University of Tasmania

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Deconstructing the Chinese sojourner : case studies of early Chinese migrants to Tasmania

posted on 2023-05-26, 03:07 authored by Petty, AA
Chinese migration to Southeast Asia has a long history following on from the epic voyages of Zheng He in the 15th Century. The relatively modem migrations of Chinese to destinations even further a-field in the nineteenth century often engendered resentment in those countries to which the Chinese migrated, a resentment that fuelled debates about race, citizenship and exclusion. As European colonial expansion began to encompass much of the globe, Chinese migrants were recruited as a source of cheap labour to develop the newly conquered European colonies and America. Then, with the discovery of gold (and tin) in the mid l800s in countries such as Australia, America, Canada and so on, Chinese migration patterns evolved from recruited contract and coolie labour to a position where they were able to migrate without such strictures. They journeyed, as did their counterparts from Europe and Asia, to seek their fortune as 'Gold Diggers'. However, the arrival of Chinese in the European dominated colonies and America soon saw them singled out for their differences - their \otherness.\" They were invariably seen as an economic threat to the livelihood of Europeans and their presence in newly forming nations was viewed as a threat to the political ideals of democracy. Such sentiments and a focus on keeping the Chinese out of colonial nations and America meant they were rarely accepted as settlers or pioneers. Instead their ways and traditions were viewed as being incompatible with the European character of the host nation (such as Australia). Their cultural mores and the way in which they maintained links with China were seen as reasons that marked them as being unassimilable and therefore an undesirable race that threatened to undermine the very moral character of the nation. Thus their presence in European colonies and America was tolerated only as a temporary phenomenon and they were persistently referred to as 'sojourners' and 'birds of passage'. The complex matter of whether they really were 'sojourners' was and remains a controversial subject and a contested issue even today. This thesis re-examines the concepts surrounding the notion of the Chinese 'sojourner'. It questions the assertions that Chinese migrants did not seek to settle in the countries of their migration destination owing to an innate Chineseness or to cultural practices that prevented them from putting down roots in any place other than China. In order to reconsider the idea of the sojourner this thesis systematically de constructs the development of the sojourner discourse from both Western and Chinese constructs. This line of enquiry covers a range of subjects such as the \"pull and push\" factors of Chinese migrants abroad Chinese nationalism Western colonialism and their contribution to the formation of the sojourner discourse. Making use of detailed personal and thematic case studies based on Chinese migrants' experiences in Tasmania the thesis argues that the Chinese like many other migrants did seek to settle down in Australia and that it was not a Chinese cultural attitude that prevented them from settling. Rather it was more the colonial attitude of the host nation and laws like the White Australia policy (informed by \"scientific facts\" like those expressed in Social Darwinism) that made their settlement difficult. Finally the thesis argues that though Chinese migrants did have certain ties to their original home this did not necessarily indicate an unwillingness to make a home in a new nation. It is possible to replace the label of a 'sojourner' with that of 'flexible citizen' - one who has more than one 'home' in more than one nation - comparable to those migrants in the current era who live and work between nations and who are known as 'global' or 'trans-national' citizens and even 'astronauts'."


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