), a narrow strait at the entry to the Pearl River in Guangdong, China. Shipping from Macau and Hong Kong passed through the Bocca Tigris on its way to Canton, and it was the site of major battles during both the First and Second Opium War. I’m also born in the year of the tiger, so it somehow ‘the Tiger’s Mouth’ seemed an appropriate name for a blog full of my thoughts and random bits of research on Chinese Australian history.

Back in 2008 when I started the blog I was working in the Web Content team at the National Archives in Canberra. Today I am in Vancouver on the first day of a three-week conference and research trip funded through my ARC DECRA fellowship. I don’t think the me of ten years ago could have imagined that I would be here doing this, but here I am – 176 blog posts later.

To mark the occasion, here’s a selection of some of my favourite posts:

Here are rundowns of the two China tours I’ve organised with Sophie Couchman:

And here’s my favourite post of all – a guest post by my then seven-year-old from October 2017 ‘How I found Dolly Denson’ by Parker Bagnall.

Chinese Australian families and the legacies of colonial naturalisation

This is the paper I presented at the 2018 Australian Historical Association conference, ‘The Scale of History’, held at the Australian National University on 2–6 July 2018. I spoke alongside Sophie Couchman and Emma Bellino in a panel we put together on ‘National belonging and individual lives’:

  • Kate Bagnall: Chinese Australian families and the legacies of colonial naturalisation
  • Sophie Couchman: New questions about the enlistment of Chinese Australians during World War I
  • Emma Bellino: ‘Australian girl became an alien’: Reporting married women’s nationality.

Sophie spoke about the disconnect between World War I enlistment regulations and practice in relation to Chinese Australians, while Emma spoke about press reports of marital denaturalisation in Australian newspapers from the 1920s to 1940s.

Abstract

In 1888 the Australian colonies came together to implement uniform laws to restrict Chinese immigration, leading eventually to the enactment of the Immigration Restriction Act after Federation in 1901. Alongside immigration restriction, after 1888 four Australian colonies also prohibited Chinese naturalisation, by law in New South Wales and by policy in Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia. The federal Naturalisation Act of 1903 similarly prohibited Chinese naturalisation. Before these restrictions were introduced, however, thousands of Chinese men in Australia became British subjects through naturalisation, nearly 1000 in New South Wales alone. In this paper I consider the legacies of colonial naturalisation in the lives of Chinese migrants and their families in the 1890s and after Federation, particularly concerning mobility and residency rights. I argue that it is through the stories of individual lives, revealed in the press and in government case files, that we can best understand the ways that naturalised Chinese Australians and their children contested discrimination and asserted their rights as citizens.

Introduction

In early January 1889, the Ah Ket children of Wangaratta, Victoria, were stopped at the border of New South Wales. Fourteen-year-old Matilda, together with her three younger siblings aged thirteen, ten and eight, were travelling to the small town of Gerogery, north of Albury, to visit their married sister Rose. On arriving by train at Albury, however, the Ah Ket children were prevented from crossing the border by the Sub-Collector of Customs. The reason? Because they did not hold naturalisation papers. Confronted by the news that they would not be allowed to continue their journey, Matilda stood her ground, declaring that they had been born and educated at Wangaratta; that they were the children of a Chinese interpreter, Mah Ket; and that as ‘native-born children’ they were free to go anywhere in Australia. The Sub-Collector was unconvinced, and so sent them back home to Victoria by the same train. Their father, and the good people of Wangaratta, were appalled by the Customs officer’s actions. Mah Ket put the matter in the hands of a solicitor, and on 19 January 1889, the Wangaratta correspondent to the Melbourne Leader wrote an impasssioned piece on the family’s behalf:

The children whose liberty is so circumscribed are natives of Wangaratta, very intelligent and Christian; and speak better Queen’s English probably than some of the honorable gentlemen who made the law under which they are treated as aliens. It has been determined that for the peace and prosperity of the colony, Chinese immigration shall be restricted. But here were no aliens, but the most peaceful and defenceless of Australians – of like speech, education, religion and affections.

The Act under which the Sub-Collector of Customs stopped the children was the NSW Chinese Restriction and Regulation Act, passed six months earlier, in June 1888. This Act, and others introduced around the Australasian colonies, were the result of growing concerns over Chinese immigration.

One of the children stopped at the NSW border that summer’s day in 1889, thirteen-year-old William Ah Ket, grew up to be Australia’s first Chinese barrister. Educated at Melbourne University and admitted to the bar in 1903, Ah Ket had a distinguished legal career in which he actively campaigned for the rights of Chinese in Australia. He appeared before the High Court, represented Australian Chinese at the opening of the first Chinese parliament in Peking in 1911, and was Acting Consul for China in Australia in 1913–1914 and 1917. He was also a husband and father to two daughters and two sons.

This paper considers nationality, naturalisation and colonial mobility through the lens of Chinese Australian families like the Ah Kets. Mah Ket, the Ah Ket children’s father, was not naturalised, but this should not have mattered when the children tried to cross into New South Wales. Young Matilda was right – as native-born British subjects, the NSW Chinese Restriction Act should not have applied to them. Yet, the fact that they were turned back illustrates the ambiguity with which immigration restriction laws were applied to native-born and naturalised Chinese British subjects in Australia and New Zealand. The law stated what it stated, but it’s truth also lay in the way that it was interpreted and applied – whether that was at the border, in a bureaucrat’s office, in a magistrate’s court or in the High Court.

Prohibition of Chinese naturalisation formed part of the anti-Chinese policies introduced in four Australian colonies (New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia) from the 1880s, and then in the Commonwealth of Australia from 1904 and the Dominion of New Zealand from 1908. Before these prohibitions, however, thousands of Chinese men in Australia and New Zealand became British subjects through naturalisation, nearly 1000 in New South Wales alone. In this paper then I want to think about the legacies of this earlier history of colonial naturalisation in the lives of Chinese settlers and their families in the 1890s and after Federation, particularly concerning mobility and residency rights. I will argue that it is through the stories of individual lives, revealed in the press and in government case files, that we can best understand the ways that naturalised Chinese Australians and their children contested discrimination and asserted their rights as citizens.

Naturalisation and Chinese restriction

The first anti-Chinese legislation was introduced in Australia in 1855 in Victoria, followed by a similar Act in South Australia in 1857. New South Wales then followed suit in 1861. With tonnage restrictions and a poll tax on each Chinese arrival, this legislation was effective in reducing the Chinese population in the colonies, and so, having served its purpose, it was repealed: in South Australia in 1861 (after three years), in Victoria in 1865 (after 10 years) and in New South Wales in 1867 (after 5 years). Between then and 1881, there was no restrictive legislation against Chinese immigration – except in Queensland, which introduced a Chinese Immigration Restriction Act in 1877. In 1881, however, new and more consistent legislation was introduced across the colonies after the 1880–81 intercolonial conferences. This legislation was then tightened following the Intercolonial Conference on the Chinese Question in mid-1888. Laws varied slightly across the seven colonies, but they generally had tonnage restrictions and some a poll tax to limit the number of Chinese migrants. They also included various exemptions, for residents and British subjects.

In New South Wales, Victoria and New Zealand, for instance, the 1881 Acts brought in a £10 poll tax on Chinese arriving by sea or by land and a limit of one Chinese to every 100 tons of shipping. The NSW and Victorian Acts exempted British subjects, while in New South Wales and New Zealand, other Chinese residents could also apply for exemption certificates. In 1888, the tonnage limits increased in each of these colonies, and the NSW poll tax leapt to £100, while it was abolished in Victoria. Each colony exempted Chinese naturalised in that colony, while the NSW Act also explicitly exempted British subjects by birth. Significantly, too, the NSW Act prohibited the naturalisation of Chinese. After Federation, the Australian colonial laws were repealed, although not immediately – in New South Wales, for example, the poll tax remained in place until 1903. The new federal Immigration Restriction Act, which came into force from the beginning of 1902, provided exemptions for those who had formerly been domiciled in the Commonwealth or in any colony which had become a state (s 3n). Australian birth and naturalisation certificates could be used as proof of this domicile, although exemption certificates were also issued.

As mentioned, prohibition of Chinese naturalisation also formed part of the anti-Chinese measures introduced in Australia and New Zealand. New South Wales was the only colony that prohibited Chinese naturalisation by law and it did so twice, in 1861 (repealed in 1867) and again in 1888. Three other colonies (Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia) stopped naturalising Chinese after 1888, while Tasmania and Queensland continued until the federal Naturalization Act came into force in 1904. This new Act prohibited naturalisation of ‘aboriginal natives’ of Asia, Africa and the islands of the Pacific, except New Zealand. In New Zealand, Chinese were naturalised until 1907; and it was stopped after the NZ Cabinet decided in February 1908 to decline naturalisation applications of Chinese from them on.

Colonial Chinese naturalisation

The numbers of Chinese who became naturalised in each colony varied greatly, from about 20 in Western Australia up to nearly 3000 in Victoria. In New Zealand there were around 450. As part of my current project, I am compiling databases of Chinese who became naturalised in New South Wales, New Zealand and British Columbia in Canada. If we look at Chinese naturalisations in New South Wales each year from the late 1850s, when the first one took place, to 1888, when Chinese naturalisation was prohibited for the second time, we can see a gap during the 1860s when it was prohibited the first time, and a very obvious peak in the early 1880s. The highest point on that peak is in 1883, when there were 301 naturalisations of Chinese, making up almost a third of the total for the colony. If we think back to what else was happening in the early 1880s, it is clear that this increase was in response to the 1881 NSW Influx of Chinese Restriction Act – which provided exemptions from the £10 poll tax for Chinese naturalised in the colony.

Applicants for naturalisation in New South Wales were asked to state a reason why they sought naturalisation, and most Chinese stated that it was because they wanted to purchase land, or because they had settled in the colony, or something similar. But eight men stated that they sought naturalisation for the rights of ingress and egress. One of these men, Ah Hi, who was naturalised in 1886, stated, for example, that he was ‘desirous of seeing his parents and relatives & returning to this colony where he has an interest in a market garden’. Although there were only a handful of men who explicity stated they sought naturalisation so they could travel across colonial borders, the rapid increase in numbers of naturalisations after the 1881 Act came into force suggests that mobility was a prime motivation.

Other evidence in the archives also shows that Chinese actively used naturalisation to faciliate mobility, for themselves and for their families. There are, for example, Customs statistics that record the numbers of Chinese entering the colonies using naturalisation certificates, reports of individual cases in the newspapers, and Customs and External Affairs / Internal Affairs files that document the travels of Chinese Australians and Chinese New Zealanders. I want now to turn to some of the individual cases of naturalised Chinese and their families – to consider the ways they used their status as British subjects to negotiate anti-Chinese immigration laws, and also to consider the ambiguous nature of the interpretation and application of those laws.

At the borders

So, to return to the Ah Ket children briefly. Under the NSW 1888 Act, any Chinese who produced satisfactory evidence that they were a British subject by birth was to be allowed to enter the colony, yet the Sub-Collector turned the children away for not having naturalisation papers. Would the situation have been different if Matilda, William, Alberta and Ada had produced their Victorian birth certificates, as many Australian-born Chinese did when they returned by sea? Or what if their father was naturalised and they had produced his naturalisation certificate? Would that have been enough proof?

For Chinese Australians, crossing colonial and later national borders was first contingent on being satisfactorily identified, of convincing officials at the border that you were who you said you were. It was then further contingent on bureaucratic and legal interpretations of the law. Each time the law changed, or new regulations were issued, Customs officers at both sea and land borders had to work out how the new policies worked in practice. In her history of the Chinese in Sydney, Shirley Fitzgerald has noted, for example, that in the early 1880s, administering the 1881 Chinese Restriction Act took up much of the Collector of Customs’ time and energy, and he regularly complained to his superiors that he had inadequate staff to deal with incoming and outgoing Chinese (Shirley Fitzgerald, Red Tape, Gold Scissors, pp. 28–29).

Each time the law changed, Chinese Australians also had to work out what the new requirements meant, and how they could best negotiate them, whether by lawful or unlawful means. The dramatic increase in Chinese naturalisations after the 1881 Act is an example of this, and so too is the fact that by 1885, the Sydney Collector of Customs believed that there was a solid trade in naturalisation certificates, which were ‘sent to China and sold’. Chinese Australians made use of their rights where and how they could, and pushed back where and how they could, particularly where the law left room for negotiation.

Family mobility

Naturalisation allowed Chinese men themselves to come and go from Australia and New Zealand, but it also facilitated the entry of their wives and children. In 1898, Nicholas Lockyer, the NSW Collector of Customs, told Sydney’s Evening News that two ways that Chinese evaded the poll tax were by ‘the transfer of naturalisation papers’ and by ‘Chinese women passing themselves off as wives of men who have been formally naturalised in New South Wales’. Such suspicions resulted in careful investigations and meticulous recordkeeping, particularly after the turn of the century.

One example is the Ah Lum family of Sydney. Mrs Ah Lum (I’m afraid that I haven’t yet identified the names of some of these wives and children) came out to live with her husband in 1895. He was a storekeeper and had been naturalised in 1882, returning to China to visit a few years later. The Ah Lums’ daughter was born in 1887, after Ah Lum had returned to New South Wales, and she had stayed in China with her grandmother after her mother migrated. In 1899, Ah Lum asked for permission for his daughter to come to live with him and his wife, as his mother had died and the child had no one to care for her. After some investigations by the Customs department’s Chinese inspector, a permit was issued so Ah Lum’s daughter could enter without paying the poll tax.

The Ah Lums’ case was a relatively straightforward one, unlike that of George Lee’s family a few years later. Lee had been naturalised in 1884 and returned to China not long after to be married. In August 1902, he brought his wife and two sons, Quong Foo and Quong Jah, to Sydney. Mrs Lee was admitted without question because she was the wife of a naturalised British subject (and a wife’s nationality followed that of her husband), but officials demanded the £100 poll tax be paid for each son. Lee paid up, under protest, and the Presbyterian Church raised the matter with the Premier and Solicitor-General on his behalf. They were told that Lee was only a British subject while in New South Wales and that as soon as he left, he reverted to Chinese nationality, hence his children were not British subjects by birth or descent. When asked about the matter, Prime Minister Edmund Barton stated it was not of his concern – the payment of the poll tax was a matter for the state of New South Wales to decide, and the family had been allowed in properly under the Commonwealth Immigration Restriction Act.

Barton could be so dismissive of his responsibility because, at that moment in time, domiciled Chinese men were able to bring in their wives and minor children under section 3 paragraph m of the Immigration Restriction Act. This provision was suspended by proclamation after only 15 months, and repealed in 1905, but during the time it was in force 88 Chinese family members, mainly wives, were allowed to enter Australia permanently. One of these was the wife of Kok Say, managing partner of the Hong Yuen & Co. store in Inverell. In mid 1902, Kok Say wrote to the government requesting a permit for his wife’s entry and stating his credentials – he had been naturalised in 1884 after arriving in the colony of New South Wales nine years earlier. In his words, ‘I have made my home here & have no intention of returning at any time to China’. His request was granted without issue and Mrs Kok Say arrived at Sydney from Hong Kong in November 1902.

After the repeal of section 3 paragraph m in 1905, the entry of Chinese wives and children was solely at the discretion of the Minister for External Affairs, and over the following years we see naturalised Chinese continuing to try to find ways to bring their families to Australia, including through legal challenges in the courts. In New Zealand, naturalised Chinese similarly tested the limits of the law in their efforts to bring out wives and children without having to pay the poll tax, which continued to be applied until 1934, before finally being repealed in 1944.

Conclusion

Although the prohibition of Chinese naturalisation was part of the suite of anti-Chinese measures introduced in the Australasian colonies from the 1860s through into the 20th century, its history is more than one of simple exclusion. It is important to also consider the times when Chinese could be, and were, naturalised, and the ongoing legacies of this in their and their families lives. As British subjects, naturalised Chinese had legal and political rights that they continually asserted, testing and challenging the limits of policy and law. Sometimes they were successful in these challenges, sometimes they weren’t, but when we look closely at their individual cases we can see how their actions both shaped and were shaped by the law. We can also see inconsistencies and ambiguities in the law and in the ways it was administered and applied.

‘The prevalence of this prefix’, 1898

I very much like this explanation by Alexander Don, Presbyterian missionary to New Zealand’s Cantonese population, of the eternally perplexing question of the prefix ‘Ah’ in Chinese names.

Don spoke Cantonese and could read and write Chinese, having first studied in Guangzhou in the late 1870s. This piece comes from his account of a trip visiting Chinese communities around the Pacific in 1897 (Alexander Don, Under Six Flags: Being Notes on Chinese in Samoa, Hawaii, United States, British Columbia, Japan, and China, J. Wilkie & Co., Dunedin, 1898, pp. 11-12.)

‘AH’

Everyone has noticed the prevalence of this prefix to the names of Chinese abroad, and many are the attempts to explain. Generally it is supposed to represent our ‘Mr,’ but on one occasion a Supreme Court Judge gravely informed the jury and counsel that he had discovered it to mean ‘Bachelor’! In China it is used only to familiar friends, to close relatives, to inferiors, servants, and such. In the Colonies one finds the head of a large importing firm, known as ‘Ah ——,’ with ‘& Co.’ often attached. The nearest parallel to this in English usage would be to style the firm, Robert Wilson & Co., as ‘Bobby & Co.’ For the prefix ‘Ah’ has much the same force as our familiar and diminutive affix ‘y’ or ‘ie.’ For the Britons, James Brown, John Smith, and Thomas Jones, to be known among the Chinese in China as Jimmy, Johnnie, and Tommy—this is one with the Chinese Lee Wun, Chan Wing, and Wong Ping, bearing among us the names Ah Wun, Ah Wing, and Ah Ping. Their full names may be—probably are—Lee Yeong-Wun, Chan Shing-Wing, and Won Ping-Kwong. They would never be called Ah Lee, Ah Chan, nor Ah Wong; for these are surnames. Equally Ah Yeung-Wun, Ah Shing-Wing, &c., are not used, just as we do not call a boy Tommy Willie for Thomas William, but either Tommy or Willie separately. Chinese, not knowing the meaning of ‘Mr,’ say, when asked the meaning of ‘Ah,’—‘All the same Mr.’ And thinking that we have only names—not surnames—prefix ‘Ah’ indiscriminately. So I am sometimes called ‘Ah Don,’ and Mr Ings ‘Ah Joe.’

Jung Hei 鍾熙, Siu Lo 蕭露 and Lau Naam 劉南 with Alexander Don at Tuapeka, Otago, c. 1898–1903. National Library of New Zealand – original held by the Hocken Library (MS-1007-009/009).

‘All for a White Australia’, but…

In 1912, Henry Lawson published a short story titled ‘Ah Soon: A Chinese-Australian Story‘ in the Sydney magazine The Lone Hand. In ‘Ah Soon’, the (white) narrator tells a story of reciprocal kindness across two families and two generations.

Illustration by Harry J. Weston from The Lone Hand, 1 August 1912

The first kindness is from the narrator’s parents to Ah Soon, a Chinese gardener, when they lived at Lawson’s Creek near Mudgee many years earlier. They helped Ah Soon to hospital when his cart tipped over near their home, crushing him under its heavy load.

The second kindness is from Ah Soon’s son, Ah See, a vegetable hawker, to the narrator himself. It came in the form of a red envelope (with £6 inside), given quietly when the narrator had fallen on hard times as a writer in Sydney.

The narrator was initially unaware of the connection between him and Ah See, but:

Then it dawned on me—and I saw: [he] was Ah See, the son of old Ah Soon, and I was the son of my father and mother; and my father and mother had been good to Ah Soon, the father of Ah See; and Ah See had remembered. Besides, I had used to teach him … to write in those dim, half-forgotten days.

To me one of the most interesting parts of the story is its beginning, where the narrator articulates what seems to have been a not-uncommon attitude of white Australians towards their Chinese neighbours. He says:

I don’t know whether a story about a Chinaman would be popular or acceptable here and now; and, for the matter of that, I don’t care. I am anti-Chinese as far as Australia is concerned; in fact, I am all for a White Australia. But one may dislike, or even hate, a nation without hating or disliking an individual of that nation. One may be on friendly terms; even pals in a way.

In writing about Chinese Australians and the White Australia policy (and its antecedents), I sometimes wonder how to make sense of the complexities and contradictions. Few white Australians openly argued against the principle of a ‘White Australia’ – and it was certainly ever-present in the lives of Chinese Australians – yet there are many examples in the archives that suggest that maintaining ‘White Australia’ was not always the most important principle or ideology in the interactions of white Australians and Chinese.

Lawson’s narrative of Ah Soon and Ah See is just one story, and a fictional one at that, but as Amanda Rasmussen has suggested, examining small stories or particular episodes in history can show ‘that there was not always an automatic transference of the racial prejudice dominant in the national public discourse into people’s everyday exchanges’.

As a historian, I continue to be challenged in my efforts to write nuanced histories of Chinese Australia that recognise this dual history of exclusion and inclusion. Histories that aren’t just 血淚史 (histories of blood and tears). Histories that can acknowledge the moments of kindness and connection in amongst the discourses and systems of racism and discrimination.

Sources

Ah Soon: A Chinese-Australian Story‘, The Lone Hand, vol. 11, no. 64 (1 August 1912), pp. 324–28.

Amanda Rasmussen, ‘The Rise of Labor: A Chinese Australian Participates in Bendigo Local Politics at a Formative Moment, 1904–1905’, in Sophie Couchman and Kate Bagnall (eds), Chinese Australians: Politics, Engagement and Resistance, Brill, Leiden, 2015, pp. 174–202, here p. 177.

Ouyang Yu, ‘Lawson, Gunn and the “White Chinaman”: A Look at How Chinese are Made White in Henry Lawson and Mrs Aeneas Gunn’s Writings‘, LINQ (Literature in North Queensland), vol. 30, no. 2 (2003), pp. 10–23.

2018 Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour

In January 2018, Sophie Couchman and I hosted our second Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour to Hong Kong and Guangdong. The tour ran for eleven days, from 14 to 24 January 2018, and visited Hong Kong, Jiangmen, Kaiping, Taishan, Xinhui, Zhongshan and Zhuhai.

We were joined on the tour by seventeen guests, from New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and the UK – most of whom were descended from early Cantonese migrants to Australia. One of our guests was on the tour for a second time.

Our local tour guide was Stony Xiao from China Adventure Tours, with arrangements and bookings coordinated by Active Travel in Canberra.

For the Chinese characters and Cantonese pronunciation of the names of places we visited on the tour, see this glossary of place names in Chinese (pdf, 1.6MB).

You can find out more and join our mailing list if you’re interested in joining us on a future tour.

The 2018 Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour, with Selia Tan, outside the ancestral halls in Cangdong village, Kaiping

Day 1: Hong Kong 香港

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Accommodation: Charterhouse Hotel, Causeway Bay

Itinerary: arrive in Hong Kong


Day 2: Hong Kong 香港

Monday, 15 January 2018

Accommodation: Charterhouse Hotel, Causeway Bay

Itinerary: morning visit to King Yin Lei mansion and walking tour of Hong Kong Cemetery led by Sophie Couchman; yum cha lunch in Causeway Bay; free afternoon and evening

King Yin Lei, Stubbs Road, Mid-Levels: We started the tour by visiting this magnificent mansion, built by Ballarat herbalist Frank Shum Goon and his wife in 1936. It narrowly escaped demolition in 2007 but was thankfully saved by Hong Kong’s heritage-minded citizens. It is rarely open to the public but we were treated to perfect weather and a magnificent view from the street.
Hong Kong Cemetery, Happy Valley: Sophie led us on a Chinese Australian walking tour of the cemetery – we started at the top and wove our way down to the main gates opposite the Happy Valley racecourse. Among more than 12,000 graves in this beautiful ‘garden cemetery’ are a significant number of Chinese Australians who built lives in Hong Kong after leaving Australia.
Hong Kong Cemetery, Happy Valley: Pauline Rule shared her knowledge about Australian Jane Benson, the wife of Chun Yut, who is buried in the cemetery. One of the exciting aspects of the tour is the knowledge our tour members share with us and each other.

Day 3: Hong Kong 香港 – Jiangmen 江門

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Accommodation: Yucca Hotel, Jiangmen

Itinerary: morning transfer by ferry and bus to Jiangmen; lunch at Yucca Hotel; afternoon visit to Wuyi Overseas Chinese Museum; dinner at Wuyi Kitchen, Jiangmen

On the bus from Zhongshan to Jiangmen: Some on the tour were old China hands and others were setting foot on the mainland for the first time. People-watching out the bus window, and lively conversation inside it, quickly became part of the tour.
Wuyi Overseas Chinese Museum, Jiangmen: At the entrance of this terrific bilingual museum, where we got an overview of the breadth and significance of overseas Chinese migration from the Sze Yap region.
Wuyi Kitchen, Jiangmen: A taste of what was to come – food and architecture are a big part of the Hometown Heritage Tour!

Day 4: Jiangmen 江門 – Kaiping 開平

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Accommodation: Pan Tower International Hotel, Kaiping

Itinerary: morning and lunch at the Cangdong Heritage Education Centre, Tangkou, Kaiping, with Dr Selia Tan; afternoon visit to Zili village, Tangkou; dinner at Jiaxiang Seafood Restaurant, Kaiping

Cangdong village, Tangkou, Kaiping: We took advantage of the beautiful weather to explore the village environs with Dr Selia Tan. Selia told us about the uses of local plants, the feng shui of the village and the various shrines placed on the village boundaries.
Cangdong village, Tangkou, Kaiping: It didn’t take long for these local dishes, prepared by the Cangdong village women, to be wolfed down! Kate was particularly happy to be fed such a delicious and diverse range of vegetarian dishes.
Zili village, Tangkou, Kaiping: Taking in the view from the top one of the UNESCO World Heritage-listed mansions in Zili. Built by overseas Chinese in the early 20th century, these mansions and diaolou (defensive towers) blend Chinese and Western architectural styles and building methods.

Day 5: Kaiping 開平

Thursday, 18 January 2018

Accommodation: Pan Tower International Hotel, Kaiping

Itinerary: morning visit and cultural activities in Cangdong village; lunch at Deji Restaurant, Tangkou; afternoon cultural activities and Cantonese opera performance in Cangdong village; own choice for dinner, Kaiping

Cangdong village, Tangkou, Kaiping: We were fortunate to spend two busy days full of food, talks, craft and music at beautiful Cangdong village. Cangdong is the ancestral home of Sydney-born Chinese Australian revolutionary Tse Tsan-tai.
Cangdong village, Tangkou, Kaiping: One of our favourite tour activities is making, and blowing, clay chicken whistles. The art of making this once-popular childhood toy was on the brink of disappearing, but has been revived thanks to the Cangdong project.
Cangdong village, Tangkou, Kaiping: We finished our second day in Cangdong with a Cantonese opera performance under the banyan tree – and Sophie made a new friend!

Day 6: Kaiping 開平 – Taishan 台山

Friday, 19 January 2018

Accommodation: Taishan Gaoye Hotel, Taicheng

Itinerary: accompanied by Dr Selia Tan, morning visit to Fengcai Tang, Dihai, then Majianglong village and Baihe Pier, Baihe; lunch in a local restaurant, Baihe; afternoon tea in Yueshan market, Kaiping, then visit to Qiaotou and Zhaolongli villages, Yueshan; dinner at Qianmanyuan restaurant, Taicheng, Taishan

Fengcai Tang, Dihai, Kaiping: A special treat for our tour was having Selia Tan talk with us about the heritage significance of this magnificent ancestral hall, built by the Yee clan, now on the grounds of a high school. Many Yees from Dihai made their homes in Australia and New Zealand.
Majianglong village, Baihe, Kaiping: UNESCO World Heritage-listed Majianglong village is surrounded bamboo – dense, protective, and beautiful – offering us very different views from those in Zili village. Among the bamboo we even discovered a school with Australian links!
Yueshan town, Kaiping: We might have already eaten a fullsome lunch but that didn’t stop us all enjoying these freshly baked goodies, on sale every afternoon from three o’clock in Yueshan. As well as the ever-popular egg tart, we found pineapple buns made with chunks of real pineapple!

Day 7: Taishan 台山

Saturday, 20 January 2018

Accommodation: Taishan Gaoye Hotel, Taicheng

Itinerary: morning visit to Longtengli in Shandi village and Meijia Dayuan, then to Haikou Pier and Silver Letter Museum, Haikou; lunch in Doushan; afternoon self-guided walking tour of ‘Old Toising’ and own choice for dinner, Taicheng

Meijia Dayuan, Dingjiang, Duanfen, Taishan: We visited the stunning Mei family market square on a Saturday and it was busy and bustling. Like at Yueshan there were plenty of local goodies for sale, except here it’s now on offer for tourists and day-trippers.
Haikou Pier and Silver Letter Museum, Haikou, Taishan: We like to do a bit of exploring on our tours, and this museum had only just opened. There’s lots of great historical material on display, but no English, so Stony provided us with an excellent overview and translated text panels on the run.
Wet market, Nanchang Street, Taicheng: On the tour we have plenty of opportunities to experience everyday life in southern China, such as the shops and markets in the backstreets of Taicheng, the capital of Taishan county.

Day 8: Taishan 台山 – Xinhui 新會 – Zhongshan 中山

Sunday, 21 January 2018

Accommodation: Sheraton Hotel, Zhongshan

Itinerary: yum cha breakfast at Gaoye Hotel, Taicheng; morning visit to Shiquli village, Luokeng, Xinhui; lunch at Yufuzi restaurant on the river at Luokeng; afternoon visit to Xinhui Confucius Temple and Jinniushan Overseas Chinese Cemetery, Xinhui; dinner at Shiqi Lao restaurant, Zhongshan

Shiquli village, Luokeng, Xinhui: One of the special things for Kate on the tour is bringing the group to Shiquli, a village whose Australian connections she has been researching for almost a decade. Since we were there on a Sunday, the village kids weren’t at school and they followed us as we were shown around the village by former village head, Chen Ruihuai, aka ‘Grandpa’ Chan.
Luokeng, Xinhui: We ate lunch overlooking a branch of the Tan River at Luokeng – while not as vital as in the nineteenth century, river culture is still an important part of life in the region.
Shiqi Lao restaurant, Zhongshan: Food as performance art!

Day 9: Zhongshan 中山

Monday, 22 January 2018

Accommodation: Sheraton Hotel, Zhongshan

Itinerary: morning visit to Zhuxiuyuan and Shachong villages, Zhongshan South District; own choice for lunch and afternoon self-guided walking tour of ‘Old Shekki’ along Sun Wen Road, Shiqi, Zhongshan; dinner at Xi Jia restaurant, Sanxi village, Zhongshan East District

Zhuxiuyuan, South District, Zhongshan: The Kwok brothers from Zhuxiuyuan founded the famous Wing On department stores in Hong Kong and Shanghai after business success in Sydney. We saw an expression of their wealth in this house built in their home village, now a suburb of Zhongshan city.
Shiqi, Zhongshan: There are lots of hidden sights down the laneways off Sun Wen Road in Shekki, the old part of Zhongshan city – these women do facial hair removal by ‘threading’.
Sanxi village, East District, Zhongshan: Enjoying a drink at the microbrewery before dinner.

Day 10: Zhongshan 中山 – Zhuhai 珠海

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Accommodation: Aqueen Hotel, Zhuhai

Itinerary: morning visit to Xiangshan Commercial Culture Museum, Shiqi, then to Museum of the Former Residence of Sun Yat-sen and Zhongshan Folklore Culture Museum, Cuiheng, Zhongshan; lunch at Hi Centre and Zhuhai Opera House, Xiangzhou, Zhuhai; afternoon visit to Meixi Royal Stone Archways, Meixi village, Xiangzhou; dinner at Deyue Fang restaurant, Yeli Island, Xiangzhou

Xiangshan Commerical Culture Museum, Shiqi, Zhongshan: The top floor of this museum tells the story of the four major Shanghai department stores, established by Zhongshan-born Chinese who learnt their skills and raised their capital in Australia – the Mas, Kwoks, Choys and lastly the Lees and Lius.
Museum of the Former Residence of Sun Yat-sen, Cuiheng, Zhongshan: As well as stories about Sun Yat-sen’s childhood in Cuiheng and his later career, this museum contains displays about Zhongshan domestic life and culture.
Meixi Paifang, Meixi village, Xiangzhou, Zhuhai: These ‘paifang’ or archways were presented by the Qing government to Chun Afong, the first Chinese consul in Hawaii, for his benevolence and good works in his hometown. The nearby museum highlights the interesting lives of Chun Afong and his mixed-race Chinese-Hawaiian family.

Day 11: Zhuhai 珠海 – Hong Kong 香港

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Itinerary: morning walking tour of old Xiangzhou fishing port led by Kate Bagnall and visit to Transient Fishing Culture Exhibition Hall, Xiangzhou, Zhuhai; ferry transfer to Hong Kong

Hong Kong-Macau Transient Fishing Culture Exhibition Hall, Xiangzhou, Zhuhai: We visited this former dragon boat pavilion as part of Kate’s Zhuhai walking tour – as a museum it now tells the history of Old Xiangzhou and the Tanka fishing communities of Zhuhai, Macau and Hong Kong.
Xiangzhou, Zhuhai: We were treated to an aerial display over the Zhuhai Opera House and Xiangzhou fishing port – the port will soon be relocated to make way for a luxury marina.
Jiuzhou Port, Zhuhai: Heading back to Hong Kong by high-speed ferry.

Finally, a big thanks to our 2018 tourers – Megan, Kerry, Pauline, Leanne, Natalie, Susan, Richard, Ann, Sally-Anne, Yvonne, Lyn, Kevin, Sarah, Robbie, Janice, Alice, Dalys – for the things each one of you brought to the tour. It’s a joy and a privilege to be able to share these experiences with you!

Looking for love (or a wife, at least)

 Wife Wanted.

AH KOW, Chinese Gardener, Binalong, got a nice house, and doing good trade. I want a nice, clean, quiet young woman—any country—for A WIFE. Any young woman that wants a good husband, please come and speak to me, or send answer to Post Office, Binalong. AH KOW.

This interesting advertisement by ‘Ah Kow’ of Binalong, in the southern tablelands of New South Wales, appeared in the Murrumburrah Signal on 7 May 1884.*

Binalong is a pretty village about 35 kilometres north-west of Yass. In the 1850s and 1860s it was an important staging post for the Cobb & Co. coach heading to the goldfields at Lambing Flat (Young), about 60 kilometres away.

Digitised historical newspapers don’t reveal much about the Chinese who were living at Binalong in the 1880s, when Ah Kow was resident there, even though it was said in 1883 that their numbers were ‘getting very numerous’ (Southern Argus, 18 January 1883, p. 2). The 1891 census recorded only 8 Chinese at Yass and 8 at Boorowa, although there were 46 at Young. In Binalong the Chinese seem mostly to have been working as gardeners.

What then of Ah Kow’s search for a wife? There don’t appear to be any other obvious reports about him in the papers – certainly none identified in Robyn Atherton’s book* or that I’ve spotted in Trove – and I can find no marriage or birth registrations that might suggest Ah Kow was lucky in love, either.

There is, however, a newspaper report of a woman named Annie Ah Kow who came before the Yass police court in June 1884 for being drunk and disorderly (Yass News, 28 June 1884, p. 2). Having been before the courts previously on charges of drunkenness, Annie Ah Kow doesn’t seem to fit with Ah Kow’s requirements for a ‘nice, clean, quiet young woman’. But perhaps Annie and Ah Kow had lived together then gone their separate ways, prompting Ah Kow to look for a different kind of woman to share his life?

Southern Argus (Goulburn, NSW), 28 June 1884, p. 2

The following year, a similar advertisement appeared in the same newspaper. This time it was ‘Ah How’ of Cootamundra who thought he’d try his luck by advertising for a wife. The Goulburn Evening Penny Post reported on the ad on 4 August 1885, saying:

A Chinaman Seeks a Wife.

The following curious advertisement appeared in the Murrumburrah Signal:—Matrimony.—Ah How, aged 30 years, would like to take a partner for life. The lady’s age is of no consequence—but he would prefer one between 15 and 50—and she may belong to any religion under the sun. She must, however, be a good housewife,—clean, able to wash, cook, &c., as well as sober in her habits. Apply by letter, to Ah How, Post Office, Cootamundra.

Cootamundra is about 70 kilometres from Binalong, with Murrumburrah being about half way between the two. Was Ah How inspired by Ah Kow’s ingenuity, or were they the same man?

References to Ah How, a gardener at Cootamundra, suggest that he was resident there by the mid-1880s. In September 1886 Willie Ah How applied to lease five acres for a garden in Cootamundra, which was granted in 1887 (Wagga Wagga Advertiser, 6 October 1887, p. 3). In 1893, he and three other Chinese were listed on the Municipal Roll for Cootamundra (Cootamundra Herald, 8 February 1893, p. 4). No obvious marriage or birth registrations appear under the name Ah How at Cootamundra or nearby, and Willie Ah How died intestate at Cootamundra in 1906 (Government Gazette, 30 May 1906, p. 3208).

Parker Street, Cootamundra, 1886 (Sydney Mail and New South Wales Advertiser, 4 September 1886, p. 495)

* Ah Kow’s advertisement is reproduced in Robyn Atherton, They Were More Than Just Gold Diggers: The Chinese of Murrumburrah and Surrounding Districts 1860s–1960s, second edition, Harden-Murrumburrah Historical Society Inc., Harden, NSW, 2011, p. 48.