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Chinese Migrants Roots in Australia

I am currently a citizen of Australia but not a native (an aboriginal) I am a descendant of Chinese immigrants to Australia many years ago.

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Many decades ago, people of different origins moved to Australia from all parts of the world, settling there and becoming citizens of the country. This migration consisted of people like the Chinese, an origin that makes up a big percentage of the population according to a research done during the Australian 2006 national census 669,890 Australian residents (or 3.4% of the resident population) identified themselves as having Chinese ancestry.

Most of these Chinese immigrants are said to have originated or rather migrated Brawley(1995)from the villages of the Pearl River delta of southern China’s will be discussed later, these Chinese immigrants were attracted to Australia by the famous period of Gold Rush.

In ancient times China was East Asia’s dominant civilization with other societies – notably the Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese – strongly influenced by China, adopting features of Chinese art, food, philosophy, government, technology and written language. For many centuries, especially from the 7th – 14th centuries BCE, China was the world’s most advanced civilization. Inventions such as paper, printing, gunpowder, porcelain, silk and the compass originated from China and spread to other parts of the world.

During the first half of the 20th century China experienced severe famines, civil unrest, military defeats and foreign occupation. After World War II, the Communists under Mao Zedong established a dictatorship that, while ensuring China’s sovereignty, ended up imposing strict controls over everyday life of the citizens.

The structure of China’s government follows a Leninist model of one-party rule. Political controls remained tight, even while economic controls continued to weaken since the mid-1980s. The Chinese Communist Party continued to set major policy and to restrict political activities that promoted views contrary to those that were upheld by the Party’s objectives. A well-known example of political tensions in China was the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

By the war period numbers had nevertheless fallen greatly and Australian-born people of Chinese background began to predominate over Chinese-born people especially during the period of the Japan’s war in China and the pacific and many refugees entered Australia

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Chinese migration to Australia goes back 150 years according to Shirley (1995). Convict transportation in Australia ceased and this led to many Chinese nationalities moving to Australia to work as shepherds and irrigation experts for private landowners and Australia’s Agricultural company.

Some records claim that in 1829 Moon Chow was that first Chinese to settle in Western Australia, Price ( It was however not until 1847 that the First group, made up of 51 Chinese immigrants arrived from Singapore as a source of cheap labour for the growing colony. Most of them were employed as cooks and domestic servants while others worked in the farms.

Between 1848 and 1853, over 3,000 Chinese workers on contracts arrived through the Port of Sydney for employment in the NSW countryside. As soon as this labour arrived, it was resisted, and, like such protests later in the century, this resistance was mixed up with racism. Little is known of the habits of such men or their relations with other NSW residents except for those that appear in the records of the courts and mental asylums. Some stayed for the term of their contracts and then left for home, but there is evidence that others spent the rest of their lives in NSW. A Gulgong resident who died at age 105 in 1911 had been in NSW since 1841 while in 1871 the Keeper of Lunacy still required the Amoy dialect from his interpreters.

It is also claimed that majority of the immigrants were poor farmers lured away from there homes by a man they referred to ‘the agent of the crimp’.a man who is said to have been the one recruiting workers for Australia or as it was known to them’Xinjinsham (New Golden Mountain)’Some of the men who had done well sent home for brothers, sons or other men from their village to follow to this land of great wealth. Many were advanced their passage and were expected to work it off once they landed in Australia.

The ships, that were used to transport immigrants were so badly overcrowded, many slept three or four to a bunk. The small amount of food they were given was often rotting and the water fetid. It was a common occurrence for a dozen or more men or boys to die during the trip, their bodies being dumped overboard like the carcass of an animal.

An entry tax was placed on immigrants entering into the state of Victoria, and many unscrupulous shipping captains would collect the tax before leaving Hong Kong, where almost all the immigrants departed from, with the promise of paying the tax on entry to Victoria, but then dump the immigrants off the South Australian coast at Robe, leaving them to their own devices to make their way to the Victorian Goldfields of Ballarat or Bendigo. In most cases this was done on foot. With so many being brought into the country in this manner, it is not surprising that few have official records of entry into the country or any form of shipping records.

After reaching Australia they were treated with despise and contempt by the majority of British and European migrants who felt threatened by the sheer numbers of these strangers they knew so little about. At one time In Australian History, There were more Chinese in Australia than any other Nationality. These other migrants also disliked the Chinese sending their gold back to China as they felt it was robbing the Country of its economy.

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In 1901 due to the violence against Chinese and other perceived minority races, the “White Australia Policy” was implemented which prevented “non white” people from immigrating at all to Australia. The policy however excluded American Negroes. This policy remained in the rules and was followed until the 1960’s. Even before this, another act had been passed many years before in 1855 ‘Act to Make Provisions for Certain Immigrants’ in Victoria, which restricted the number of Chinese arrivals.

The Federal Immigration Restriction Act OF 1901 put a stop to further Chinese settlement, and the population in Australia declined to fewer than 21,000 in 1921 and some 5,000 in 1947. Between 1947 and 1973, Chinese migration to Australia brought in many business people and professionals such as accountants, architects, engineers, doctors, dentists and teachers. In the mid 1960s the Chinese born population rose to over 23,000 and by 1988 the annual Chinese settler arrival numbers were in the top ten.

By the 1960’s and 1970’s many Chinese descendants did not know their family history. This is because names had been changed to prevent persecution and harassment because of their origins.

In 1989 due to the famous events of Tiananmen Square 40,000 students were granted Australian permanent residence by the Australian Prime Minister of the day, Bob Hawke, and it is estimated that a further 40,000 nationals were given access to Australian residence through the Family Reunion Program.

This was followed by the establishment of new institutions for the arrivals and old ones such as the Chinese Chamber of Commerce revived; Chinese language newspapers were once again published. The equality of citizenship laws and family reunion immigration after 1972 meant that an imbalance of the sexes, once a dominant feature of the Chinese communities in Australia, was not an issue in these later migrations.

Even up to today Chinese newspapers are published in Australia and three shortwave radio channels continue to broadcast in Cantonese and Mandarin. The Australian public broadcaster SBS also provides television and radio programming in both languages. The Chinese language is available as a subject in some secondary schools as well as private language schools that operate on weekends. Several Chinese Australians have received the Order of Australia award and there are current representatives in both State and Federal parliaments.


Brawley, Sean1995, The White Peril – Foreign Relations and Asian Immigration to Australasia and North America 1919-1978, UNSW Press, Sydney.

Cushman, J.W.1984, “A ‘Colonial Casualty’: The Chinese community in Australian Historiography”, Asian Studies Association of Australia, vol.7, no 3.

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Fitzgerald, Shirley, 1997 Red Tape, Gold Scissors, State Library of NSW Press, Sydney.

Macgregor, Paul (ed.) 1995, Histories of the Chinese in Australasia and the South Pacific, 1st edn, Museum of Chinese Australian History, Melbourne.

May, Cathie 1984, Topsawyers: the Chinese in Cairns 1870 to 1920, James Cook University, Townsville.

Price, Charles, 1987, p 176. ‘Asian and Pacific Island Peoples of Australia‘ in Fawcett, James T and Cariño, Benjamin V. Pacific Bridges: The New Immigration from Asia and the Pacific Islands. New York: Centre for Migration Studies.

2006 Australian Bureau of Statistics.

2001 Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Languages other than English spoken at home” Aboriginal Art and Culture: THE DREAMTIME-40,OOO YEARS OF HISTORY.

Caldwell, J. C. (1987). “Chapter 2: Population”, in Wray Vamplew (ed.): Australians: Historical Statistics. Broadway, New South Wales, Australia: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates, pages 23 and 26.

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