Asian Studies Program

Chinese Australia

Political voices in the Chinese community in the late 19th century

Unit title:
Political voices in the Chinese community in the late 19th century

Year level:
Middle secondary

Key learning areas:
Studies of society and environment

Curriculum emphases:
From: Studies in Asia: A Statement for Australian Schools:
- developing concepts of Asia.
- challenging stereotypes

Two to three 50-minute lessons

This unit focuses on a range of responses from members of the Chinese community to concerns and developments in Australia in the late 19th century. Much of the writing and imagery of this time gives the impression of a passive Chinese community silenced in the face of prevailing white views. This unit focuses on a more pro-active side to the Chinese community through selected primary sources.

Teacher background material:
The following links provide an introduction and overview of the topics covered in this unit:
- Brief History of the Chinese in Australia on the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation website.
- View cartoons showing attitudes to Chinese people in Australia. A selection can be found on Ross Woodrow's (University of Newcastle) 'Archive of Chinese racial images' or a range from Chapter 1 of Exploring Asian Histories (published by the history Teachers Association of Victoria).
- The full text of documents 2, 3, and 4 in the handout are available in the Digital Historic Documents database on the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation website.

Student outcomes:
Students will:
- learn to search and use a database
- compare and analyse primary sources
- develop awareness of the nature and extent of political activity in the Chinese community in the late 19th century

Materials required:
- Computer/s with internet access. Alternatively could use a cached version of the site or print the relevant pages and copy onto overheads or handouts.

1. Introduction:
Show the class some of the cartoons of the time from the Bulletin and other sources (described above). Discuss in class the images presented and the attitudes the artists showed towards the Chinese in Australia.

2. Explain the task to students:
Students use the materials below to gather information about the relationships between Chinese and non-Chinese in Australia.

The following documents are long and detailed; students could be divided into groups to read them and report back to the class:
- Document 295: 'Papers presented by the Chinese community to the Conference on the Chinese Question in Sydney, June 1888'
- Document 1232: 'Report on the visit of the Chinese Commissioners to Australia, 1887 (London Times)'
- Document 1235: 'Australian response to the Chinese Commissioners' visit to Australia in 1887 (Sydney Morning Herald)'

The following documents are shorter and could be read by all students:
- Document 309: 'Petition by Lowe Kong Meng, Cheok Hong Cheong, Louis Ah Mouy and 44 others presented to the Chinese Commissioners who in turn presented it to the Victorian premier'
- Document 1238: 'Australian Chinese petition to the British Government'
- Document 1241: 'Mei Quong Tart petitions the Viceroy of Canton and Pekin Government in Hong Kong'
- Document 1617: 'Mr Way Lee's letter to the editor in response to Mr Hopkins and the anti-Chinese movement in Adelaide'
- Document 1626: 'Petition regarding Chinese immigration from Y.S.W. Way Lee on behalf of the Chinese in South Australia to the South Australian parliament'

Read handout: 'Excepts from Selected Documents'

Read all the primary sources above carefully to develop an understanding of the concerns and how they were expressed.

3. Discussion:
Follow with class or group discussion of the sources using the following as a guide:
- What were the concerns of politicians?
- What were the concerns of the Chinese?
- Were all the Chinese concerns similar?
- What steps did they take to make these concerns known, and how did they express them?
- Were these concerns being expressed by particular groups in the Chinese community? If so, why would they have special interests?
- Consider carefully the speech of Mr J. Woods in the Victorian Parliament in 1881 (Handout, Document 1). What is his view? What might have influenced it?

4. Activity:
Students imagine they are a colonial resident of the time with some knowledge of the Chinese community and they have decided to respond to Mr Woods' view in a letter to the editor of a major newspaper. The purpose of the letter is to challenge his view by drawing attention to Chinese awareness of and involvement in concerns of the day. The letter can consist of the following sections:
- describe briefly who they are and their own background
- outline what they are responding to and their own view
- provide arguments and evidence in support of Chinese position
- conclude with some advice for the Parliament.

5. Concluding activity:
- Look carefully at G. Oddie's view (Handout, Document 6).
- Does it support Mr Woods' view or challenge it?
- How can you account for similarities or differences?
- In view of your reading and discussion, how accurate do you think Mr Oddie's view is?

Extension activities:
1. Letter
Student to read the story 'Kwong Sue Duk and His Family' in the 'Stories' section of the Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation website. Students are to imagine they are Kwong Sue Duk reading, in the late 1880s, a report of Mr. Woods' speech (Handout, Document 1). Students to write a response to Mr Woods as Kwong Sue Duk.

Mary Hoban & Robert Lewis (eds), Exploring Asian Histories: classroom units for years 10-12, History Teachers' Association of Victoria, Collingwood, Vic., 1993.

Terry Buggy & John Cates (eds), Race relations in colonial Australia: an enquiry approach, Nelson, Melbourne, 1982.

G. Oddie, 'The lower class Chinese and the merchant elite in Victoria, 1870-1890', Historical Studies, 10, 1961.

Brendon Meehan

Download 'Excerpts from Selected Documents' handout (44kb word document).

Summary of websites used in this lesson:
Chinese Heritage of Australian Federation website - http
- Brief History of the Chinese in Australia - education/history.htm
- Digitised Historic Documents database - docs_home.htm
- Stories - stories.htm

University of Newcastle website -