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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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!
Earlier in the year I conducted a survey of people who had registered their interest in my Chinese Australian Hometown Heritage Tour. I received 40 responses, which is great! Feedback I’ve received so far about the tour is very positive, and I look forward to putting together a tour that hopefully fulfils what most people would like to get out of it.
One of the survey respondents asked why I was interested in running the tour. Over the past 20-odd years I’ve had contact with many Australians who know little or nothing about their Chinese heritage, often because the social stigma of racial mixing in the era of White Australia resulted in deliberate ‘forgetting’ and hiding of non-European heritage. Others know more, but have never been to China before. The time I’ve been lucky enough to spend in Guangdong has helped me to better understand the historical lives of those who migrated to Australia, the culture and landscape they came from, and the social worlds they inhabited. I’m hoping that the tour will provide others with the same sort of experience and understanding. I also love to travel, and especially love travelling in the weird and wonderful world of south China!
I’m very aware that the itinerary I’m planning, which includes Zhongshan and the Sze Yup counties of Xinhui, Kaiping and Taishan, leaves out some major hometown districts such as Dongguan and Zengcheng in Guangdong and Xiamen (Amoy) in Fujian province. The tour destinations reflect the areas in which I’ve spent most time and where I have contacts. The first tour in March 2016 will be a bit of an experiment, and if things go well I hope to offer more tours in the future (if the demand exists!).
Here’s a summary of the results of the survey. I’ll be working with this in mind as I put together a firm itinerary and program of activities in the next few months.
What is the main reason for your interest in the tour?
Seventy-five per cent of respondents were descended from a Chinese migrant to Australia or New Zealand, with a further 15 per cent related to someone descended from a Chinese migrant to Australia or New Zealand.
Have you been to mainland China before?
Respondents were divided into three main groups: 45 per cent had lived or travelled in mainland China, 30 per cent had never been to mainland China or Hong Kong, and 25 per cent had been to Hong Kong but not to the mainland.
The tour is currently planned for March 2016, with a possible second tour in November 2016. Which date would suit you best?
Either or both dates suited all respondents. One respondent requested that the tour take place during school holidays, but due to the differences in Australian school holiday dates between the states this may not be possible.
The tour is planned to last 10 days, starting and finishing in Hong Kong. Transfers (ferry, private minibus), accommodation and most meals would be included, as well as entry to sites, talks and workshops. How much would you expect to pay?
Almost 40 per cent respondents felt that between $2000 and $2500 would be the expected cost for the tour, including land transfers, accommodation, most meals, site entry, talks and workshops. Almost equal numbers said they would be prepared to pay up to $3000 or over $3000.
How do you feel about the quality and price of the tour?
Nearly 80 per cent of respondents stated that they would prefer ‘comfortable accommodation, meals and transport at a reasonable cost’, with almost 20 per cent stating that they would prefer basic standards to keep costs as low as possible.
How do you feel about meals and eating on the tour?
Most respondents said that they would like to try local foods and specialities, including eating at street stalls or markets. A smaller number said that they would like to eat local foods, but only in restaurants that met Australian standards. One indicated that they had dietary restrictions.
Would you join the tour by yourself or as part of a group?
Most respondents indicated that they would travel as part of a couple, with friends or family (over 60 per cent). Almost 40 per cent said that they would be travelling alone. I will give the option of sharing accommodation with someone of the same gender, or of paying a single supplement.
What is your level of interest in possible tour destinations and activities? The most popular activity suggestions were:
visiting ancestral villages of early Chinese who migrated to Australia (100 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
visiting World Heritage-listed diaolou in Kaiping (85 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
visiting other heritage sites with connections to overseas migration (95 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
visiting overseas Chinese history museums (over 90 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
hearing expert talks on overseas Chinese history and heritage (over 95 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
eating local foods, such as dim sum and cakes (over 95 per cent of respondents said ‘definite yes’ or ‘sounds good’)
doing independent activities, such as free time to explore a town or city by yourself (over 80 per cent of respondents said ‘definitely yes’ or ‘ sounds good’)
taking evening shopping walks (80 per cent said ‘definitely yes’ or ‘sounds good’).
Other activities were a bit less popular (with between 70 and 80 per cent of respondents who said ‘definitely yes’ or ‘sounds good’): visiting general history museums, introduction to Cantonese language, village cooking classes and village cultural performances.
The least popular activity suggestion was cycling through the countryside between heritage sites (60 per cent of respondents said ‘take it or leave it’ or ‘not interested at all’).
Is there a particular ancestral village or county in Guangdong you would like to visit?
Thirty per cent of respondents said they had a particular village or town they wanted to visit, while nearly 40 per cent said they knew of the county they wanted to visit but not a particular village. The places respondents listed included: Shekki (Zhongshan), Zhuhai, Hoiping (Kaiping), Sunwui (Xinhui), Taishan, Jiangmen, and Amoy. Over 30 per cent didn’t have a particular place they wanted to visit.
For the first ten years of her married life, Ham Hop lived the life of a gum saan po (金山婆 jinshanpo), a Gold Mountain wife. Soon after they had married in Hong Kong in 1900, Ham Hop’s husband returned to Australia where he was a produce merchant in Victoria. Exactly where and how Ham Hop spent the years between 1900 and 1910 is not clear, but in June 1910 her husband returned with permission to bring her to live with him in Australia for six months.
When they arrived in Melbourne in November 1910, Ham Hop was already about two months pregnant and so with the birth of her daughter falling at around the time she was meant to leave Australia, permission was granted for her to remain further, but just temporarily. Over the next two years, her exemption certificate was extended a total of five times (including because of a second pregnancy and the birth of another daughter), until she finally left Australia for good in May 1913.
Ham Hop’s case is one of the most-cited examples of the injustice and unfairness of the White Australia Policy in the early decades of the twentieth century — except mostly Ham Hop’s name doesn’t appear in such discussions. If she is referred to directly, it’s mostly as Mrs Poon Gooey or Poon Gooey’s wife, and her story is known as the Poon Gooey case. Yet this case is framed around some of the most personal and intimate of moments in a woman’s life — her betrothal and marriage, her reunion with her migrant husband, her pregnancies, the births of her daughters, her post-natal health, breastfeeding and the health of her newborn daughters. In the article I’m writing about the case I want to make her the centre of the story, not her husband, not the bureaucrats, not the law, not public opinion.
Records in Australia tell us only so much about the lives of Chinese who lived in Australia. In the case of Ham Hop, they tell us quite a lot about the three years that she was in Victoria, but what of the years before, when as a young woman she lived far apart from her husband, and of the years after. Snippets about Poon Gooey in Australian newspapers suggest that the family did go back to the village for a time at least, even though he seems to have been working in Shanghai in the mid-1920s. Ever-hopeful of research miracles, I decided to see what, if anything, I could find out in China. And so here I am.
Regular readers will know that I’ve been thinking about Ham Hop and Poon Gooey for quite some time now. Having first identified a name that I’m satisfied to call her, other than Mrs Poon Gooey, and establishing that her husband was from Kaiping, the next thing was to identify his home village.
Why his, I hear you ask, and not hers? Because it will be near impossible to identify where Ham Hop was from and even if I did, the likelihood of anyone there knowing anything about a woman who married out of their village more than a century ago is less than zero. In Australian records she is Ham Hop or Ham See or Hop Poon Gooey or Hope Poon Gooey. My best guess is that she was from Kaiping or maybe Taishan or Heshan, that her surname was Tan (譚) and her given name He (合), pronounced hup in Kaiping dialect.
There was more to go on to identify Poon Gooey’s origins — a passenger list that listed Poon Gooey’s origins as ‘Hoiping’, other Poons in Victoria from Kaiping, and student passports of Poon boys (held in the National Archives) that named the villages they came from — and using the various village databases I narrowed it down to a few particular villages. The villages are in Kaiping city, Yueshan town, Qiaotou village (開平市月山鎮橋頭村). I thought possibly, just possibly, someone in one of them might know something about what happened to Poon Gooey and his family after they returned to China one hundred and two years ago.
In Kaiping I’m staying at an organic farm, Jiayiyuan (嘉頤圓), and Selia Tan and her husband joined me here for breakfast (congee, roasted sweet potatoes, corn on the cob, choy sum, a type of steamed cake called faat tay and fresh hot soy milk) before we set out for the villages. It was a good thing breakfast was so sustaining because it was afternoon tea time before we stopped for a break.
We hadn’t made any contact with the villages before turning up, so after turning off the main road we just drove until we spotted the gate of one of the villages I’d identified from the village databases, Zhongheli (中和里).
Just turning up like this isn’t the most effective use of time if you have a really strict schedule and definitely want to contact relatives or see a particular family home while you’re in a village, but I think it’s more enjoyable to be able to wander at will, at least for a first visit. Getting the officials from the local Overseas Chinese Bureau involved takes away a lot of one’s freedom (my visit yesterday to Shiquli in Xinhui is a delightful but exhausting case in point — more on that in another blog post).
Many of the houses in Zhongheli village looked like huaqiao houses, and most of them weren’t being lived in. We spoke to one lady who said that she’d married into the village more than 40 years ago and had never seen anyone return to visit these houses.
Another man said that he’d be able to help us see a copy of the Poon genealogy and eventually we ended up in house of a very lovely older lady inspecting the copy of the genealogy her father-in-law had written out by hand many years ago. Unfortunately it was a copy of their direct branch only, and we didn’t find Poon Gooey’s name. From the dates of others listed in the genealogy, Poon Gooey is likely to have been of the 18th or 19th generation.
It turns out that there are eleven little villages (里 li) in the larger village (村 cun) of Qiaotou, all home to people of the surname Poon/Pan (潘). As people returned from overseas, they would find a new bit of land and build a new huaqiao village. Then as those villages became abandoned again when people moved to Hong Kong or went back overseas, more new villages would be built by those people remaining in the area when they needed more housing.
So, armed with directions for another of the Australian Poon villages I’d identified, we set off again. From the records I’d seen in Australia, I reckoned that this village, Zhaolongli (肇龍里), was most likely to be where Poon Gooey was from (or perhaps where he built a house on returning from Australia in the 1910s). The layout and architecture in the village marks it very clearly as a huaqiao village and from the village entrance we could see a diaolou (碉樓) and the roofs of several yanglou (洋樓) poking out above the roofs of the other houses.
We spoke to three gorgeous old men (with fantastic gold false teeth!) who told us that many, many people from Zhaolongli were Australian, but that their houses now mostly sat empty. In fact, they said, their grandfathers or great-grandfathers had all been in Australia, but they had no idea when they went or where they went to. They also told us that the village’s ancestral hall had been destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and all that remained was one of the front pillars.
The village is set out very neatly, facing onto a pond, with front and back gates (門 men) on either side. The houses are lined up in a grid pattern, with a lane way between each two houses, for light and air and for circulation. Huaqiao villages like this, built in the 1910s, 1920s and 1930s, were usually built in a very orderly pattern, with a building code that regulated the size of the houses and their layout.
At the very back of Zhaolongli, backing onto the hill, are four yanglou. While most of the other houses are single storey, the yanglou are much taller — three or four storeys. The yanglou are all abandoned and already fallen into disrepair, but once they would have been truly beautiful. And sitting high on the hill, the view from the upper floors and roof would have been lovely. One of the houses is in particularly bad repair, as trees (figs, maybe) are growing in the walls and the roots are creating large cracks separating the front wall from the side walls. The Zhaolongli diaolou sits outside the back gate of the village. Its door was firmly shut so we didn’t go in.
The third village I had identified was Nanjiangli (南江里), which is situated right next to Zhaolongli, although the road into the village comes in from a different direction. Nanjiangli, as the name suggests, is on the banks of a small and rather pretty river. It is smaller than Zhaolongli, but laid out on a similar grid pattern (although there is a lane way between each house, not every two houses as in Zhaolongli). Many of the houses in Nanjiangli, those towards the back of the village, have two storeys. At the back of the village is one smallish yanglou (three storeys).
Few of the houses in Nanjiangli are lived in — we counted about half a dozen — but there were some people around, including two elderly men cutting bamboo for firewood. They each had a radio, one playing Cantonese opera and the other playing a story. They didn’t know of any particular connection the village had to Australia, saying that people had gone to Hong Kong — but it’s likely that they were thinking of later generations, from the 1930s and after, and it’s possible that earlier generations had been in Australia (actually, I know they were from the student passport records).
Nanjiangli’s dialou is located outside the village gates, on a small hill. As we were clambering about through the bushes to take photographs, a man told us that it was open and that we should climb up to have a look. So we did. The stairs inside are concrete, narrow but sturdy. The diaolou, like many, is being used now for storing firewood and hay. We had hoped to be able to see over the roofs of Nanjiangli village from the top of the diaolou, but the view over the houses themselves was obscured by a beautiful grove of bamboo.
No one in these Poon villages could tell me anything directly about Poon Gooey and his family, but the visit was definitely worthwhile. I’m confident now to say that Poon Gooey was from Qiaotou village, Yueshan town in Kaiping, and I think my initial feeling about Zhaolongli was probably right.
Putting the pieces together, I suspect that their life after leaving Australia went something like this. In 1913, they probably went back to Kaiping, perhaps built a house, then lost all the money they had brought back from Australia after a bandit attack (from their appearance, Selia Tan thought the two diaolou we saw would have been built in the 1920s, so they perhaps weren’t there when the bandits attacked Poon Gooey). Poon Gooey then returned to Australia to set the family’s finances back on track, coming and going between Victoria and China between 1914 and 1918, when he left Australia for the last time. In 1925, Poon Gooey was definitely in Shanghai, so it seems likely that the family were among the many Cantonese who moved to Shanghai around this time. From there, who knows.
Another satisfying thing about the visit is that I’ve worked out Poon Gooey’s name. In an early immigration document, his name is written as 潘如, while the Tung Wah Times wrote it as 潘巍. From the Cantonese and Mandarin the family name makes some sense being transliterated as Poon (pun in Cantonese, pan in Mandarin) and other common spelling variations I’ve seen in Australian records include Pon and Pong. In Kaiping dialect it is pronounced more like pwun, where the vowel sounds is like the ‘oo’ in book.
But the characters for Poon Gooey’s given name were either 如, which is pronounced yuh in Cantonese and ru in Mandarin, or 巍, pronounced ngaih in Cantonese and wei in Mandarin. Neither of these sounds much like Gooey. But, when pronounced in Kaiping dialect, the two characters sound more alike — 如 is pronounced nguey and 巍 pronounced ngai.
I think the proper characters for his name are therefore 潘如 (Pwun Nguey), since it sounds most similar to Poon Gooey and is the name written on a document Poon Gooey himself used when travelling to Australia in around 1900.
To finish off our visit to Yueshan, we went to the market town where there is a Christian church. Poon Gooey was a Christian, and fluent in English when he went to Australia in the 1890s. Other Poons in Australia were also Christian. I wonder whether the Poon Gooey family worshipped in this congregation sometimes?
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.