During the last Federal elections, our political leaders went on WeChat, to impress the PRC émigrés. They seemed not to care about the feelings of the huayi Aussies who have mostly come here since 1951.
Were our pollies signalling the end of their indulgence of huayi leaders whom they had patronised for the previous 40 years? More likely though is that in the minds of our politicians there is just that one amorphous “Chinese Australian community”.
A set of rough-hewn descriptors might come in handy:
Huayi (1951- ). Chinese descendants, born and bred outside China, in white colonies of Asia. Favoured minorities; heirs of compradors now rich and powerful. Some have not learnt Chinese for a generation or more.
The huayi first came in 1951, under the Colombo Plan, a cold war initiative. They were welcome, albeit as students. But after the drawbridge was lowered in 1972 many returned as bona fide immigrants. They were quintessentially the “honorary whites”: anglo-acculturated with western professional skills and the money to melt into the higher-end suburbs.
For 20 to 30 years their “community leaders” dominated the road to the upper realm of White Australia. Their inherited compradorship mindset, sometimes tinged with obsequiousness, worked a treat.
Then in 1976 the first boat-people from Vietnam landed, not English-speaking and looking dishevelled. The benign image of the huayi, so carefully created under the Colombo Plan, was blown overnight. The rearguard became restive. In 1984 Blainey sounded the bugle.
All the same, huayi doctors, engineers, scientists, accountants, and others, and their prize-winning kids at public and private schools, continued to “naturalise” the Chinese in the adolescent phase of multicultural Australia, until the big fat cats of Deng Xiaoping helicoptered into Oz, often chaperoned by our ex-ministers turned compradors for PRC enterprises.
PRC émigrés (say 1989 onwards). They came upon us in big numbers, over a short period. They looked different: scant signs of anglo-acculturation; occasional bursts of cultural pride; incipient homeland separation anxiety. Deng’s money-making edict had got them here. Mao’s cultural revolution had expunged the comprador mentality that grew furiously after the Opium War of 1840, and the one-child policy had imbued these émigrés with a latent sense of entitlement, now transplanted into a free society where money buys everything. This, however, is a phenomenon not foreign to them, given the endemic corruption that Deng had failed to nip in the bud.
Hongkongese (say from the 1960s). They hailed from a de facto Cantonese city-state mandated under the British flag. From small beginnings their compradors, by not long after WWII, had grown to be all-powerful tycoons. Hong Kong boasted the biggest number of Rolls-Royce limousines in any city in the world! Some of these Hongkongese “community leaders” succeeded inordinately in getting past the political gate-keepers of White Australia. Their unique Cantonese-British heritage might have helped.
Republican Taiwanese (from 1980s). Probably an unexpected windfall, from our business migration scheme to divert rich Hongkongese, looking for a second home in the West, away from the open arms of Canada. They bear the Confucian politeness and refrain from flaunting their wealth. Steeped in traditional Chinese education, many not fully at home in English, they set up numerous social organisations to establish a home away from for home, often adorned with huge satellite dishes to provide up to the minute news from Taiwan. Otherwise they sometimes display the remains of Chiang Kai-shek’s dream of making China a “democracy”, one day.
The native born Chinese Aussies. Those whose ancestors came in the 19th century; many now have only their genes for cultural heritage. And those who are born in Oz from 1951 onwards, most now able to fly their ethnic colours at the multi-national marina on this island, the awakening “Island off the coast of Asia”.
We are many, but we are not one: the Chinese in Oz.
Our politicians could show leadership in acknowledging this, in a creative way that would call forth the best from the many-hued Chinese in Oz.
And given the recurrent anti-Chinese outbreaks, it is time for the Chinese to find an authentic voice.
In 1986 the Chinese in Oz held a national conference, first ever in 51 years it was said, to lay the foundation for a national Chinese voice. We all spoke, from the heart, from our disparate socio-political backgrounds. Blainey had maligned us! He was turning the clock back to White Australia. We must have a national body! Yes, a national voice for the Chinese!
The Convenor’s report did not see the light of day, until the second conference four years later.
By then the idea of a national body or a “Chinese voice” was on life-support.
So what’s wrong with the Chinese in Oz?
There are hundreds of Chinese organisations in Melbourne and Sydney, many sooner or later commandeered by leaders for their own ascent into the firmament of recognition by the gate-keepers of White Australia, politicians in particular.
Aye, the compradorship mentality. Look after number one; forget the ordinary Chinese amongst you. This mindset has been watered and fertilised by pollies under the umbrella of multiculturalism. The practice of anointing token Chinese to parliaments, boards of GOCs et cetera, has smothered the green-shooting of native or near-native Chinese Aussies otherwise more than worthy to enter public life.
In the eyes of many of our politicians the amorphous Chinese is good for one thing only: to be the malleable comprador. Raise money, buy votes, and – unlike the Indigenous Senator Neville Bonner – don’t upset the applecart!
When will we move on?
An Institute for Chinese Australian Affairs, inhabited mainly by Chinese Aussies, might help bring out those with robust character and competence from amongst our native and near-native Chinese Aussies to be exposed to the collective knowledge we have of the history of the Chinese in Oz, so that they would become authentic spokespersons on important matters affecting the life of the Chinese in Oz. It is happening in an organic sense, incidentally, but given the continual anti-Chinese outbreaks, speed is of the essence.
Meanwhile, politicans and the rearguard of White Australia need to cleanse their mindscape of the debris and cobwebs from our White Australia days, including images of the Chinese as vermin who brought pathogens, heathen practices, and threats to unprotected white women. After 1901 we Chinese became tolerated aliens, to be deported when convenient, and calculated to die out through the infamous Dictation Test. During the inter-War years we were rehabilitated in Aussie novels as dependable labourers loyal to their white masters. During the thawing days of White Australia we were elevated to the pantheon of nation-builders, albeit in land-clearing – ringbarking forests of trees for our pastoral aristocracy, slashing the prickly pear scourge, building dams and fences – and of course in providing (cheap) fresh vegetables and fruits grown in what are now the suburbs of our main cities. Then after the War, humanised, we arrived as bright young Colombo Plan students; our government went to great lengths to get social institutions and solid white families to make them welcome. And finally, after 1972 when the White Australia wall finally came down, there were the select honorary whites we let in. Yet the record shows that the virulent “Chinese Question” of the 1880s has surfaced again and again. This time it’s the Covid pathogen. Not so long ago the “silent invasion”. And before that the prolonged culture war.
And the comprador mindset amongst the huayi has to be overcome. Not least: it’s just ain’t fair to subject our native or near-native heirs to the shame of obsequiousness. Besides, now that the colonial overlords have long gone, why compromise our moral bearings? For the PRC émigrés they should think of this land as the homeland of their heirs. It’s time to put aside the “Loyalty Education” mandated in the schools they attended in China after the disastrous “democracy” protest in 1989. They should perhaps remember the words of Chairman Mao: discard the Old; embrace the New!
Will she be right, mate?
Trust in our politicians and our polity is at an all-time low. Surveys published by reputable non-commercial organisations reveal that only one in five punters trust our MPs to act in our national interest. Without trust, the bipartisan anti-racism campaign being mooted at the moment would be just a bit of fanfare to see out the current outbreak of the White Australia virus. We’ve been there before. Besides, when the mores of a society are weak, the law is unenforceable.
For everyone’s sake we desperately need to regain trust in our political leaders.
It will take time, but if our politicians are fair dinkum, they could signal their commitment to regain our trust: legislate immediately to stop our ex-ministers and top public servants from becoming money-conglomerating compradors for mining, war-mongering, American, French, or Chinese corporations. If well executed, this long-awaited extirpation would lead the ordinary people to believe that the political rot has been given a double dose of antibiotics. The Brits have a cooling period of five years for their ex-ministers. Likewise in the US of A, the land of the free. What’s wrong with our political leaders?
Change will be slow.
But a memorial to the Lambing Flat atrocities of 1861, the harbinger of the White Australia policy, might just catapult Chinese-Australian affairs on to a new page. A memorial, and its begetting, like none other before. Next time.