CHEK LING. Unleashing the White Australia virus

It is such a shame that the PM and our Foreign Minister felt the need to goad China.

That bugling for a “transparent” and “independent” enquiry into the origin of Covid-19 ain’t gunner help the international scientific community to find an effective strategy for managing future pandemics. Instead, it has merely given vim to the visitation of the mutant White Australia Virus upon the Chinese in Oz.

The hypocrisy and stupidity of asking for transparency of an authoritarian State, when in the same television footage Marise Payne refused to divulge the source of the pirated copy of Turnbull’s memoirs, is just so embarrassing. That cameo might have reminded the Chinese leaders of the heyday of the white untouchables in the International Settlement in Shanghai, up until 1913, when they could do to the Chinese as they pleased.

Our leaders seem blind to the possibility that the Chinese would see us as the self-proclaimed generous white nation that stole the oil revenues from Timor Leste, one of the poorest nations on earth. Yes, all done through commercially legal agreements, but connived through the bugging of the cabinet rooms of the Timor Leste government, a morally putrid feat camouflaged under the grand banner of AusAid to renovate those rooms for the new nation. In contrast, the Cuban government sent 300 badly needed doctors and nurses to Timor Leste, who in turn trained up 1000 local health professionals. All for nothing under Cuba’s capacity to pay principle, a founding principle still uncompromised by greed.

This Timor venture as well must remind the Chinese of how the West ransomed the ailing Qing Dynasty for obscenely huge “Indemnity” payments under “peace” Treaties.

If we want to help ourselves, the West, and China, it would pay for us to remember China’s well-founded fear of the West with its 100 year of avaricious greed and remorseless oppression.

Just take the Boxer rebellion of 1900, for instance. After the slaughter of the deluded “bullet-proof” Boxers at the hands of the combined killing machines of the Eight Nations, the Brits insisted on an Indemnity Fund so disproportionately huge that even the Americans were embarrassed. (The Americans were persuaded in due course to repay a good portion of the funds in the form of scholarships to US universities, a diplomatic face-saver that unexpectedly paved the way to the founding of Tsinghua University!)

It took a year for the Brits to cower the ailing Qing government into yielding to that ransom demand, an inglorious year in which our own pre-Anzac contingent arrived too late to fight but not too late to join in the triumphal “cleaning up” operations in search of the remaining Boxers in hiding. It was not without mishap, though. Six of these Aussie fighters are now remembered on the walls of our War Memorial in Canberra.

The scars of all this history are ever-present in the psyche of PRC leaders. There is a Dictionary of 100 Years of Humiliation, an inch and a half thick, detailing the wrongs which the West inflicted upon the Chinese, beginning with the Opium War of 1839-42. After the 1989 Tiananmen Square disaster this and similar cultural records were got into high gear in the “Patriotic Education Campaign”

If China has been coy about Covid-19 it is understandable.

The PRC leadership is in a bind. The growing middle class is hooked on Western style economic progress but has been impatient for the liberalisation of their polity. The half–baked but mass supported demand for “democracy” at Tiananmen is testimony to that.

Foreign wrongs and Chinese humiliation are the bedrock of the PRC government, which has mythologised the Communist Party as the only party capable of throwing out the foreign devils and keeping them at bay. They cannot relax. They cannot let go of their grip, in case their very own existence be threatened. So the more we goad them, the more they will be able to justify their indispensability to their growing middle class.

At any rate there is no need to goad them. The May 4th Movement in 1919 was a spontaneous uprising, all credits to our own Billy Hughes! His brazen insistence on the righteousness of the White Australia Policy at the Versailles Peace Conference had resulted in the Shandong Province’s being given to the Japanese as a diplomatic face-saver. That was the fuse that lit the May 4 Movement. It should tell us that China is capable of producing its own intellectual class committed to reforming their polity.

Shandong, as it transpired, became in 1931 the beach-head for Japan to launch its 15 year long military carnage and germ warfare experimentation upon China. The Chinese cannot forget all this history, just as our Indigenous peoples have not forgotten their “dispersal”, the dispossession of their land, their stolen generation, and their own Anzacs discarded on the scrap heap upon their return from Europe.

If we want to advance humanity across the oceans we need to put our feet in the shoes of the people towards whom we have historical antipathies. But if we care only about chop-sueying up some cold-war remains to rally the lackadaisically educated, still nostalgic about our Imperial heritage, but living largely hand-to-mouth in voter-land, then anything will do.

It seems that the White Australia Virus (WAV-1901) has been unleashed again, this time in response to Covid-19. It seems to break out every time we feel our existential fragility: Blainey in 1984 who fomented the fear that social cohesion was strained by the trickle of Asian immigrants; Hanson in 1996 who claimed that we were being swamped by Asians who would not integrate; and now Covid-19, the pestilence pasted upon an authoritarian China, as though presaged by the popular Fu Manchu novels in which the eponymous evil no-slouch with doctorates from Cambridge and America, also extensively featured in cinema, television, radio and comics for much of the 20th century, was hell-bent on bringing western civilisation to its knees. The plucky Englishman creator, in his end days, confessed that he knew nothing about China!

Is his legacy still with us?

I hear a distant rumble: Donald Horne, turning in his grave. He had after all taken down “Australia for the White Man” from the masthead of The Bulletin, not long before he chronicled the Lucky Country of the ‘60s.


Chek Ling spent his entire career in the oil, water, and electricity sectors, after arriving in Melbourne in 1962 to study electrical engineering.

In 1984 Geoffrey Blainey sparked his interest in the place of the Chinese in Australia. That interest continues, alongside his thoughts on how to strengthen our polity.

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37 Responses to CHEK LING. Unleashing the White Australia virus

  1. Avatar Jerry Roberts says:

    Hi Chek. You write superbly but I was not aware that Australia “trained” the Dalai Lama. The Deakin surname speaks of classical Australian liberalism and your debate is interesting but I think you are both missing the main point. My impression is that the China lobby in Australia was winning the debate and critics like Peter Hartcher, Clive Hamilton (and yours truly) were outliers.

    Scott Morrison turned China relations around suddenly and sharply with the Covid-19 inquiry issue. Our PM has good political judgement and he surely understood the economic consequences that would follow his aggressive tone. We are seeing a big geo-political move by America to move Australia out of the China orbit. Watch out for further developments.

  2. Avatar Andrew Deakin says:

    Interesting take on historical western exploitation and dominance in China. The problem continues in the present, with China ruled by a government inexplicably enthralled by the nineteenth century western philosophy of Marxism (which destroyed Russia in the twentieth century, and was used to impoverish Eastern Europe for almost 50 years after WWII). When will the Chinese develop the courage and nous to throw off this discredited Western influence?

    • Avatar Chek Ling says:

      The sooner we stop goading the CCP leadership; the sooner we desist from threatening them by training rebels like in the case of the Dalai Lama; and the sooner we make them feel that we want to trust them to be good international citzens, the sooner they will feel secure enough to become more liberal.
      Marxism seems dead to me. One Party capitalist State seems to be the case. Who knows if we are nice to them they might like that and set themselves to be the next Singapore – one Party state with a democracy wardrobe.
      To be nice should never mean we kowtow no matter what, like we seem to kowtow before Uncle Sam so many times in the past.

      • Avatar Andrew Deakin says:

        Thank you for taking the time and trouble to reply to my comment. I appreciate it.

        I like the optimism of your suggestion that China may evolve into a version of contemporary Singapore.

        I wonder if the optimism is somewhat Panglossian.

        Many Chinese would surely like their nation to develop in that way. But would an elite leadership be prepared to cede some (or all) of the power and authority that such a development would entail? The legacy of Soviet Russia suggests not. And China is much more economically sophisticated (and therefore sustainable) than either the former Union or modern Russia.

        I doubt China’s movers and shakers will be looking over their collective shoulder to check the tone of Australian commentary.

        Australia is a relatively serendipitous settlement on a continent that would otherwise have developed into balkanised states dedicated to resource exploitation, and little else.

        In those circumstances, maintaining a close alliance with a like-minded settlement country also blest with single nationhood is prudent, productive, and reassuring.

        There may be occasional kowtowing to the USA, because of size differences, but it minimises the risk of an alternative and less stimulating kowtowing to the north.

  3. Avatar Anthony Lee says:

    Amazing, is it really necessary to see everything through a racism lense? Nevermind that there is no rule of law in China and Hong Kong’s Basic Law is being shredded.
    The CCP love you to talk about the Boxer Rebellion because Xi is just another emperor and also full of hypocrisy. While you complain about foreign soldiers in China in 1899 then what about the Qing government hiring foreign mercenary e.g. Charles Gordon to to fight against Taiping rebellion i860? People in glass houses should throw rocks. Right now what we need is for the world to stand up ti the CCP

  4. Avatar Jerry Roberts says:

    I wonder if English is the writer’s first language. His mastery of the written word is a joy to read. If I were in Chinese shoes I would never forgive Europeans for the opium wars.

    • Avatar Bill Ho says:

      This is a great history reminder by Chek. Sadly the white Australian spirit has not passed away, as it tries to single out a Country to favour an “Ally”. This is also a reminder to the Amicus who compassionately used Advance Australia Fair to replace “God Save the Queen” as an inspiration to peoples who choose Australia as home.

  5. Avatar John Battye says:

    The only real “virus” that was unleashed upon Australia, and for that matter, the entire white Western world since the retirement of Sir Robert Menzies, was the “liberal” virus of local racial diversity and multiculturaism.

  6. Avatar Francis Lee says:

    Thank you Chek Ling for a wonderful article. I think “If we want to advance humanity across the oceans we need to put our feet in the shoes of the people towards whom we have historical antipathies.” sums up the spineless disposition of some of Australia’s politicians who dream of becoming the mouthpiece of another country.

  7. Avatar Mick Shadwick says:

    The publication by “Pearls and Irritations” of such a biased, vicious and subjective diatribe diminishes the reputation of the blog. The author is, of course, entitled to write what he likes – it’s his reputation – but I would have thought that “Pearls and Irritations” would want to have regard to its reputation.

  8. Avatar Anthony Pun says:

    Chek Ling is one of the quite leaders of the Chinese Australian community and a ex-President of the CCCA Queensland Chapter. Doesn’t say much but this article represent the hallmark of his personality and his ability to incise right into the heart of the matter. His no-nonsense and succinct understanding of racism in Australia and his return to the public to voice his opinion on this subject is timely. He calls a spade a spade. Congratulations to Chek and welcome back to the front lines and lead the 1.2 million Chinese Australians in combating racism.

  9. Avatar Robin Wingrove says:

    Excellent article as are the others re China in today’s P&I.

    Other than what has been mentioned above, we cannot forget that in the 19th Century Britain not only forced China to import opium to pay for the tea the British were addicted as the British couldn’t afford all the silver China was asking as a fair trade but both Britain and the US at that time actively suppressed China with a true gun-boat philosophy by sending their warships up the major Chinese rivers as well as threatening China’s seaports on the China Sea. To my mind it was those actions that have encouraged the Chinese to create ‘bases’ on virtually submerged atolls much to the hypocritical squeals of the Yanks and us about ‘freedom of navigation’, forgetting of course that the best defence is a forward one. Not once have I heard of any of those bases attacking US forces but they have been very active in discouraging the US navy from getting too close. With the above history in mind, I can’t blame them.

  10. Avatar Richard England says:

    The driving force of the West’s imperialist programme is greed. Apologism for greed is it’s, and the world’s most contemptible philosophy.

    • Avatar Chek Ling says:

      I agree.
      Sadly our political culture is so poisoned by it, just like how opium poisoned the polity and society of 19th century China.
      My submission {file:///C:/Users/Chek/Downloads/Submission%20168%20(5).pdf} to our Senate enquiry into Nationhood, national identity and Democracy is in line with your thinking. It is long and contains well known names in politics. That is probably why mine was only accepted months after the others were. I have not been summoned to appear, yet!

    • Avatar Robert Hum says:

      Dr M, PM of Malaysia for 21 yrs was adamant that Australia should not be admitted to ASEAN and the East Asia Economic Caucus because Australia is the deputy Sheriff of Asia Pacific on behalf of USA and it’s western attitude of looking down on Asians is well known.

      Did Australia raise issues in the international community or the United Nation over the USA unilateral invasion of Iraq on false pretension of the possession of WMD. No. It didn’t.

      If Australia is serious in maintaining a semblance of dignity and fair play, in the region, it must starts in the reparation of compensation in the stealing of royalty from East Timor‘s gas fields.

      Australia bullied and defrauded Timor L’Este of its royalty revenues from the gas fields just off its shore, and set up refinery 900 km of undersea pipeline in Darwin, citing tectonic plates!

  11. Yes, copy book imperialism right up to Mao. The thing that is perplexing to me about the article is that the writer says that democracy protests in the past were “half baked” which implies a hopefulness that a transition might be achieved in the future. Marx discounted bourgeois democracy as being vulnerable to wealth and there a few better illustrations of that than is our “democracy” And it has also spawned The White Australia Policy and Pauline Hanson and her ilk.

    “They cannot let go of their grip, in case their very own existence be threatened” and why should they? Do the Chinese people really want their “growing middle class” to be in charge and exercising their customary avarice unchecked? Do they want the Imperialists back? The CPA appears to have done exceptionally well so far.

    • Avatar Chek Ling says:

      Hopefully a transition to a more liberal regime would take place one day. Unfortunately the under-educated 1989 Tiananmen democracy disaster has hardened the CCP’s stance on liberalisation. Regrettably Deng killed off the green shoots of liberalisation. Had Zhao Jiyang and Hu Yaobang not been put away to die China would be a very different place today. Deng of course also failed to take heed of corruption. (My heart sank recently when I heard that his children, bar one, are these days “naturalised” American billionaires! My poor father would turn in his grave, having been a volunteer student soldier running up the hill to take contol of his Manchu teachers at his high school on that gloriously liberating day in November 1911.)

  12. Avatar David Brown says:

    thank you

    how many times will Australian (mostly Liberal/National) idiots drag us to support American (and before that English) disasters?

  13. Avatar Sandra Hey says:

    Fantastic factual article on the plight of the Chinese people whom have suffered from the cruel hands of white imperialism over the centuries. One historical fact that China has over this current Morrison Government is 6,000 years of written history, culture and the guiding principles of “Confucianism”. Lee Yuan Yew on a visit in the 1980’s predicted the risk to Australia of becoming the “White Trash of Asia”. It would appear we have no adults left at the negotiating table in Canberra.

  14. Great to see your article Chek. It is such a succinct and incisive educational piece for our Australian community leaders and politicians. It is a must read for all our members of Federal Parliament of all political persuasions including Pauline Hanson of course if we are hoping to repair our current poor relationship with China. Please do not forget to send it personally to PM Morrison and Leader of Opposition Albanese too.

    • Avatar Jim KABLE says:

      Totally agree with your comments, Dr KSC! The collective ignorance of our politicians and of many of the journalists/political commentators who write in support of the ignorance – or out of their own ignorant and ideological bosses’ perspectives – is shameful! Loved the reference by Chek Ling to Tsinghua – an English cousin taught at the campus in its earlier Yenching U days before MAO turned the Arts & Sciences and the Engineering Faculty rumps once the “foreign” teachers were sent packing – partly into the campuses of BeiDa and QingDa. The noted linguist Professor (UCLA) CHAO Yuen-ren – father of a friend in the US – was in the second batch of those scholarship recipients from China to be sent to the US for studies (around 1920 back in China being the interpreter for Bertrand Russell on his visit there)…

  15. Avatar Jim Anthony says:

    Bravo Chek Ling for a contribution that is elegantly crafted and a much needed reminder of a part of the inner core of Australia.
    The white Australian political/military/industrial complex tied to ANZUS (which really means tied to American imperialism and its muted, but still alive and well Monroe Doctrine and strategic denial policies) continues to be what it has long been–=and continues to be: a bully in the region, including the south -west Pacific and now, in alliance with India, in the Indian Ocean.
    Australia is no less an ‘interventionist’ power that the US is. Australia is never to be trusted. Domestic mechanisms to hold Australia accountable have long been weak and will continue to be. In foreign policy the difference between the Liberal-Country party coalition and Labor is the difference between Tweedledee and Tweedledum.
    The Whitlam years were a brief departure from Australia’s well worn path of domestic aggression (against the first people of Australia) and international aggression world wide. The Whitlam government’s policies were short lived. Despite denials aplenty white Australia lives on. White Australia still lives–in no small part in Australia’s stubborn commitment to ‘containing’ China. Morrison is not all that different from Menzies.

    • Avatar Jim KABLE says:

      More needed comment, JA, which needs proper response from those presently failing the nation.

  16. Avatar Geoffrey Anderson says:

    Excellent to know there are others whose opinions I can relate to

  17. Avatar Frank Alley says:

    Excellent and timely article Chek Ling. I am reminded of something I learned as a young bloke (if memory serves me correctly), that there was a ‘morality test’ during Victorian England times. It went something like this: Imagine yourself sitting in front of a machine which has one button to press. Each time you press the button you will receive one pound. However, for each press of the button 100 Chinese would die. Now, how many times would you press that button?

    A bit like ‘Idi Amin kills his own people, so does it matter if we kill them too?’ You could substitute Idi Amin with Sadam Hussein et al.

    • Avatar Jim KABLE says:

      It’s a question one could ask of Dutton-Pezzullo! I am not certain that I know what the evil duo would do. Certainly not if they were 14 years of age!

  18. Avatar Teow Loon Ti says:

    I admire your ability to write so concisely and effectively. Thank you. Many Chinese would say, “We can forgive but we cannot forget”. That phrase “…but we cannot forget” is underpinned by the motivation to make themselves strong enough to stand up to any such further humiliation. Perhaps Australians can now understand why the Chinese felt so offended by Malcolm Turnbull’s trivialisation of their national anthem which starts with “Stand up. Stand up….”
    Teow Loon Ti

    • Avatar Malcolm Crout says:

      How long will it take the Chinese to recover from this ancient humiliation? A serious question Mr Li.

      • Avatar George Wendell says:

        @Malcolm Crout

        The Boxer Rebellion took part between 1899 and 1901. The invasion of Gallipoli took part in 1915-1916 – we remind ourselves of that every year but hardly for the same reasons: we were not invaded, the Turks were.

        The First and Second Opium wars as well as the Boxer rebellion, were all efforts on the part of the Chinese to rid their country of Western powers that used illegal opium in order to trade and restore the silver imbalance. All of it was forced on them.

        I guess it is a bit like asking why indigenous Australians still remember the injustice of early colonialists in Australia who took their land and caused the near genocide wrath that followed. Such historical perspectives are not easy to forget for the people who pay the price.

        It is always easier to forget when you were on the winning side, but not those that suffer the injustice.

        • Avatar Jim KABLE says:

          Bravo GW. You took the points straight from my thinking/memory on these matters! Marches are held in Ulster every year to recall events in the 17th century. Why should anyone forget injustices? Not until proper compensation and deeply felt apologies have been made, surely!

    • Avatar Hans Rijsdijk says:

      “Lest we forget”, also applies to China.

    • Avatar Chek Ling says:

      Very nice of you to say so Ti. Thank you.

      As for Malcolm Turnbull he was referring to words attributed to Mao as he stood, upon entering Beijing, to declare that the Chinese people have stood up. MT was not referring to China’s anthem. It is possible though that Mao might have referred to the rousing opening words of the anthem in his first speech upon taking power.

  19. Avatar George Wendell says:

    An excellent article Chek Ling that touches on the historical reasons why China is not going to be browbeaten by former imperialist countries (including Japan) and the current imperialist USA anymore. This is part of the problem with China because most Australians have no idea of Chinese history, such events like the Boxer Rebellion reinterpreted in their minds by biased movies as far back as the 1960s like ” 55 Days in Peking”. In that movie the British and Americans are projected as the non-violent heroes while the Chinese people and culture are seen as vastly inferior and barbarian. What utter prejudice.

    There is only one reason why China is persistently attacked these days again, and that is for the very opposite reason it was attacked in the First Opium War. In those days China did not want to trade, so it was forced to do so by the British and many other western countries (including the US), but now that it seeks trade, wants to move out into the world, and has an economy that rivals the US, then suddenly it is a target for anti-Chinese sentiment once again.

    Those Chinese can just never get it right it seems.

    • Avatar Jim KABLE says:

      You have no doubt read the trilogy of novels by Amitav GHOSH which traces the lead up to these opium wars. My paedagogical hero in western Japan was the teacher/revolutionary YOSHIDA Shōin (1830-1859). His reading of Dutch encyclopaedia brought each two years to the Nagasaki Dutch trading mission/factory – and there put into Japanese by the permanent translation secretariat – alerted him and others to the actions of foreigners in China with their manufactured “Opium Wars” and certainly alerted intellectuals across Japan to the dangers coming – were they not to modernise to keep the foreigners doing to Japan what they were then doing to China.

  20. Avatar Dufa Wira says:

    “If China has been coy about Covid-19 it is understandable.” I agree. That PRC put it’s hand up less than four weeks after the disease first came to notice is remarkable. Lets hope that Australia can forge a grown up relationship with the Middle Kingdom.
    Thanks for this timely article.

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