Asian Studies Program

Chinese Australia

Digital Documents Record

1235 Australian response to the Chinese Commissioners visit to Australia in 1887

Full Document Caption:
This article claims that in addition to investigating social conditions of Chinese people in Australia, the Chinese Commissioners also came to Australia to explore further employment and immigration opportunities. According to the article General Wong Yung Ho and Consul-General U. Tsing were well received in Sydney and Melbourne but in Queensland were met with protest from government and other groups. Their visit resulted in the formation of an Anti-Chinese League. The article supports the stand taken in Queensland and details why.

Source: Sydney Morning Herald, 4 August1887

Region: Date From: 1887 To: 1887
Queensland - Cooktown
Queensland - Brisbane

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The Chinese Commissioners, who left Cooktown yesterday on their return to China, have spent twelve weeks in Australia. During that time they have informed themselves as to the condition of the Chinese in these colonies ,and they have learnt a good deal besides. They came ostensibly for the purpose of inquiring about the welfare of their compatriots in these parts, but, as we pointed out at the time of their arrival, they did not come with that object alone. They wanted to discover how wide a field the Australian colonies presented for the employment of Chinese labour, and what prospect there was for obtaining here a market for Chinese goods. They have left Australia with somewhat mixed feelings. They met with a hearty, almost an enthusiastic, reception in Sydney and Melbourne, but in Brisbane they received the cold shoulder. They found the condition of their countrymen in Australia fairly satisfactory, but they learnt also that the European population here is not in love with the Chinese, and entertains serious objections to any large increase in the number of Chinese residents.

At first General WONG YUNG HO and Consul-General U. TSING found their lines cast in pleasant places. They were welcomed, fĂȘted, and made much of, both in Melbourne and Sydney; they listened to complimentary speeches, and spoke in return out of the fullness of their hearts. They were gratified to find their countrymen in these colonies living in good case under the protection of the British law, and they ventured to suggest that China might find in Australia a home for more of her surplus population. Then a change came over the aspect of affairs. Our visitors were still received with cordiality in Victoria and New South Wales, but the labour organisations had taken the alarm, and began to obtrude themselves. The Commissioners were waited upon both in Sydney and Melbourne by deputations representative of the working classes, which gave them to understand that there are plenty of Chinese in Australia already, and that no increase in the number was desired. In Queensland the Commissioners have encountered nothing but hostility. An official reception was denied them. The PREMIER went out of his way to tell them that Chinese were not wanted in that colony, and deputation after deputation presented itself with the object of pointing out that Chinese immigration must be stopped so far as Queensland is concerned, or things will be made unpleasant for the immigrants. Anti-Chinese meetings were held at Brisbane, in the Town Hall and in the open air, at which resolutions of a strong character were passed and an Anti-Chinese League was formed, branches of which are to be established in all the colonies.

There is no disguising the fact that to a large portion of the European population in Australia, the working classes particularly, the presence of Chinese, whether in small or large numbers, is distasteful. At the open-air meeting in Brisbane it was declared that the presence of Chinese in Queensland was "injurious to the moral, social, and trading interests of the white population," and similar views regarding the Chinese are entertained by the majority of Europeans in the other colonies. The proof of it is to be found in the restrictive legislation which has taken place in all the colonies. The Chinaman is objected to, as the Brisbane resolution sets forth, on moral and social as well as industrial grounds, but it is chiefly because he competes with and undersells the European workman, and encroaches upon enterprises that are regarded as belonging to the White man alone, that his presence is protested against. It is a standing complaint in Sydney and Melbourne that "Chinese cheap labour " is ruining the cabinetmaking and other trades, and the miners at different times have adopted strong measures when an influx of Chinese has threatened to swamp a goldfield. The riots at Lambing Flat in this colony in 1860 and 1861, and the disturbances which took place on the Palmer in Queensland at a later date, were examples. In the Lambing Flat affair the Chinese were driven off the field by the European miners, and their property destroyed, not because of moral or social objections to the Chinese, but because the Mongolian had had taken up ground which the Caucasian thought belonged of right to himself, and because it was feared that unless a determined stand was made against the Chinese invasion, the whole goldfield would be overrun. The Queensland miners on the Palmer were influenced by similar reasons, and motives of the same sort had no doubt a good deal to do with the anti-Chinese demonstrations which took place in some of the Queensland mining districts during the recent visit of the COMMISSIONERS. It is a question of numbers almost entirely. If there were only a few hundred Chinese in Australia, and no prospect of more coming, General WONG YUNG HO and his colleague might have travelled from one end of Australia to the other without hearing a single unfriendly word about their countrymen. The Chinese population in Australia is much smaller than it was, but the idea has got about, especially in Queensland, that the visit of the COMMISSIONERS may lead to a fresh influx, and hence the warning note which has been raised.

It is easy to see that something beyond mere questions of local policy and local legislation may be involved. The COMMISSIONERS, there is every reason to believe, came to Australia, not only to discover how the Chinese who are already here are getting on, but with the object of paving the way for the arrival of others. They will go back with unpalatable accounts of the anti-Chinese feeling prevailing amongst British subjects in Australia, and the restrictions which are placed upon Chinese immigration. General WONG YUNG HO is reported to have spoken bitterly at Cooktown the day before sailing from Australia about Sir SAMUEL GRIFFITH's anti-Chinese views, and on the same occasion he used some plain language with regard to the Queensland poll tax, which he denounced as an "imposition." It is also said that the COMMISSIONER "promises to make such representations to the Emperor as will bring about a more favourable treaty between the Imperial Government and China, making the advantage reciprocal." If this means that a revision of the existing treaty is likely to be demanded by China with the object of obtaining more favourable treatment of her subjects in the Australian colonies, a position of some embarrassment may possibly be one of the results of the mission which has just closed, Great Britain enjoys, under treaty, commercial and other privileges in China of very great value, and it may occur to the authorities at Pekin to ask that in return Chinese subject may be more liberally dealt with in Australia. In such a case the British Government would be in a difficulty. Satisfaction could not be given to China without interfering in some way with what we should regard as our domestic affairs; and if China were persistent "trouble might arise out of the business. Whatever happened, the Australian colonies could not give way upon such a question as this. The restrictions which have been placed upon; Chinese immigration have been adopted deliberately, and with the determination that Australia shall be essentially a European community. We have made up our minds not to be overrun by the Chinese or any other inferior race, and no proposal to relax the precautions which serve to keep back the threatened Chinese invasion would be listened to for a moment. On the other hand, China has her treaty rights, and is becoming year by year more powerful. She is not reckoned as a fighting nation; but if circumstances led her to form an alliance with Russia, she would become a very awkward antagonist for Great Britain, whose possessions in India, Burmah, and the Straits would be threatened. And if Great Britain had to choose between a Chinese war and a quarrel with her Australian colonies, her position would be an unfortunate one, to say the least of it.