Over the hills Lies China
A response to the sweeping attack on all things
By Bob Gould
Chinese in Paul Sheehan's Amongst the Barbarians
In the first years of settlement in the harsh penal colony of
South Wales, many convicts had the vague idea that China lay somewhere
not too far north of the Blue Mountains, and quite a few escaped into
the mountains from the colony, hoping to walk to China!
Most theories as to the reason for the settlement in NSW
proposition that one of the objectives was to have a safe British
colony in the South Pacific as a centre for trade with China. China,
therefore, as both idea and place, is present in Australian
consciousness from the very first moment of settlement.
In Paul Sheehan's book, Amongst the barbarians, two
are devoted to a quite bizarre and sweeping broadside against China,
and pretty well all things Chinese. Throughout his book, he grabs hold
of other authors who confirm his views, and christens them
"authorities". In the Chinese case, his main "authority" is another
journalist, Sang Ye. Sheehan's main discovery is that, according to
Sang Ye, many Chinese migrants to Australia he interviewed had a
chauvinistic attitude to Australians. Wow, what a discovery!
Well, in my discussion of China and Australia, I would list
some authorities. My authorities are Eric Rolls, who wrote Sojourners
(University of Queensland Press, 1992); Stirling Seagrave, who wrote Lords
of the rim (also mentioned by Sheehan); C.Y. Choi, who wrote Chinese
migration and settlement in Australia (Sydney University Press
1975); Andrew Marcus, who wrote Fear and hatred: Purifying
Australia and California, 1850-1901 (Hale and Iremonger 1979);
Gregory Clark, who wrote In fear of China; Shirley Fitzgerald,
who wrote Red tape, gold scissors, the story of Sydney's
Chinese (NSW State Library 1997); C.F. Yong, who wrote The new gold
mountain, the Chinese in Australia (1977) and James Coughlan and
Deborah McNamara, who edited Asians in Australia. Patterns of
migration and settlement (Macmillan Education, Melbourne, 1997).
These well-researched and thoroughly documented, serious works
are real authorities.
China and me
When I was a kid in the 1950s, my father was a school teacher,
therefore had fairly short working hours and a number of holidays a
year. One side effect of this was that my family, in the time-honoured
Australian way, had a small business on the side, and used to grow
gladioli in a small market garden at Beverly Hills and sell them from
the stall of a friend in the Sydney Flower and Vegetable Market in the
I spent part of my childhood going into this market with my
three times a week at five o'clock in the morning, dragging many boxes
of gladdies on to the electric train. The stall next to ours was run by
a lively old Chinese man who was very kind to me and who I remember
On the way in on the train, we used to go past Cooks River.
Turella and Tempe, on the mud flats, there was in those days a vast
area of Chinese market gardens. In the early morning, from the train
you could see the market gardeners carrying the night soil in the
ancient way on their backs.
In fact, right up until the late 1950s, many areas of sandy or
swampy soil around Sydney contained traditional Chinese market gardens.
There is one of those left still on West Botany Street, Rockdale, and
it is now quite properly National-Trust listed. It may come as a
surprise, but in the 1890s, the mud flats at Rose Bay, which now
contain the Royal Sydney Golf Course, were Chinese market gardens, and
there were also Chinese market gardens at Rushcutters Bay and other
A bit later in the 1950, when I became involved in politics, I
was mightily excited by such books as Red star over China by
Edgar Snow and China shakes the world,
by Jack Belden, both of which books gave an essentially accurate, if
slightly romantic account of the enormous revolutionary upheaval that
had just brought Mao Tse Tung and the Chinese Communists to power in
China, leading a peasant revolution against western imperialism and
feudalism, embodied in the regime of the warlord Chiang Kai-Shek.
I was a part, in those days, of the left-wing caucus in the
Youth Council, and we used to fight it out "to the death", so to speak,
with the then-dominant right-wing Grouper majority of that body over
such questions as the diplomatic recognition of China. (Our left
faction contained, among many others, Bruce Childs, later a senator,
Doug Sutherland (now, unfortunately, of Australians for a
Constitutional Monarchy) and Dorothy Isaksen, later an MLC. The right
wing included, at various times, John Ducker, Barrie Unsworth and
later, Leo Macleay and Bob Carr.)
After these heated meetings our leftist faction would conduct
post-mortems in the Lean Sun Low Cafe in Dixon Street, down the road
from the Trades Hall (where the Youth Council meetings were held). This
encounter with Chinese cuisine actually changed my life.
Like many other Australians, I acquired a taste for Chinese
and by the time I was 30, in culinary matters I had become a kind of
honorary Chinese, in the sense, that like most Chinese people, the
truism applies to me, that unless I've eaten white rice (and in my
case, a strong curry) once a day, I don't feel I've eaten.
I wonder if the ravings of Pauline Hanson against
apply also to the culinary "race treachery" of myself and hundreds of
thousands other more or less white Australians in deserting a total
attachment to fish and chips and meat pies!
Just recently, under the Freedom of Information Act 30 year
rule, I squeezed my ASIO file out of the government, and was rather
amused to be reminded of the fact that in the early 1960s I was a
member of the Australia-China Society and participated on the side of
the pro-Chinese grouping in a very intense faction fight with the
pro-Russian Stalinists who were trying to hang on to control of the
society after the Sino-Soviet split.
ASIO obviously regarded the affairs of the Australia-China
as being of enormous importance, because they had this industrious
little agent taking massively detailed notes and my ASIO file contains
about 50 pages recording every detail of the chop chop at the
interminable meetings of the China Society, in this titanic struggle.
As it happens the side I was on ultimately won, and there it
in my file. Maybe the informant bloke was paid by the word! Anyway, as
a result of all this industry, this protracted year-long war is
recorded for posterity. I may even use some of this material as part of
In this period, along with a few other left-wingers, I
went down on a Sunday night to the, by then, rather inaccurately named
Chinese Youth League premises on the second floor over a cafe in Dixon
Street, to watch Chinese films. The main feature was usually some
exotic Chinese revolutionary opera like The white-haired girl,
backed up by grainy documentary shorts of the new China, masses of
peasants building dams, the building of factories, etc.
Alongside our half-dozen young Aussie left-wing enthusiasts,
overwhelming majority of the audience of a couple of hundred at these
films were the members and supporters of the Chinese Youth League
(founded in 1937), overwhelmingly old Chinese men smoking like chimneys
and displaying quite infectious and touching emotion and identification
with these films from China, particularly when Chairman Mao appeared in
a couple of the documentaries.
They mostly lived in the residences that in those days were
ubiquitous upstairs around Dixon Street and the Haymarket over the
restaurants, and they worked in the markets, the cafes, the laundries
and the market gardens around Sydney. The striking thing about this
audience at the Chinese Youth League films was that they were pretty
old, and there were almost no women.
The reason for this strange old, women-less audience is
explained in cold hard print in Choi's book, Chinese migration and
settlement in Australia.
After the White Australia Policy was adopted in 1900, because the
Australian authorities recognised that despite their adoption of the
policy, some Chinese were still needed to maintain significant trade
with China, and to run market gardens and restaurants, a vicious
regulation was adopted allowing a small number of Chinese to be brought
in under licence, without the right to become citizens.
The licences had to be renewed frequently, and the licence
regulation was so designed as to make it virtually impossible for all
but the richest Chinese to bring in their wives. So, for the whole
period from 1901 to 1947, when the regulations began to be relaxed a
little, there was a steady small immigration of Chinese to Australia,
essentially without any real civil rights and with almost no women. (On
page 137 of Shirley Fitzgerald's wonderful book on the Chinese in
Sydney, there is a very poignant photograph of a gathering of the
Chinese Youth League about the time of its formation in 1937, with
about 100 Chinese men wearing their Sunday best, and only three women,
all Caucasians, seated at the committee table. Many of these young men
were probably the same men I used to see as old men at the films 20
years later in the 1950s, still womanless.)
The Australian Commonwealth, in fact, inflicted on the Chinese
emigrated to Australia between 1900 and 1960 the same sort of atrocity
that the British government inflicted on the 168,000 convicts who were
deported to Australia before the end of transportation in 1867, of whom
only about 28,000 were women.
In both cases the overwhelming majority of these men either
without wives or children, or went back for female companionship and
children either to the British Isles or China, in the relevant
instance. Thus, probably the most atrocious feature of our own awful
convict origins was reproduced by the obsessively race-conscious
British-Australian Commonwealth government against our unlucky Chinese
migrants 100 years later.
No wonder Paul Sheehan is so obviously hostile to Robert
Hughes' wonderfully informative book about our convict origins, The
Hughes' account is obviously a bit too close to the bone for Sheehan.
Choi's book assembles, in a very accessible way, every piece of useful
information about the application of the White Australia Policy to
Chinese migration to Australia, and the most telling and painful part
of the book is the bald recounting of the vicious regulations and the
graphs and tables that express in statistical terms the effect of all
these White Australia Policy regulations.
The net result of this was the steady decline of the number of
Chinese in Australia. To quote Choi, on page 54: the number of Chinese
females in Australia remained very small. This was mainly because
Clause 3(m) of the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act, which permitted
the entry of dependents, was suspended. Moreover, forbidden to become
naturalised after 1903, Chinese immigrants were not able to exercise
the right, as Australian citizens, to introduce their dependents.
The separation of Chinese families and the difficulties in
de facto bachelor life probably provided strong reasons, in addition to
their loyalty towards their family lineages, for large numbers choosing
to return to China.
In the 1901-47 period, then, there was a major decline of the
Chinese population. The 1947 census counted the lowest number of
Chinese - less than 10,000, of whom only 5400 were foreign-born.
Before the adoption of the White Australia policy at the time
Federation in 1900, Australia's relationship with Chinese migrants was
stormy and complex. The turbulent mobilisations against Chinese
migrants in Australia under the rubric of preserving "British"
Australia, are pretty well-documented, with unpleasant highlights such
as the Lambing Flat riots.
There were some courageous Australians who stuck up for the
Two who stand out being the redoubtable pioneer Melbourne bookseller,
E. W. Cole, and the feisty, courageous and belligerent Irish-born
Sydney catholic prelate, Cardinal Moran, who defended the well-known
Chinese merchant Quong Tart, when he was under attack.
Moran is quoted in Sojourners thus: Cardinal Moran,
newly arrived in Australia by the Royal Mail steamer Orient
told a reporter from The Age
he knew many places that would be entirely without vegetables if not
for the Chinese, who encountered obstacles no white man would have
attempted to overcome.
In stopping the Chinese the colonies were excluding an
class of people, whose industry was of great advantage. The two books, Sojourners
and Fear and hatred,
between them, thoroughly document the unpleasant episodes in Australian
history that culminated in the adoption of the White Australia Policy.
Changes to the White Australia Policy after 1947, and their
effect on Chinese immigration to Australia
Once again, my authorities. The changes to the White Australia
Policy, culminating in its final abolition during the Whitlam
Government, are documented in the following books: Choi, mentioned
above; From fear to friendship" by S.K. Fung and Colin
Mackerras (University of Queensland Press, 1985); The white peril.
Foreign relations and Asian immigration by Sean Brawley (University
of NSW Press, 1995); Ideology and immigration. Australia 1976 to
1987 by Katherine Betts (Melbourne University Press, 1988).
These books describe in detail the complex interaction of
that brought the White Australia Policy to an end. Simply stated, over
the period between 1947 and 1973 steady pressure from our newly
developing trading partners in Asia, combined with complementary
pressure in Australia from interests involved in trade with Asia, began
to wear down governments in Australia.
As well, the absurd administrative problem of trying to decide
degrees of "whiteness" created constant problems of implementation for
the Immigration Department. In addition to this, what you might call
the moral climate of the times began to change, particularly after
Australia's alliance during the Second World War with the Asian Chinese
against the viciously racist Nazis, and a large lobby group developed,
mainly of intellectuals, campaigning for the ending of the White
In addition, a significant section of the Australian business
community looked to Asia as a substitute source for necessary labour as
immigration from Europe dried up, and they tended to associate the
virtues of Asian immigration with a quest for Asian investment in
The story of how these various factors interacted on each
produce first the modification and finally the overthrow of the White
Australia Policy is well described in these books, and is full of
incident, drama, and complex diplomatic and political conflict and
Katherine Betts' book is, in a way, the most interesting of
belongs to the rather patrician Robert Birrell, keep-Australia-British
school of thought, and she expresses a certain amount of anger at the
different groups and interests that, in her view, conspired to
massively change immigration policy and practice in favour of mass
immigration from far wider sources, including Asia.
Among her worst villains is Malcolm Fraser! The Fraser
presided over the first massive increase in Asian migration, and she is
pretty crooked on that. Her anger at the process of change leads her to
document it in great detail, in every aspect, as in her view, a
conspiracy of the elites to change the nature of Australia. Well, I
reject her conspiracy view, but her description of the effective and
skillfull administrative steps taken by assorted civilising influences
to bring about a non-racial migration policy makes fascinating reading.
More power to all their elbows, say I!
Betts assembles, fairly systematically, a lot of the
evidence of the results of these changes, (the main one being a steady
increase in the proportion of Asian immigration), which is quite
informative, and she keeps reiterating Charles Price's demographically
valid point that what is significant statistically, in assessing real
immigration numbers, is what Price terms "net permanent and long-term
migration by place of birth".
Sean Brawley's book is also useful in this respect, but as
albeit rather dryly, documents the complex diplomatic pressures on
Australia over the period to ditch the White Australia Policy. Among
the incidents that contributed to illustrating the inhumanity of White
Australia, were a series of attempts to deport various families and
individuals of prohibited degrees of colour, including many Chinese who
had come here as refugees during the Second World War.
A very significant part of the change was the success of the
Immigration Reform Group in persuading the ALP to ditch White
Australia, the pivotal point of which was the ALP Federal Conference at
which Arthur Calwell reluctantly seconded the successful motion to drop
White Australia from the ALP platform.
Ultimately it was the Whitlam Government of 1972-75 that
officially abolished White Australia as government policy.
Chinese immigration to Australia after 1947
From 1947 on, migration regulations were changed, allowing the
number of Chinese migrants under licence to slowly increase, Chinese
women to migrate more easily, and Chinese to become Australian
citizens. From this point on the number of Chinese coming to join the
primarily trading community in Sydney and other cities increased
In the first instance, many Chinese trading families from New
and the Pacific Islands, a number of whom had been refugees here during
the war, transferred their trading activities to Australia. A little
later, the Colombo Plan produced a steady stream of ethnic Chinese from
all over Asia coming to Australia to study and, as is the habit with
humans, quite a few of them married Australians and stayed.
A considerable number of others, doctors and dentists etc,
allowed to stay because of their professional skills. The view, now
well-established among the Australian middle class that Chinese
dentists and doctors have spectacular medical skills, began to form,
and in particular Chinese dentists became almost ubiquitous in major
These Colombo Plan students and other professional migrants
carve out a significant influence in Australian professional life, and
this factor, itself, contributed to a further undermining of the racism
that underlay the White Australia Policy. By the 1970s, a steady stream
of professional and business migration of ethnic Chinese from all over
Asia began to change the popular view of Chinese Australians as just
people who ran restaurants, market gardens and laundries.
In addition to this, the second, third and fourth generations
cohort of Chinese migrants who had worked in the produce markets and
market gardens, with the educational preoccupation common to many poor
migrant communities, went on to university and enjoyed the spectacular
academic success often seen in the highly motivated children of
striving, working migrants.
A further factor that reduced hostility to Chinese migration
the 1960s to the 1980s was the watered down effect of the widespread
Western mystification of Maoism in China, among young people, radicals,
a large slice of liberal opinion, and even a big section of the media.
While revelations since 1976 have shown a lot of this to be rather
eccentric and sad illusion, and the more critical stance of such China
scholars as Simon Leys has been proved much more correct a view of the
devastating, cruel and counterproductive effect of the Cultural
Revolution, nevertheless, this widespread Western enthusiasm for China
and Maoism contributed substantially to a decline in the fear of China
and hostility to the Chinese.
I'll never forget until the day I die, sometime in the heady
1968, that enormous Falstaff of popular Australian Maoism, Albert
Langer from Melbourne, sleeping on the floor of my house during some
conference or other in Sydney, playing The east is red
interminably on our record player, and being jumped on playfully by my
seven-year old daughter.
Also in the 1970s, particularly after Mao's death and the
of a new regime, mass tourism from Australia to China gathered very
large momentum, further reducing antagonism to China and Chinese
immigration. In the 1980s, developing trade and diplomatic relations
with China itself led to a dramatic increase in the number of students
from mainland China, largely the moderately affluent children of the
Stalinist bureaucracy, who monopolise political and economic power in
At this point, an unforseen factor intervened. The political
struggle inside China for democratic change culminated in a political
upheaval, the end point of which was the Tiananmen Square Massacre. The
large Chinese student community in Australia was caught up in an
emotional and fiery response in support of these developments at home
After the crushing of the students in China by the
massive demonstrations of Chinese students in Australia against the
massacre, Bob Hawke, in a for-once entirely commendable moment of
emotion, pledged that all those students who felt threatened by
developments at home and wished to stay in Australia, could do so. At
that point, a number of thousands of students, including possibly quite
a few who may not have been mainly motivated by events in China,
behaved in the entirely predictable human way and grabbed permanent
residency in Australia with both hands.
As the political upheaval in China, for the moment quietened
most of these students discretely re-established practical family
relations with their relatives in the bureaucracy back home, and as is
the way with migration, another major stream of family reunion
commenced, this time of moderately affluent younger sons and daughters
of the elite who run China.
This migration in the 1980s and 1990s formed a big stream,
with the equally vigorous influx of frequently moderately affluent
middle-class overseas Chinese from Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong,
Vietnam, Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines. One feature of these
divergent streams of Chinese migration is that the stream from China
added a very large component whose primary language is Mandarin, adding
Mandarin speakers to the previously predominant Cantonese and Hakka
speakers in Australia.
There are now probably approaching three quarters of a million
people in Australia with some Chinese ancestry, out of our nearly 19
million people, and this infusion of Chinese is particularly obvious in
Sydney, where maybe half of the Chinese in Australia live, and the
speed and vigour of this new Chinese migration has produced a certain
amount of the hysteria of which Paul Sheehan's book is one of the
For a hotshot investigative journalist, Sheehan isn't always
terribly careful about his facts. For instance, on page 69, he says
there are about 300,000 ethnic Chinese in Australia. Well, he hasn't
kept up with the developments too carefully. If you study the figures
given in the book Asians in Australia. Patterns of Migration and
Settlement, eds Coughlan and McNamara, the number of people with
some ethnic Chinese ancestry is now much more like 800,000 than 300,000.
Australian ethnic reality is getting a bit past Paul Sheehan.
the idea of 800,000 ethnic Chinese being here already is a bit hard for
him to cope with! Anyway, the relevance of this higher figure, combined
with a strong tendency amongst ethnic Chinese to marry Australians of
other ethnic backgrounds, gives rise to the real prospect of a very
racially mixed population within a generation or two in those cities
where Chinese migrants are concentrated, particularly Sydney.
This process is now more or less inevitable, and personally,
seems like a very good prospect to me, although it obviously upsets
some people. I believe we have to acknowledge and come to practical
terms with the likelihood of such a development, which, in practice,
will be healthy for Australia.
Recent Asian migration to Australia. The "monstrous regiment
One of the fascinating features of the recent Asian migration
Australia is the numerical preponderance of women in this migration.
The excellent book by Coughlan and McNamara, mentioned above, is
comprehensive and definitive in its study of the recent Asian migration.
This book documents thoroughly this numerical preponderance of
in recent Asian migration which, in fact, appears to be increasing.
What a wonderful and ironic corrective this development is for the
brutal exclusion of Asian women from Australia in the period 1900 to
1947. There are a number of reasons for this preponderance of women
from different regions of Asia, and this preponderance is uneven,
ranging from a massive preponderance of women in Filipino and Thai
migration to a significant under-representation of women in the first
Vietnamese migration in the 1980s, but nevertheless, women predominate
more or less in all regions of current Asian migration to Australia.
One consequence of this female preponderance is that many
women marry Australian men, and combined with the fact that quite a few
Asian men marry Australian women, the amount of intermarriage is
becoming statistically quite spectacular, which is confirmed when you
walk through the streets of Sydney, and is obviously one of the things
that fuels the paranoia of the diminishing group of largely grey-haired
It is rather fascinating the way history repeats itself in
matters. As I point out elsewhere, the similar preponderance of women
in the Irish migration to Australia in the 19th century drove
anti-Catholic bigots like John Dunmore Lang mad, and contributed to the
increased weight of Irish Catholics in Australian society, and it's
highly likely that the similar predominance of women in the current
Asian migration will similarly increase the social weight of Asian
Australians in Australian society.
A further fascinating demographic fact is that in both China
and all South-East Asian societies, a shortage of women is developing
because of the cultural bias of those societies towards male children,
combined with modern medical developments, making the prior selection
of the sex of children quite possible.
An interesting demographic inference, therefore, is that the
drift of Asian women to Australia will accentuate this trend. When you
combine this fact with the other fact that the next generation of all
migrants, including Asian migrants in Australia, tend to assume the
reproductive pattern prevailing in the new country, it's an obvious
demographic fact that Asian migration to Australia actually has the
effect of reducing world population growth, which ought to please all
those who are quite legitimately concerned with the global population
Addressing Paul Sheehan's urban myths about the current
Chinese migration to Australia
Simply stated, those who object to further migration,
Asian and Chinese migration, often start of by whingeing about the
obvious fact that young Chinese, and indeed other Asians, do
spectacularly well in higher school examinations and at universities,
as published school and university examination results clearly reveal.
In his book, Sheehan says he doesn't mind this, but the emphasis he
gives it seems to be directed at stirring up a perceived popular
resentment against this phenomenon.
It's worth remembering that when I was a kid at a Catholic
in the 1950s, equally backward sentiment was directed against the
obvious success of kids from Catholic schools in external exams, and
this was associated in the prejudiced mind with Papist plots to take
over the country. With his Irish name, Sheehan ought to remember this
In both cases, all these results underline is the tendency of
at the bottom of the social pyramid, or the most recent group of
migrants off the boat wishing to advance themselves in Australian
society. The people out of the Catholic school system in the 1950s and
the 1960s elbowed their way up in Australian society via the education
system, as the children of Italian, Greek and other European migrants
did then and later, and as the Chinese are doing now.
No doubt other new immigrant groups will do so in the future.
wrong with that! In fact, it is the time-honoured Australian way, and
for that matter, the American way. The collective memory of this
process, held by Catholic Australians, and by the children of the wave
of postwar European migration, is the obvious reason why many people in
both these groups are resistant to the hysteria about Asian migration
that the Paul Sheehans and the Pauline Hansons are attempting to stir
The hard-core urban myths about Chinese migration
These are, again, simply stated:
Migrants take jobs.
Mass migration is bad for the economy.
Chinese migrants are chauvinistic and don't assimilate.
Chinese migration brings in people whose connections
and loyalties are with China and the overseas Chinese communities in
Asia, and this is bad for Australia.
There is also a racist undercurrent that actually contradicts
argument about Chinese not assimilating, and is often not stated too
clearly by opponents of migration who also like to be seen as liberal
and civilised. This is the racist view that intermarriage with Chinese
and other Asians is bad and dilutes the "British" race.
Well, in my considered view all these things are myths, and in
case something like the opposite is true, and the falsity of these
myths can be demonstrated with a bit of study and consideration of
current Australian and world realities. The two authorities I would
refer to in this context are Living with Dragons. Australia
confronts its Asian destiny," edited by Greg Sheridan (Allen and
Unwin 1995) and Lords of the Rim. The Invisible Empire of the
Overseas Chinese, by Sterling Seagrave (Bantam, 1995).
The argument about migration taking jobs and being bad for the
economy is the most frequently expressed. Many studies by economists,
for instance a recent monograph by Professor Bruce Chapman of the
Australian National University, indicate that this is nonsense. In this
context, the obvious question arises. Sydney, in particular is the
chosen point of entry for a large majority of the current Asian
migration to Australia, and the magnitude of this migration is clearly
having an influence on Sydney life in a multitude of ways.
If the migration was economically bad, Sydney should be the
off Australian capital economically, but in fact the opposite is the
case. Sydney, over recent years, has usually been at the bottom of the
unemployment statistics of all capital cities, and towards the top of
the statistics for economic activity.
On any reasonably careful objective examination of the effect
Asian migration on Sydney, the reasons for this better economic
performance by Sydney begin to emerge. A significant part of this
Chinese migration is poorer people, who have nothing to contribute to
Australia except their energetic labour, which is no small thing.
In addition to these poorer Asian migrants, however, a very
part of the Asian migration is middle class Chinese families from
Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Taiwan, Hong Kong and the managerial
layer in mainland China. By and large these families come with a modest
package of capital, somewhere between a quarter and three quarters of a
million dollars per family, and this is usually invested either in real
estate or in a small business.
This constant inflow of medium-sized chunks of capital
with Chinese migration supplements the more obvious, larger elements of
investment and commercial activity emanating from Asia, and
collectively these economic inflows make up a very large part of the
buffer that insulates Australia, and particularly Sydney, from the
current vagaries of the world's economic system.
A headlong assault on Chinese migration and capital inflow
Australia would, in fact, plunge Australia, and Sydney in particular,
into the midst of a dramatic economic depression. Those who attack
Chinese migration are, in fact, playing with fire economically, in the
current circumstances of global economic turmoil.
Further to this economic angle is the question of trade.
Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, all Chinese societies, are among our major
trading partners. The other South-East Asian countries are also among
our major trading partners, and the overseas Chinese who are a major
part of the commercial elites in those countries are intimately
involved in the trading activities of those countries.
If any actual actions directed against these Chinese societies
to flow from the diatribes against China and the Chinese, such as those
in Paul Sheehan's book, the economic effects on Australian trade would
be disastrous, and again we would plunge into depression and collapse.
In Sheehan's book he makes the obvious point that many Asian
political and economic regimes are dictatorships and contain large
elements of corruption. He waxes positively lyrical about Sydney
beating Beijing for the Olympic Games, implying that in some way
Australia was more deserving than Beijing, because our political regime
is better. (This ludicrous triumphalism looks increasingly bizarre as I
write, as the information inexorably becomes public, about the
questionable duchessing tactics adopted by all bidding countries,
Well, I live in Sydney and run a business here, and I shared
general satisfaction of Sydneysiders when we won the Games, with the
underlying realistic view common to many of us that it would probably
be good for Sydney and Australia economically.
But why overload that significant but episodic conflict of
with China, with all the nasty emotion that Sheehan does? What's the
purpose of that, except to excite hostility against the Chinese and
Sheehan's xenophobia towards the Chinese in relation to the
really extraordinarily dangerous. All of this raises the question of
the Chinese regime and, indeed, all the other reactionary, dictatorial
regimes in Asia. I'm an old rebel and radical. I'm very sad that the
Chinese Revolution, for instance, has degenerated so far into the
technocratic Stalinist-capitalist bureaucratic regime that runs China
It saddens me that the first action of the Beijing regime on
reunification of Hong Kong with China was to partly abolish electoral
democracy in Hong Kong. For what my modest support is worth, I will
support all struggles inside China and Hong Kong and, for that matter,
Indonesia and Taiwan, against censorship, for real trade unionism and
for representative political democracy, and I believe that in all those
countries mass demands and struggles will eventually erupt for these
kinds of things.
I can't predict precisely when those developments will take
but they inevitably will. Nevertheless, in the final analysis,
democracy and human rights can't be imposed from outside, and are
ultimately the business of the masses in those countries themselves. I
believe, however, that we have to separate matters of trade and
immigration from the question of what regime runs those countries
Whatever regime is in charge in China — at the moment the
bureaucratic Stalinist Beijing regime — is the regime that Australia
has to deal with on a day-to-day basis, in terms of trade and
migration. Paul Sheehan's chauvinist huffing and puffing about the
regime in China does not impress me at all. It repells me when his
implication is clearly to curb immigration from China and the effect of
his diatribe is to reduce and damage our trading relations with China.
It's hard to overstate how dangerous this kind of chauvinism
China and the Chinese is to the real interests of ordinary Australians.
The question of assimilation
The racist undertone to the arguments about "assimilation" are
really quite bizarre. For a start, anyone who walks around the streets
of Sydney, or through the grounds of high schools and universities, or
sits on a bus with their ears and eyes even half open, will notice a
lot of interesting, apparently contradictory, but in fact,
For a start, they will hear a lot of people talking to each
Mandarin, Cantonese and a heck of a lot of other languages from all
over the earth. They will notice and hear, however, many of the younger
people of apparently Chinese or other migrant origin, talking to each
other as well, in Australian English, with Aussie accents as broad as
If they listen a bit carefully, they will often hear people
from Aussie English to another language and back again, many times. In
fact, many overseas Chinese from South-East Asia, some of whom speak
Indonesian or Cantonese, or Mandarin, or Vietnamese, and no other
language except English, use English as a lingua franca (common
language). People in migrant communities will tell you that the major
language problem, in fact, is not to get the young of migrant
communities to speak English, but to persuade them to keep up with the
old language to maintain contact with the cultural traditions of their
old country, and for future use if they travel to the ancestral
I know several ethnic Chinese without a word of their old
who are busily studying Mandarin or Cantonese for this kind of reason.
I also know young Australians of Italian and Greek background who are
studying those languages in adult life for the same reasons, after
assiduously avoiding learning them while they were at school.
Teachers in the schools will tell you of the fantastic ethnic
cultural mix now in most urban schools, and of the relatively small
scale of any obvious racial tension, considering the diversity of the
school population. This, of course, is what lies behind the current
utterly laudable mass rebellion of high-school students against the mad
racial hysteria being peddled by some of their elders.
The reason high-school kids are so stirred up in opposition to
current racism is that in their day-to-day relations among themselves,
they feel none of the absolute hostility that the Pauline Hansons claim
exist between different racial groups. Another thing your intelligent
urban observer will notice walking around Sydney, is many, many, many
inter-racial couples, straight and gay, and every conceivable racial
combination and mix under the sun.
In the real world, racial purity is a stupid, objectionable
While national groups have a natural sense of identity, nevertheless,
the mixing and interbreeding of racial and national groups is as old as
the human race, and in fact, opposites often attract, and the offspring
of intermarriage between national groups and races are often the most
vigorous because of the rich stimulus that comes from the interaction
Even the rather chauvinistic French recently faced a moment of
in relation to these matters when the victorious French soccer team in
the World Cup turned out to be spectacularly multicultural, and this in
fact led to a sudden dramatic extension of French national identity to
include all the newer migrants and to a rapid drop in racism.
Again, look at the way the world identifies with the the
mixed-race champion golfer, Tiger Woods, as an expression of the new
cosmopolitanism. It seems absolutely obvious to me that the
participants in the current mass Chinese immigration to Australia will
both preserve a certain multicultural identity as Australian Chinese,
but also assimilate to the broad Australian culture, at pretty much the
same time, and what's wrong with that!
I believe that we should mobilise all civilised and
Australians, of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds, to defeat and
disperse the current politically motivated outburst of racism. We
should mobilise public opinion against this racism, both because it is
morally right to do so and because the defeat of this racism is
beneficial to the Australian economy and trade, and therefore, in that
sense, beneficial to the interests of all Australians, new and old.
Defeating this racism necessarily involves a determined
multiculturalism, and defence of reasonably high rates of immigration
on a non-discriminatory basis.
March 23, 1999