Category: Conferences

Symposium on Chinese women in the southern diaspora

Following on from the 2013 Dragon Tails conference, Julia Martínez and I are organising a Symposium on Chinese Women in Southern Diaspora History. The symposium will be held at the University of Wollongong.

Date: Friday, 5 December 2014
Time: 9.00am to 3.30pm
Venue: Building 24, Rooms 201 and 202, University of Wollongong

Speakers include:

  • Pauline Rule — Being a Chinese wife and mother in colonial Victoria, 1856–1900
  • Sandi Robb — Daughters of the Flowery Land: Chinese women in Queensland 1860–1920
  • Kate Bagnall — Family politics: Chinese wives in Australia, 1902 to 1920
  • Sophie Couchman — Chinese-Australian brides, photography and the white wedding
  • Julia Martínez — University education of Chinese women in the 20th century
  • Sophie Loy-Wilson — Daisy Guo’s Shanghai: Narrating the lives of Chinese Australian women in Shanghai before and after 1949
  • Paul Macgregor — Mrs Fabian Chow of Shanghai — journalist, radio star and goodwill ambassador: an Australian Chinese colleague of the Soong sisters

Professor Jan Ryan from Edith Cowan University will also be providing her reflections on Chinese women’s history.

The symposium is open to the public and there is no registration fee. If you would like to attend, please RSVP to Julia Martínez (juliam@uow.edu.au) by 31 October 2014 for catering purposes.

Download a pdf of the symposium programme.

The best laid plans — August 2014 edition

About six months ago I embarked on a new endeavour. I took a redundancy from the public service and began to spend my days at home — researching, writing, doing the washing, weeding the garden and wrangling kids. After twelve years in the public service — my entire grown-up working life — it has taken me a while to adjust. I was used to being a breadwinner, used to juggling the hectic demands of full-time work around my kids and my crazy need to keep up my historical pursuits in my ‘spare time’. So I’ve been feeling strangely guilty about the time I have, now that I don’t rush off to the office every day. I have done some occasional freelance work over the past couple of months and will need to get back to more paid work again in the new year — whether as a freelance editor/historian or back in an office job, I don’t know. For now though I have the rest of the year to get done the research and writing I’ve been bursting to do and couldn’t fit in before. No pressure, right?

So, overly ambitious as always, here’s what I plan to do between now and January:

  • manage the publication production of my first book, Chinese Australians: Politics, Engagement and Resistance, co-edited with Sophie Couchman, which we are about to send to the publisher, Brill (ongoing)
  • finish writing a chapter, tentatively titled ‘Writing home from China: Charles Allen’s transnational childhood’, for Paul Arthur’s edited collection Australian Culture and Identity: Transnational Perspectives in Life Writing, to be published by Anthem Press (by end of September)
  • sole parent for a couple of weeks while Tim attends conferences in Japan and London (September/October)
  • prepare two written papers, on ‘Early Chinese families in Australia’ and ‘Finding your Chinese roots’, for Congress 2015 Canberra (written papers need to be in four months before the conference!) (by end of November)
  • prepare my paper, ‘Everyday intimacies: women’s cross-cultural interactions on a colonial goldfield’, for the Migrant Cross-Cultural Encounters conference at the University of Otago in late November — I’m also going to stay on for a couple of extra days to meet with the folk from the Centre for Research on Colonial Culture (by late November)
  • organise, with Julia Martinez, a workshop on Chinese women in Australian history at the University of Wollongong in early December, as well as preparing my own workshop paper on the arrival of Chinese wives to Australia under the Immigration Restriction Act, 1902 to 1920
  • organise my three-week research trip to Hong Kong and Guangdong for January 2015 — I’ll spend two weeks based at the Overseas Chinese Culture Research Centre at Wuyi University in Jiangmen doing fieldwork in Xinhui and Kaiping and then a week of archival research in Hong Kong (the trip is supported by a Humanities Travelling Fellowship from the Australian Academy of the Humanities)
  • redevelop my website and blog a bit more than I have been (I’ve got a few half-written posts I’d really like to finish!).

Looking at this long list of things I’ve committed myself to doing, I’m also very aware that sitting in my inbox are quite a few emails from people hoping for some help with their family history research. I love hearing from people whose family stories intersect with my research interests and I regret that I’m not able to respond to them all in a timely manner — catch me on a bad day and your email might sit there for weeks or months, catch me on a good day and you’ll get a reply straight away! I do try to catch up, but if you’re one of those people waiting for a response from me, I hope you understand that sometimes a pressing deadline, or a request from my four-year-old to take her to the park, has to come first.

‘Returning home alone’: my paper for the Lilith Conference

On 10 May, I will be speaking at the Lilith Conference: ‘Women without men: Spinsters, widows and deserted wives in the nineteenth century and beyond’, at the ANU. It sounds like such a great conference, and I’m excited to be a part of it. Here’s what I’m going to be talking about.

Title: Returning home alone: marital breakdown and the voluntary repatriation of Australian wives from south China

Abstract: Between the 1860s and 1930s dozens of white wives of Chinese men travelled with their husbands and children from Australia and New Zealand to southern China. This paper will examine the decision made by a number of these women to subsequently leave their husbands and marriages, and sometimes also their children, to return to Australia. One of the main reasons they did so was the discovery that their husband had a Chinese wife. British and Australian commentators made much of the ‘cruel treatment’ white wives received from their Chinese families, with newspapers publishing periodic warnings of the dangers of a return to China. This paper will refigure such narratives of cruelty and abandonment to consider the deliberate and courageous decisions white wives made—first in leaving their Australian homes for new lives in China and second in choosing to return home alone, as ‘abandoned’ wives and mothers. It will explore the circumstances in which white wives left China, the physical and emotional journeys they made, and the sometimes devastating consequences these had upon their lives.

Migrants ‘on the wing’ at Visible Immigrants Seven

Yesterday I spoke at Visible Immigrants Seven, a small conference organised by Flinders University and the Migration Museum in Adelaide. The conference aimed to explore the idea of migrant mobility before and after the major act of migration. Most of the papers focused on nineteenth-century migrants from Ireland, Scotland and England, including convicts. My paper looked at the return migration of Chinese men and their Australian families.

Representing lives from the archive of White Australia

Sophie Couchman, Tim Sherratt and I are presenting a session on ‘Representing lives from the archive of White Australia’ at Framing Lives: 8th Biennial Conference of the International Auto/Biography Association on 19 July 2012.

Panel description

This panel offers three approaches to representing the lives of the thousands of men, women and children who were affected by the racially-based immigration policies of late 19th and early 20th-century Australia. To administer the Immigration Restriction Act and its colonial predecessors, government officials implemented an increasingly complex and structured system of tracking and documenting the movements of non-white people as they travelled in and out of the country. This surveillance left an extraordinary body of records containing information about people who, according to the national myth of a ‘White Australia’, were not Australian at all.

The first paper will examine a unique set of almost 300 identification photographs of Chinese Australians taken in Victoria in the late 1890s, considering what these photographs reveal of the lives of their subjects. The second paper will demonstrate how, through a close reading of the records, fragments of biographical information can be built into a portrait of the life of a Chinese woman living in Australia on exemption from 1910 to 1913. The final paper will consider the possibilities of digital history for reconstructing marginalised lives and reflect on the challenges of representing biographical data from the White Australia records in a form that respects its origins and meanings.

Identifying whom?: reading identification photography by Sophie Couchman

In 1900 William Nean posed proudly on his bicycle in full racing attire for the popular photographic company Yeoman & Co. in Bourke Street, Melbourne. He used this photograph as an identification portrait and it is now preserved in the National Archives of Australia amongst 268 other photographic portraits of Chinese resident in Victoria that were created under the administration of the 1890 Chinese Act between 1899 and 1901. The Act aimed to limit and control Chinese immigration in the colony of Victoria and, from the late 1890s, identification portraits of long-term Chinese residents were used as part of documentation to allow them to re-enter Victoria free from the restrictions of the Act.

William Nean’s portrait immediately raises the questions of who he was and why such an unusual photograph was used as an identification portrait. The rest of the paperwork associated with this series of photographs no longer survives—all that remains are annotated identification portraits. This paper will place these photographs in the history of identification photography and, through close readings of them, tease out what can be learnt about the lives of the men, women and children represented in them.

Shifting the lens: uncovering the story of Mrs Poon Gooey by Kate Bagnall

This paper revisits the Poon Gooey deportation case, marking two significant anniversaries. In 1913, it will be a hundred years since Ham Hop, the wife of fruit merchant Poon Gooey, was deported from Australia with their two young daughters. After Ham Hop’s arrival in Australia on a temporary permit in 1910, Poon Gooey—a fluent English-speaker, Christian and member of the Chinese Empire Reform League—mounted a determined campaign to gain permission for her to remain more permanently. The campaign, while ultimately unsuccessful, found widespread support and was an ongoing embarrassment to the federal Labor government.

Fifty years later, historian AT Yarwood wrote on the Poon Gooey case as an example of early problems in the administration of the White Australia Policy. Yarwood based his study on the very substantial Department of External Affairs file, which documents the Poon Gooey story from 1910 to 1913. Greater access to records in the intervening decades, however, means that is now possible to uncover more of the context of Poon Gooey’s actions at this time and, more generally, of the two decades he spent in Australia—evidence that calls into question some of Yarwood’s conclusions about Poon Gooey’s actions and his motivations.

This paper shifts the lens even further, however, to focus on the life of Ham Hop, rather than on that of her husband. Although significant moments in her life—her marriage, periods of physical separation from her husband, travel to Australia, pregnancies, births of her children, medical problems, and finally the deportation of herself and her children—are recorded in the official case files, Ham Hop herself remains silent. Through a close reading of these records and the extensive press coverage of the case, this paper seeks to reveal what can be known of her story and to suggest possibilities for uncovering the lives of women and children who were marginalised and excluded by the White Australia Policy in the early years of the 20th century.

The responsibilities of data: reconstructing lives from the records of the White Australia Policy by Tim Sherratt

The sheer volume of records created by the White Australia Policy is overwhelming. Amidst this vast and disturbing legacy are thousands upon thousands of certificates documenting the movements of non-white residents. These biographical fragments, often including photographs and handprints, are visually and emotionally compelling. We cannot avoid the gaze of those whose lives were monitored, we cannot deny the people behind the policy.

But these records are also a source of data. Increasing numbers of these records have been digitised. As we develop the tools and techniques of digital history, we open up the possibility of extracting this data from the digitised records, of aggregating the biographical fragments, of tracing lives and mapping families. We can tame the overwhelming abundance of records and create a rich, new resource for exploration and analysis.

But how do we avoid imprisoning these newly-liberated lives in yet another system? How do we ensure that the challenging gaze of individuals is not lost in the transformation to data? This paper will look at some of the possibilities for extracting information from these records and reflect on the challenges of representing that data in a form that respects its origins and meanings.

Transcultural Chinese at the Australian Historical Association conference 2012

There is a great line-up of Chinese Australian history papers on offer at the Australian Historical Association conference this year. The three sessions – all to be held on Tuesday, 10 July 2012 – have been organised by Paul Macgregor and bring together historians from Tasmania, Victoria, Canberra, New South Wales and Queensland. The conference’s opening plenary session will also be of interest.

I’m a late inclusion in the program after Derham Groves had to pull out, and I’ll be giving a version of the paper I presented at the WCILCOS conference in Vancouver in May.

Details of the ‘Transcultural Chinese’ sessions are below and other information can be found in the AHA program.

9.00am to 11.00am

Opening plenary panel: ‘Australian History in its Asian Contexts’
Speakers: Ms Sophie Loy-Wilson (University of Sydney), Dr Agnieszka Sobocinska (Monash University), Dr Julia Martinez (University of Wollongong).
Discussant: Professor David Walker (Deakin University)

11.30am to 1.00pm

Transcultural Chinese #1 – Modern Lives
Chair: Mobo Gao
1. Paul Macgregor – Islands of Chinese Modernity 1786-1949 – From Singapore and Shanghai to Sydney and San Francisco
2. Kate Bagnall – ‘I’m an Australian’: Anglo-Chinese and the Immigration Restriction Act in New South Wales, 1902–1920
3. Paul Jones – Gordon Lum Bo Wah, Australian-Chinese Tennis Ace

2.00pm to 3.30pm

Transcultural Chinese #2 – Material Connections
Chair: Julia Martinez
1. Virginia Esposito – The Archaeology of a Chinese camp in a European goldfield – Jembaicumbene, NSW
2. Melissa Dunk – Exploring Chinese interactions through material culture: Atherton Chinatown, Queensland 1880-1920
3. Joanna Boileau – The belongings of Georgie Ah Ling: pieces of the life of a Chinese market gardener

4.00pm to 5.00pm

Transcultural Chinese #3 – Sojourners to Settlers
Chair: Paul Macgregor
1. Mobo Gao – Sojourners, Where is Home?
2. Darryl Low Choy – Sojourners, Settlers, Selectors and Subjects: Interpreting a Queensland Chinese Australian family history through a palimpsest approach

‘Paper trails’: my presentation at the 5th WCILCOS conference

I’m still digesting all that I heard at the 5th WCILCOS conference and cogitating about the exciting possibilities for international collaborative work that have emerged from it. I’m hoping to pull together some more thoughts about my discussions with folk from Canada and the US about mixed-race overseas Chinese families and children.

In the mean time, though, here are the slides of my talk and the first (and much longer) version of the paper I wrote a couple of months ago: Paper trails: Anglo-Chinese Australians and the White Australia Policy (pdf, 1.9mb).

‘Chinese through the Americas’: a beginning to the 5th WCILCOS conference

I’m writing from the beautiful campus of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, where tonight I’ve been to the opening dinner of the 5th International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies. Henry Yu from the Department of History at UBC gave a really good keynote address (more on that in a minute) and we had great view – all rhododendrons and sea and sunset and distant snowy mountains. Being here in Vancouver is a bit like being in a slightly odd version of home – the mountains are pointier and snowier, the cars are on the wrong side of the street, the newspapers are a funny shape and ‘veggie burgers’ don’t seem to be vegetarian … but a lot of the ads on TV are the same, people are friendly and helpful and the Queen is still on the money. Perhaps Vancouver’s apparent familiarity is really a reflection of the fact that, over the past decade, my only foreign destination has been Guangdong, and Guangdong, and Guangdong again and again.

I spent some time this afternoon wandering in the UBC bookshop and was impressed that in the four shelves on Canadian history, there were seven books that specifically discussed Chinese Canadian history. I bought one of them – Colonial Proximities: Crossracial Encounters and Juridical Truths in British Columbia, 1871–1921 by Renisa Mawani, which looks at crossracial encounters particularly between aboriginal peoples and the Chinese. I will be interested to see if it mentions intimate relationships between Chinese men and white women at all; there seems to be quite a lot of interest in relationships between First Nations women and Chinese men, including a couple of sessions at the conference, but I haven’t yet heard any discussion of Anglo-Chinese relationships.

In Henry Yu’s talk tonight – titled ‘ The rhythms of the Cantonese Pacific and the making of nations’ – he set out to do two main things: introduce the major themes of the ‘Chinese through the Americas’ conference and tell us something of the $1.2 million ‘Chinese Canadian Stories’ project he has been leading. Henry used the term ‘Cantonese Pacific’ to talk about the ways in which Chinese in BC (and Canada more generally) were part of a network of nodes that stretched out from Hong Kong, including Sydney, Yokohama, Vancouver, San Francisco, Mexico and Hawaii, and of how this network was made up of people from a particular cultural and linguistic background. This was not a ‘Chinese’ world, but a ‘Cantonese’ one, with migrants coming from about eight different counties in the Pearl River Delta.

Henry spoke of how we need to try to understand the history of the Chinese in settler nations around the Pacific from their perspective, with an understanding of their terms of reference and their imaginaries. As an example, he discussed the idea of ‘gum saan’ (gold mountain). Each new Pacific settler society, as a destination for migrating Chinese, was called ‘gum saan’ – not because Chinese migrants didn’t have proper names for these places, but because ‘gum saan’ was naming a dream and a set of aspirations for life; it was not really the name of a place but that of a geographic imaginary where dreams of wealth, prosperity and a successful return home could be realised. Henry also discussed the importance of understanding the linguistic background of these early Chinese migrants – their letters make no sense and their poems don’t rhyme if you read them in Mandarin. An important part of the Chinese Canadian Stories project has been to draw on community knowledge to help with particular activities where dialect language skills are essential, such as making connections between the places of origin (or sending villages, as Henry called them) that are given in the head tax records with their proper Chinese names and locations.

Henry said a lot more about the Chinese Canadian Stories project and showed us some of the nifty visualisations they’ve developed from the head tax record data (they’ve got info on 97,123 individuals). Good stuff. I’m looking forward to hearing more about it in the following days.

Something Australian at WCILCOS 2012 (Vancouver, Canada)

In a bit over a week, I’ll be heading (a long way) north to the 5th WCILCOS International Conference of Institutes and Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies in Vancouver, Canada. The conference theme is ‘Chinese through the Americas’, but there is a small Australasian representation among the papers. I’m particularly excited to be going to Vancouver because I’m hoping to hear lots about the work that Henry Yu and others have been doing with the Chinese Canadian Stories project at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

Here’s the abstract of the paper I’ll be presenting. A version of the paper will be available on the UBC website after the conference.

Paper trails: Anglo-Chinese Australians and the White Australia Policy

This paper discusses the overseas travels of Australians of Anglo-Chinese descent in the early decades of the 20th century. It explores their experience of overseas travel and their negotiation of bureaucratic processes under the White Australia Policy.

In the early 20th century, Anglo-Chinese Australians travelled overseas, primarily to Hong Kong and China, on holidays, for education, business and to visit family. Like other ‘non-white’ Australians, they were subject to the regulations of the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, under which they did not have an automatic right of return to Australia, even though they were Australian-born British subjects.

Australia’s early immigration regulations were designed to keep out unwanted ‘non-white’ arrivals, most famously through use of the Dictation Test, and the legislation was not clear on how officials should deal with those who were both Australian-born and of mixed race. Consequently, over the following decades officials developed a set of administrative practices in which their ideas of community belonging and cultural knowledge, as well as race, determined the outcomes of cases involving Anglo-Chinese Australians. The development of these administrative practices was an iterative process, where officials responded to the actions of Chinese and Anglo-Chinese Australians who, in turn, responded to and negotiated changing legislation and government policies.