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Australian Chinese: Migration, Ethnicity and Identity

In the modern world of multi-culture and migration has the pertinent value of discussion and the realization that migration, ethnicity, and identity have much in common takes the serious debates towards finding new meanings to it. Migration is the nature of modern man in a global market. Many of the people in the modern world attempt to settle in new territories and such a tendency have great implication to people in the global world environment. Some of these migrations may be permanent while some others are temporary and a variety of reasons such as economic, family, professional, or other reasons can play a central role in such an attempt. It is commendable to be aware of the fact that immigration is the chief basis for the population growth of several nations in the modern world. It can also be seen that immigration of the modern world is highly marked by increasing racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. “As has been the case for the past 50 years, immigration continues to be marked by increasing racial/ethnic/cultural diversity.” (Special Section: Psychological Perspectives on Immigration. 2007) It is also part of the immigrant life that they cause the spread of many languages, ways of living, cultures, and world views. The great significance to the spread of all these aspects of one’s life including the cultures as a result of immigration is that the world is becoming multicultural at a high speed. There is a great implication to migration, ethnicity, and identity in the modern world with much disturbance and conflicts. “From the recent upheavals we have witnessed in the last years, we can only agree that one of the most urgent, political perceptions of our time is the regard for cultural diversity as a positive value crucial to human survival. It is the realization that ethnicity, race and culture, rather than functioning as divisive factors, can contribute to create a rich human situation, multicultural and poly-ethnic, that is beneficial to all. The full acceptance, indeed appreciation, of global diversity will free people from prejudice, intolerance and fear and bring us closer to the basic human ideals invoked centuries ago as liberty, equality and fraternity.” (Guillermo). In this background, an analysis of migration, ethnicity, and identity of Chinese immigrants in Australia has great implications which bring about crucial results. Australia is often proclaimed to be one of the most culturally assorted nations in the world, and a cavernous evaluation of Australia’s immigration history confirms that it is a multicultural society with immigrants from every corner of the world. One may note that Australia is regarded as a country of immigrants which “has formally accepted the diversity of its population, evolving specific multicultural policies to deal with this diversity, whatever their merits and demerits.” (Bloul 2002). In the given situation, it is most encouraging and fruitful to take up an analysis of Chinese migration to Australia as it covers various elements such as the issues of migration, ethnicity, and identity.

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Australian multiculturalism is often regarded as the essential character of the nation. It is essential to understand multiculturalism as the coming together of various cultures that occurred and shown in society, which includes different arts and customs of different race groups. Multiculturalism has its origin from two Latin words, ‘Multus’ which means many, and ‘Cultura’ which means cultivation. Therefore, in short, Multiculturalism can be comprehended as many different racial groups with their own culture mixing into one nation and in this meaning, Australia forms a multicultural society. “The Australians came from more than one-hundred different country origins which have brought their own cultures. They settled in Australia in order to find a better life. In Australia there exist many different cultural groups. This condition makes Australia a multicultural country, a country with many races, ethnic groups and cultures. The multicultural society has some effects on literature in Australia. There is a multicultural national literature. Since there are many cultural groups in Australia, the Australian government has then cultural policy in Australia in order to control the society and its cultures. So there is a law that will control all the ethnic has its own rights of its culture.” (Multiculturalism in Australia). Apart from law and literature, there have been several other aspects of Australian life affected by various cultures. It can be seen that Chinese immigrants formed a huge number of Australian settlers in modern times and an investigation into the migration, ethnicity, and identity of these settlers bring about various essential factors about this life. It can be remarked that “recent Chinese migration to Australia…shows how they have grown from being the fourteenth most important origin of settlers in the 1980s to be currently the third largest origin… There is a nexus between non-permanent migrations and eventual permanent settlement in Australia …especially that involving student migration.” (Hugo). The issues concerning identity, ethnicity, and migration affecting these Chinese immigrants have been numerous.

Now it is essential to understand that the history of Chinese migration to Australia began centuries ago and it can be noted that the first Chinese settlers rushed to Australia in large numbers to strike gold. It is also seen that most of these were men who had contracted to agents who sponsored their voyages. They faced years of difficult repayments and sent money back to their families in China. Significantly, by the year 1861, there was 7% of Chinese immigrants making Australian population. Once the gold was no more the attraction, these settlers worked as market gardeners or farmhands and some of them began some small grocery stores or fruit and vegetable-hawking businesses in Australian towns. Some Chinese immigrants worked around Melbourne in a mixture of engagements, which included import-export businesses, laundry operations, cabinet making, and medicine. In this background, there began several Chinese religious and cultural organizations, and Chinese New Year celebrations became a highlight in many towns in Victoria. However, Chinese immigration was affected due to the restrictions by the Government policy from as early as the 1850s. It was mainly through the 1901Immigration Restriction Act – often called the White Australia Policy – that significantly hindered the entry of non-Europeans, including the Chinese, were restricted and this included the use of a dictation test. Residency conditions were also strictly controlled. “The Chinese community actively protested against prejudice, however, and activists such as Loius Ah Mouy and Lowe Kong Meng highlighted the important economic and social contributions made by members of their community. Finally, policy restricting the migration of non-Europeans was lifted in the 1970s, and trade links with China were subsequently strengthened. Between 1986 and 1991 the China-born population in Victoria more than doubled to over 20,000. This number was largely due to the many Chinese students seeking citizenship and asylum after the repression of student demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in 1989.” (Lam 2006). (Chinese Immigration to Australia). (Martin 1998). It will be noted that, in the modern days, most of the Chinese immigrants include professionals such as scholars, doctors, and business investors, and some others are students. This Chinese immigrant community y in Australia today continues the long and proud history of a Chinese community that remarkably contributed heavily to Victorian life.

In an analysis of the Chinese immigration of Australia, it becomes essential to understand that the issues relating to migration have been of central concern to the immigrants. There have been several policies that are the direct results of such problems concerning migration. In fact, for many years now, migration has been greatly politicized in Australia. There have been several political parties with different stands about migration and the government has raised its transparency to such a high level that the public is aware of developments and policy directions in migration for the present and future years. It is essential to realize that these issues have been of central concern to the Chinese immigrants in Australia. “What happens in the past about migration was its motivation by population and labor needs and family re union. It was later realized that well-educated migrants with skills and experience are able to accomplish better employment prospects and settlement outcomes. Skilled migration has therefore been emphasized. From time to time, governments have examined and re-focused the objectives of migration so as to plan and decide for changes to migration policy. Changes to the requirements and categories will affect the skills and quality of future migrants and hence the future economic developments.” (Lam 2006). Chinese immigrants have been one of the major immigrant groups in Australia and the migration issues directly affect their prospects in the nation. As we have already comprehended, Australia has been host to the first great invasion of Chinese people into Australia during the Victorian gold rush of the 1850s. it can be seen that during 1851-1861, half a million immigrants headed to the goldfields of Ballart making it huge immigration to Australia. It was later clarified that the diggers of European descent were suspicious of Chinese culture and resentful of Chinese competing for claims, and their intensity in finding gold. “This led to violent anti-Chinese riots on the goldfields, and the government imposing a ten-pound tax on every Chinese entering a Victorian port. In December 1901 the Immigration Restriction Act was passed, ‘to place certain restrictions on immigration and to provide for the removal from the Commonwealth of prohibited immigrants’. This act was the cornerstone of the White Australia Policy, and was only abolished in 1973 under the Whitlam Labor government. This Act placed restrictions in the path of non-Europeans wishing to migrate, and included the notorious Dictation Test. This was used as a means to exclude non Europeans ostensibly on an objective, non-racial basis. The effect of all this was to greatly restrict Chinese migration to Australia for many decades.” (Chinese Immigration to Australia).

Therefore, the migration issues were largely affected by the Chinese immigrants and this has long implications for the immigrants.

The migration of the Chinese people to Australia has been involving various countries and it can be seen that Chinese people have migrated to Australia from different parts of Asia. The migration of the Chinese to Australia was primarily from Malaysia in the 1970s, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Taiwan in the 1980s, and Hong Kong and China from the mid-1980s to 1993. As a result, the majority of Chinese immigrants to Australia have been from Malaysia, China and Vietnam. There have been several other countries significant Chinese migration to Australia and they are Singapore, Cambodia, Indonesia, East Timor, Papua New Guinea, Taiwan, Laos and Thailand, and Hong Kong. Smaller numbers of Chinese immigrants are from Fiji, The Philippines, New Zealand, Britain, Burma, Christmas Island, Mauritius, South Africa, India, and Japan. It can also be seen that these immigrant groups are the Australian-born Chinese and those of mixed race. Significantly, identity has been a central issue to these Chinese immigrants primarily resulting from cultural background and diversity in immigrant background. “Recent studies have found that, in general, despite the diversity in country of origin and socio-economic status Chinese immigrant families in Australia retain something of their original cultural beliefs… Seven of the Chinese group had lived in Australia for less than five years, compared with four in each of the Cambodian and Hong Kong groups and one in the Malaysian group. Four in the Cambodian group and three in each of the Chinese, Hong Kong and Malaysian groups had lived in Australia for six to nine years. Two from the Cambodian group, three from the Hong Kong group and six from the Malaysian group had lived in Australia for over ten years. Nearly the entire Cambodian and Hong Kong group and over half of the Chinese group were Australian citizens… Thirteen different nationalities were given by the four groups for how they identified themselves. The majority of the Hong Kong group identified themselves as Australian Chinese… One of these Chinese people made the following comment ‘I have a complicated feeling and thinking. I am not sure of my identity. I hope I am an Australian but because of racism I don’t have a sense of belonging here. When I am back in China I will say I am Australian Chinese. Here the society seems stable, however it is not stable to accept other groups.’” (Martin 1998). Therefore, it is clear that identity has become a central issue to the immigrants in Australia and this issue has several aspects to be dealt with seriously and minutely. These issues include ethnicity as well.

In conclusion, it is essential to comprehend that Chinese immigration to Australia involves various essential matters, and migration, ethnicity, and identity have formed most of the discussions on Chinese immigration to Australia. There have been several central issues, as evident in this analysis, that need to be focused on in a serious discussion concerning the Chinese immigrant experience in Victoria. These are very essential questions that call for detailed researches and studies which may be followed by efforts to solve the issues faced by the Chinese immigrants in Australia.

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GUILLERMO, Alice G. 1995 Global Cultural Diversity Conference Proceedings, Sydney: Arts, Culture and Identity. [Online]. Australian Government. 2008. Web.

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LAM, David T (2006). The Economic Impact Of Asian Migrants Under Australian Migration Policy: Abstract. [Online]. Australia. 2008. Web.

Chinese Immigration to Australia. (2008). [online]. Microsoft Office Live Workspace. Web.

MARTIN, Jennifer (1998). Cultural Diversity and Practice with Australians of Chinese Background: Consumer Perspectives. [online]. Changing Families, Challenging Futures. 2008. Web.

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