Category: China

First days in Jiangmen — research trip update I

Here’s a first post about what I’ve been doing on this long-awaited research trip to China. I’m spending a week in Jiangmen, a weekend in Xinhui and Kaiping, a few days in Zhuhai, a weekend in Panyu and a week in Hong Kong. The trip has been funded by an Australian Academy of the Humanities Travelling Fellowship.

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Passing Macau on the trip between Hong Kong and Jiangmen

After a day’s travelling from Canberra and a night in Hong Kong on Saturday, I caught the ferry from Tsim Sha Tsui to Jiangmen on Sunday morning. The trip lasts for a bit under three hours and takes you past Macau to Doumen, where the ferry stops briefly, before heading up the river to Jiangmen. I like the ferry — it reminds me of how important water transportation was a century ago and of how my Australian families travelled back to the qiaoxiang, in a series of boats that got smaller and smaller as they got closer to their villages.

The wharf at Doumen
The wharf at Doumen

The ferry port is some way out of the centre of Jiangmen and with only one taxi on offer (everyone else on the ferry seemed to be met by family or friends), I had a lively exchange with the taxi driver, whose meter was broken and who wanted to charge me a pretty extortionate amount for the half-hour trip. He claimed he wasn’t cheating me, I reckoned he was, but with no other option I hopped in and spent the trip answering his many and varied questions about Australia and why I could speak Chinese. After settling myself into my hotel, on Sunday night I had dinner with Selia Tan from Wuyi University and her university-student daughter. Although it was Sunday, for the university (and everyone else) it had been a work day to make up for the New Year holiday they had been given on Friday.

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Entrance to the Wuyi University Guangdong Qiaoxiang Culture Research Centre library

My main reason for coming to Jiangmen is to visit two villages, one in Xinhui and one in Kaiping, which I will do this coming weekend. But while I’m here I’ve also taken the opportunity to have a look at the Wuyi University Guangdong Qiaoxiang Culture Research Centre library. I’ve spent two happy mornings there, on Monday and Wednesday, muddling through material on Kaiping and Xinhui. It’s a small library, but has collections that focus on each of the Wuyi qiaoxiang districts, as well as more general material on Guangdong. The research centre also publishes material itself, including a new book by Selia Tan on the ornamentation and decoration of qiaoxiang buildings. I am very grateful to Selia for her help in making arrangements for my visit to the research centre.

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Part of the library collection

They have some copies of qiaokan from the 1930s and 1940s, and a more extensive collection starting from the 1980s — but to do serious research into the qiaokan would need lots of time and an improvement in my reading skills, as well as visiting the local library/archives in Xinhui and Kaiping, which is where a fuller collection of qiaokan are kept. The library also contains a range of interesting books on qiaoxiang history and heritage, and in them I’ve found a few leads on Australian things, although nothing directly related to my two villages. I found a book on Chens from Xinhui who went to Australia — and while they weren’t my Chens from Xinhui, they are connected to a family I know someone else at home is researching.

Display of contracts for borrowing money to pay for emigration
Display of contracts for borrowing money to pay for emigration
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Replica of a 1920s bus that serviced rural qiaoxiang areas

Tuesday morning I visited the Jiangmen Wuyi Museum of Overseas Chinese. The museum tells the history of emigration from Wuyi, starting with nineteenth-century material and progressing through to the current day. Some of the highlights for me were:

  • contracts for borrowing money to pay for emigration
  • a shipping notice for ships travelling to Australia
  • coaching books and papers
  • seeing dear old Quong Tart, and William Liu, among the notable Chinese pioneers (but what of the likes of other Sze Yup notables like Yee Wing or Lowe Kong Meng?)
  • remittance letters
  • a photograph of a bus in 1929, and a life-size version of said bus that you can climb into!

The museum gives a nice overview of the history and is definitely worth a visit. The text panels and item labels are all bilingual. The museum guards on duty were a very jovial lot and I was just about the only visitor there.

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Hooray for my slides!

On Tuesday afternoon I gave a talk at the research centre on Australian Chinatowns and the Chinese heritage of southern Australia. After walking to the uni in good time to set up my slides and whatnot, I realised that I’d left my handwritten notes behind in the hotel. Luckily my lovingly prepared 100+ slides saved the day! Selia Tan translated as I spoke, and we finished up after more than two hours of talking. It wasn’t a huge group, about 25 in all, made up of staff and students from the research centre, other students who were just interested to come along and hear, and a group from Xinhui who are interested in my work on Shiquli village (more on that in another post, I think). Also in attendance was a local journalist and to my surprise the front page of Wednesday’s newspaper featured my talk, with a small article inside. After the talk I went to dinner with Dorry Chen, also from Shiquli village, who is going to take me there on the weekend. She is a teacher in an international kindergarten here in Jiangmen.

The next couple of days are going to be a bit quieter, with just a short visit to a village here in Jiangmen today and some time to read and work on my DECRA application.

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.

Cultural heritage experience for overseas Chinese teens

Selia Tan, who was one of our keynote speakers at Dragon Tails 2011, is involved in running short-term cultural heritage exchange programs for ‘overseas Chinese’ teens. The programs focus on the Sze Yap (Wuyi) district in Guangdong, so would probably be most relevant for kids with Sze Yap, or more broadly, Cantonese ancestry.

The program lets them experience and understand more about the historical and cultural development of the Wuyi district through visiting historical buildings, particularly the diaolou, learning Chinese and Chinese traditional arts, immersing themselves in local families, experiencing village life, participating in volunteer activites in the local community and more.

Sounds fun!

 

‘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.

Taking my own advice: finding home villages using Chinese student records

I recently took my own research advice on how to identify a home village in China. I’ve written before about the early 20th-century Chinese student records found in the Department of External Affairs record series A1, mentioning that:

The files can be a useful way of finding information about the Chinese name and origin (in characters) of people or families already living in Australia.

But before last week I’d never actually needed to use them in this way.

At the moment I’m doing some research into Poon Gooey and Ham Hop, the couple at the centre of the well-known deportation case from 1913. I had previously confirmed from shipping records that Poon Gooey was from Kaiping. He made one journey to Australia as ship’s crew (stevedore) and the passenger manifest lists ‘Hoi Ping’ as his place of origin. Two other Poons on the same voyage were also from Kaiping, as were others who lived in Australia (like Peter Poon Youie).

The research I’m doing has also shown that while there were Poons (and Pons and Pongs) in Melbourne (centred around the Leong Lee store in Little Bourke Street), they seem to have lived primarily in western Victoria, around Horsham, Hamilton, Donald, Warracknabeal, down to Warrnambool and up to Mildura, and also across in Adelaide. All of which suggests that there was some pretty significant chain migration by Poons from Kaiping to southern Australia, perhaps stretching from as early as the 1850s into the 1920s and 1930s.

Armed with all this, I hoped to be able to narrow down Poon Gooey’s home town origins somewhat. First, I checked the Roots Villages Database, to look for Poon villages in Kaiping – there are four, all in Yuet Shan / Yueshan:

  • Chung Wo Lay / Zhonghe Li
  • Kiu Tau Fong / Qiaotou Fang
  • Nam Kong Lay / Nanjiang Li
  • Siu Lung Lay / Zhaolong Li

(Apologies for not including Chinese characters for these names; there seems to be a bit of a technical issue with encoding.)

Which, if any, of these villages might my Australian Poons have come from?

This is where the Chinese student records come in handy! The applications and student passports included in the files give personal details of the applicants and their Australian sponsors in both English and Chinese characters. Working on the assumption that the Poons in Victoria were most likely from the same clan, I figured that the files may well reveal which village they came from.

I identified eight Chinese student files relating to Poons, Pons and Pongs and set off to the National Archives, baby in tow. Half of the files weren’t relevant, either because the family surname was not actually Poon or because they were from New South Wales not Victoria.

But the half that were relevant told me some interesting things. The boys came from: Shoylungle (Zhaolongli) and Kew How/Quiutay/Kew Too (the same village, Qiaotou, just spelled differently), with ‘Nanjiangli’ also written in Chinese on the Kew Too application. With the names from the Roots Villages Database, matching them up was easy!

The application for the boy from Zhaolongli, Poon Bak Cheung, was made through Leong Lee in Melbourne, and as I know that Poon Gooey was connected to Leong Lee too, it seems likely then that Poon Gooey was also a Zhaolongli native. The images above and below are from Poon Bak Cheung’s file (NAA: A1, 1931/7483).

So, I’d found the names of my Kaiping Poon villages – but where exactly were they? After a bit of searching using both Google Maps and ditu.google.cn (the Chinese Google Maps), there they were. Three little villages all in a row, to the northeast of Yueshan town, with the fourth village listed in the Roots Villages Database also just across the way:

Sometimes it seems incredible that it was only a matter of hours from when I looked up the Roots Village Database to when I was looking at satellite images of what I’m pretty sure was once Poon Gooey’s home. The slowest part of the equation was waiting for the Chinese student files to be retrieved from the repository (which, in fairness to the National Archives, happened as smoothly and promptly as you could expect.)

I know that as a result of the federal government’s deportation action against Ham Hop, the Poon Gooey family returned to China in 1913. While Poon Gooey himself then returned to Australia for a period, in the early to mid-1920s he was back in China and living in Shanghai, presumably with his wife and daughters. After that I don’t know where they went. From what I’ve seen in the archives, I don’t believe that they returned to Australia again.

I visisted Yueshan last year, on the hunt for another family’s home village. I now just have to stop myself from wanting to make another trip to try and find out the fate of the Poon Gooeys.

US Army topographic maps of Guangdong

The Perry-Castañeda Library Map Collection at the University of Texas, has a great collection of online maps of China, both current and historical.

One of the real treasures is the China – Topographic Maps [Scale 1:250,000] (China Series) U.S. Army Map Service, Series L500, dating from 1954. Using a map of the whole of China as a guide, you can click to bring up very detailed maps of particular regions. Place names are given in modified Wade-Giles with some Chinese characters (and it’s kinda fun spotting familiar places – a detail map of Macau, for instance, points past the Portas do Cerco to ‘Chi-Ta 5 km’, which would be Jida, now a bustling and ever-growing part of Zhuhai city).

The Chung Shan map (NF-49/8 on the big plan, and warning, it’s a big file: 6.4mb), shows the western part of the Pearl River Delta, from Kaiping in the west to the border with Hong Kong in the east, from Panyu in the north to Macau in the south. You can see the level of detail provided on the map below.

The maps that are likely to be useful for those interested in Chinese Australian history are the following:

NF 49-4 KUANG-CHOU

    (6.2 MB) [Guangzhou]

NF 49-4 KUANG-CHOU (CANTON) AND VICINITY [verso]

    (3.1 MB) [detail map of Guangzhou city]

NF 49-8 CHUNG-SHAN

    (6.4 MB) [western Pearl River Delta]

NF 49-8 MACAU AND VICINITY [verso]

    (3.9 MB) [detail map of Macau city]

NF 49-12 CH’IH-CH’I

    (4.8 MB) [most southerly bits of Guangdong and lots of sea]

NF 50-1 HO-YUAN

    (6.7 MB) [east of GZ and north of HK]

NF 50-5 HONG KONG

    (5.1 MB) [Hong Kong region]

NF 50-5 VICTORIA AND KOWLOON AND VICINITY [verso]

    (3.5 MB) [detail map of Hong Kong city]

The other very cool thing about these maps is that they correspond to the map references in the Chinese Villages Database. So, for instance, the villages database gives the map reference ‘GQ 4394’ for Shek Kay Chun in Chung Shan (Shiqi in Zhongshan). This means you have to look for the area marked as GQ, find line no. 4 and go in 3/10 of the way to line no. 5, then find line 9 and go 4/10 of the way to line no. 0. A somewhat daggy illustration of how to do this is below (click on the image to get the full-size version). There you can see, circled in blue is Shekki.

‘A legacy of White Australia’

You can read ‘A legacy of White Australia’, the paper I gave at the Fourth International Conference of Institutes & Libraries for Chinese Overseas Studies in Guangzhou in May, which has been published on the National Archives of Australia website.

A large part of the paper is about the Poon Gooey deportation case from 1910–13. The photo of the family below was published in the Daily Telegraph on 12 May 1913, shortly before the famiily left Australia. The newspaper article was clipped and placed on the wonderfully rich Department of External Affairs file about the case (NAA: A1, 1913/9139).

Transnational ties

An article of mine has just come out in a new volume called Transnational Ties: Australian Lives in the World, edited by Desley Deacon, Penny Russell and Angela Woollacott and published by ANU E Press. The book is the result of a great conference, Transnational lives/Biography across borders, that was held at the Humanities Research Centre at the ANU in July 2006.

My article, ‘A journey of love: Agnes Breuer’s sojourn in 1930s China’ explores a ‘scandal’ involving a young white Queensland woman, Agnes Breuer, who went to China with her Chinese husband in the early 1930s. (Their picture, together with their baby son, is featured on the front cover of the book.)

The couple had married contrary to the wishes of both their families, and Agnes found a very cold reception from her father-in-law on her arrival in China. Wishing to return to Australia, but with an infant son to look after, Agnes’ plight was exaggerated to the Salvation Army in Hong Kong – and she was ‘rescued’ under dramatic circumstances.

I first came across the story in John Sleeman’s White China, but he doesn’t mention Agnes Breuer’s name, or that of her husband, except as ‘Low Mun’. It took a bit of lateral thinking and a ship’s passenger list to find the family’s real name – Lum Mow. Sleeman had referred to a statement given by Agnes to Australian Customs officers when she returned to Australia, so I figured that there had to be some material in the National Archives about it all. More lateral thinking uncovered a file about her husband, known to most in Australia as William Lum Mow – but the file was listed under his Chinese name, Lum Wie. It was one of those lovely fat departmental files that contains correspondence and news clippings and all sorts of treasures.

More pieces of the puzzle fell into place when I managed to track down both Agnes Breuer’s granddaughter and William Lum Mow’s neice, who had themselves only recently made contact. Much thanks therefore has to go to Liz McNamee and Jenny Showyin for their generosity in sharing what they knew about the story of Agnes and William. Of particular value to me were the photographs, letters and other documents of Agnes Breuer’s that her granddaughter still had. The photographs are particularly wonderful, with a handful of pictures taken in China in 1932 during Agnes’ trip and many more of Agnes and William and their friends in and around Townsville in 1931. A detail from one of my favourites of Agnes and William is below.