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Brief Sojourn in your Native Land: Sydney Links with South China

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  26 February 2016

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The title of this paper is taken from a testimonial signed by a number of Gundagai residents on the departure for China in 1903 of Mark Loong after sixteen years in the district. That the notion of a person ‘sojourning’ in China is a contradiction of the prevailing ‘sojourner’ concept usually held about early Chinese migrants in Australia is the result the failure of Australian-Chinese research to fully appreciate the significance of family and district links between Australia and China and their impact upon the motivation, organisation and settlement patterns of Chinese people in Australia before the middle of the twentieth century. Without such an appreciation most research into Australian-Chinese history has focused only on those who established families in Australia or who ran successful businesses. This paper will focus on describing some features of these family and districts links with regard to that generation who arrived after the gold rushes of the 1850s to 1870s but before the Immigration Restriction Act 1901, who originated in one south China district, Zhongshan , and who lived primarily in one Australian city, Sydney. These restraints are partly due to reliance on sources such as the administrative files of the Immigration Restriction Act which begin only in 1901, and partly to the fact that this research represents a first step in the investigation of the significance of district of origin and the people of Zhongshan district in Sydney are the first to be investigated.

Research Article
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1 Australian Archives (NSW), SP42/1; C1903/875, Mark Loong, Testimonial, 9 January 1903.Google Scholar

2 For Chinese characters used in the text and their various romanisations see Table 1.Google Scholar

3 In researching this generation of Chinese-Australian residents it is important to avoid old generalisations. Among people for whom dialect, district, village and family were considered of the foremost importance, how accurate can such labels as ‘Chinese’ and ‘the Chinese community’ be? With this in mind, the term huaqiao () is used to refer to people of Chinese origin who lived in Sydney in the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries. Huaqiao literally means ‘Chinese who reside away from home’ and most closely corresponds to the English phrase ‘overseas Chinese’. The best discussion of the term huaqiao is that by Wang Gungwu, ‘South China perspectives on overseas Chinese’, The Australian Journal of Chinese Affairs, no.13, 1984, pp 6984.Google Scholar

4 Known as ‘Certificate Exempting from the Dictation Test’ or CEDT. For more detail about the Dictation Test and CEDTs see Yarwood, A. T., Asian Migration to Australia: the background to exclusion, Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 1964, pp 4266.Google Scholar

5 Report of the Royal Commission on alleged Chinese Gambling & Immorality and charges of bribery against members of the police force, Government Printer, Sydney, 1892; Rookwood Cemetery, Anglican Trust, Register of Burials in the Necropolis at Haslem's Creek, under the Necropolis Act of 1867, 31st Victoria, no.14, ‘Chinese Section of General Cemetery’.Google Scholar

6 Two witnesses to the ‘Royal Commission’ provided lists of the ‘communities’ (districts) that were represented in Sydney around this time. Yuan Tak referred to ‘Chang Sing, Toon Goon, Heong Shang, See Yip, Sam Yip, Har Kar, and Go You’. While Robert Lee Kam gave an even more detailed list, ‘There is the Chong Sing community, the Doon Goon community, the Hung Shang community, the Sun Wing community, the Sun Wiy community, the Hoy Ping community, the Ying Ping community, the Hock Sang community, the Go You community, the Go Ming community, the Sun On community, the Par Yoon community, the Sam Soon community; but there are very few individuals belonging to the last mentioned clan.’ Allowing for variations in transcription, all these communities, with the exception of the scattered ‘Har Kar’ (Hakka, ), can be identified with the districts surrounding the Pearl River Delta in southern China. Royal Commission, op. cit., p. 119, line, 4784 and p. 145, line 5805.Google Scholar

7 Royal Commission, op. cit., p. 57, line 2220, and Michael Williams, Brief Sojourn in Your Native Land, M.Lit Thesis, UNE, October 1998, Chart 1, p. 17.Google Scholar

8 Sinn, Elizabeth, Power and Charity: The Early History of the Tung Wah Hospital, Hong Kong, Oxford University Press, Hong Kong, 1989, pp 55–6, contrasts the strength of the guild based structure of Hong Kong and Chinese cities generally with the importance of regional associations among the overseas Chinese.Google Scholar

9 Royal Commission, op. cit., p. 28.Google Scholar

10 Sinn, Elizabeth, ‘Xin Xi Guxiang: A Study of Regional Associations as a Bonding Mechanism in the Chinese Diaspora. The Hong Kong Experience’, Modern Asian Studies, 31, 2, 1997, p. 375. According to Sinn, the purpose of such societies was also to express longing and to remind members of their obligations.Google Scholar

11 An average of 10 to 20 years before the first trip and for periods of 2 to 6 years thereafter. See Williams, op. cit., Appendix IV, Tables 6 & 9.Google Scholar

12 See for example: Australian Archives (NSW), SP42/1; C29/48, Ping Fun, Certificate of Registration of a firm with the Registrar-General, Sun Sam Choy – General Merchants, no.3, 694, 5 June 1906.Google Scholar

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14 Australian Archives (NSW), SP726/1; Particulars of Applications for CEDTs, vol.1–vol.6. Sydney figures cannot be isolated, as people throughout NSW needed to pass through Sydney Port. The use of Brisbane and Melbourne by huaqiao living in NSW even makes trying to isolate NSW highly problematic.Google Scholar

15 This conclusion is supported by an analysis of the immigration files which indicates that 75% of huaqiao married only after their first sojourn to the village. For details see, Williams, op. cit., Appendix IV, Table 7.Google Scholar

16 After 1903 wives could be brought to Australia only temporarily and only if their husbands were ‘merchants’.Google Scholar

17 The Commonwealth Census of 1911 records 801 Chinese out of a total male population of 21,032, living with wives in Australia and a further 6,714 were recorded to have wives in China. The places of birth of the Australian based wives were recorded as, ‘China born’– 181, ‘England’– 63, ‘Scot’– 15, ‘Ireland’– 22 and ‘Australia born’– 485. This last group are assumed to be ‘Chinese or mixed’, though on what basis is unclear. Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia, Commonwealth Bureau of Census and Statistics, Melbourne, 1925, Table 10, no.18, p. 956. These are formal marriages, the number of de facto arrangements would be much higher.Google Scholar

18 Norman Lee confirms this general pattern, interview with Norman Lee, 25 September 1997 (7). Price, op. cit., p. 218, also considers 1–2 years an average stay. See Williams, op. cit. p. 34, Chart 3.Google Scholar

19 For example, Australian Archives (NSW), SP42/1; C31/980, Wong Yong, file note, 2 January 1930.Google Scholar

20 See Ta, Chen, Chinese Migrations, with Special Reference to Labour Conditions, Washington Government Printing Office, 1923, pp 175180, on the presence of plague, smallpox, cholera and other diseases in the villages of south China in the 1930s.Google Scholar

21 See for example; Dehua, Zheng, ‘Shijiu shiji mo Taishan qiaoxiang de xingcheng ji qi pouxi’ (A analysis of the formation of overseas emigrant communities in Taishan in the late 19th century), Qiaoshi xuebao (Journal of Overseas Chinese History), 1986–3, p. 36.Google Scholar

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23 Ta, Chen, op. cit., p.121, gives examples of families and the role of the wife ‘acting head of the family’ while the husband was overseas; Chen Hen-Seng, Landlord and Peasant in China: A Study of the Agrarian crisis in South China, 2nd edn, Hyperion Press, Westport Connecticut, 1973, pp 46–8, on leasing details, such as deposits and sub-tenants.Google Scholar

24 Letter, Wing On manager, Sydney to Chiang Kai-Shek, 6 June 1939. Mar letter: no. 284 in possession of Dr Janis Wilton, UNE. Translation by the author with the assistance of Chen Mei-Su.Google Scholar

25 Interview with King Fong, 1 April 1998 (interview notes) and Billy Gay, 19 March 1998 (Tape 1, B, 300). Rent receipt books of the Say Tin Co., 1970–1983, in the possession of Mr. King Fong.Google Scholar

26 For details based on Rookwood cemetery burial records see, Williams, op. cit., Appendix IV, Table 12.Google Scholar

27 Royal Commission, op. cit., p. 55, line, 2113.Google Scholar

28 Sinn, Power & Charity, op. cit. Google Scholar

29 An example of each are: Ryan, Jan, Ancestors: Chinese in Colonial Australia, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, Fremantle, 1995; Diana Giese, Beyond Chinatown, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1995; Cathie May, Topsawyers: the Chinese in Cairns 1870 to 1920, James Cook University, Townsville, 1984; June Mei, Socioeconomic origins of emigration: Guangdong to California 1850–1882, Modern China, Vol 5, No.4 June pp 463–501; Y. F. Woon, ‘An Emigrant Community in the Ssu-yi Area, Southeastern China, 1885–1949: A Study in Social Change’, Modern Asian Studies, 18, 2, 1984, pp 273–306; Clarence Elmer Glick, Sojourners and Settlers: Chinese migrants in Hawaii, University Press of Hawaii, Honolulu, 1980 and Zheng Dehua, ‘Shijiu shiji mo Taishan qiaoxiang de xingcheng ji qi pouxi’ (A analysis of the formation of overseas emigrant communities in Taishan in the late 19 th century), Qiaoshi xuebao (Journal of Overseas Chinese History), 3, 1986, pp 3339.Google Scholar