State Library Victoria > La Trobe Journal

No 53 October 1994


The Chinese Times 1902–1922

When The Chinese Times was founded in Melbourne in 1902 it told its readers what many of them already knew: that for the Chinese life was precarious and the future uncertain. In Australia they had experienced restrictive immigration laws and occupational bans and had observed that other Asians, such as Japanese and Indians, whose governments stood by them, were treated less harshly than they were.
They had experienced too the breakdown of basic security in China. They knew that foreign governments stationed troops on Chinese soil and ruled outside Chinese jurisdiction in zones along the seaboard and in Manchuria and that the Ch'ing Dynasty government, corrupt, inward looking and quite unable to protect its people, stubbornly resisted change, so that reformers fled the country and conservative courtiers held the relatively progressive emperor a virtual prisoner. What the paper offered of value was to intensify and extend their knowledge by informing them of events in their homeland and elsewhere. As well, by strongly advocating political reform in China, it offered hope of a solution to Chinese problems. Its Chinese title, Ai Kuo Pao (The Patriot) was well chosen.

Advertisements, The Chinese Times, 23 Dec. 1905, p. 1.

Examples of Ch'ing moral bankruptcy quoted in early editions of The Chinese Times still startle, even in a world familiar with Marcoses, Mobutos and West Australia Inc. Alongside reports of internal decay, of piracy (26/2/1902) and agricultural crises (15/10/1902, 6/5/ 1903) are others of dreadful waste, of a court eunuch levying bribes of 1,000 taels (Chinese ounces) of silver and of officials seeking preferment through extravagant gifts, including one of a 1,700 tael dinner service for the Empress Dowager, whose return to Peking in 1902 caused the price of antiques to rise as petitioners hastened to buy favour (26/ 2/1902, 9/4/1902). Later, when Chinese studying abroad were volunteering to return to fight to prevent the dismemberment of the north-east by foreign powers (10/2/1904), when expatriate communities were being asked to fund the establishment of a Chinese navy (18/5/1902) and German troops, drilling near Peking, killed four civilians, the Interior Ministry busied itself sending to provincial governments details of the Empress Dowager's birthday presents, while officials ignored demands for compensation from the Germans and for the cessation of war games in populated areas (25/5/1904). By then the

The advertising columns in The Chinese Times were well supported by Australian businesses.

Russo-Japanese war was three months underway. It would eventually cost 20,000 Chinese lives and $69 million in property damage (10/2/1906).
Small wonder that overseas Chinese, having seen other social systems and other ways, increasingly became a force for change; calling for expanded education, modern industries and business methods and a more representative government for China. In comparing China's chaotic disunity and ineffective officials with the apparent national purpose and responsible bureaucrats of foreign powers, The Chinese Times reminded Australia's Chinese that, if they wanted a strong government to defend their interests here, they should support reform at home (5/2/1902, 12/10/1904,26/10/1904).
There were two other Chinese language newspapers in Australia in 1902, both in Sydney: the Chinese-Australian Herald and the Tung Wah Times, which urged monarchical reform. The Chinese Times was more radical than either of them. The first meeting of the non-monarchist reform-minded New National Mind Broadening Association was held on its premises (4/5/1904) and the Association later bought the paper which, by 1910, was openly republican. Whilst its English title remained constant, its Chinese name changed five times. In 1905, after Russian troops on Chinese soil surrendered to the Japanese, it became the Chink Tung Hsin Pao (literally, Arouse the East New Newspaper); in 1908 it dropped the ‘New’ from its title; in 1917, when the monarchy had been restored in northern China and warlordism was rising, it appeared as P'ing Pao (P'ing meaning both ‘peace’ and ‘equality’); and from 1919 to 1922, when it transferred to Sydney to serve as the organ of the Chinese Nationalist Party, it was Min Pao, (The People) reflecting nationalist intellectuals’ interest in democracy. Although publication was not continuous — money and editors were sometimes lacking — for twenty years the weekly editions of The Chinese Times helped shape Chinese opinion in Australia. The paper contributed to a rising national consciousness among Australia's Chinese and while its world view was largely shaped by conditions in China, it voiced the concerns and reflected something of the activities of Chinese communities here and of their
interaction with other sections of Australian society.
During the publishing span of The Chinese Times discrimination against Chinese in Australia was unrelenting. Numerous scholarly works have discussed immigration laws and C. F. Yong's significant pioneering study, The New Gold Mountain, which drew on Chinese language sources, including The Chinese Times, gives a concise, fascinating account of the effects of economic, political and social discrimination and the Chinese response. While I do not wish to cover this ground again I want to emphasize that a reading of The Chinese Times not only indicates how heavily discriminatory measures weighed on the Chinese but how active they were in defence of their interests. Individuals and groups constantly protested against the dictation test, offensive immigration procedures such as fingerprinting, and restrictions on family reunion; lobbying sometimes succeeded in having measures withdrawn or amended; Chinese governments were petitioned for assistance; lawyers were hired and perceived injustices were contested from Perth to Sydney. At. the same time modernising initiatives in China were supported. Money was raised to build schools and railways (2/6/1906), alleviate natural disasters (15/10/1902) and arm republican troops (20/10/1911). In 1922 the Melbourne branch of the Nationalist Party bought an aeroplane for Sun Yat Sen's forces (18/3/1922).
Despite this resilience a strong sense of grievance, of being unfairly singled out, pervades The Chinese Times. Why were Italian and Greek immigrants who spoke little or no English not subjected to a dictation test as Chinese were?
“Discrimination against the Chinese was unrelenting.”
How many foreigners would get into China if they had to write sentences in Chinese? (28/5/1902). If “Australia was for the Australians” why were the British welcomed? (30/7/1902). When Chinese gave so generously to hospital appeals why was a Chinese refused treatment in a Melbourne hospital and left to die? (28/2/1920). In an interview with Consul Huang in 1912 the Prime Minister, Fisher, explained Australia's phobia about being swamped by Chinese. (27/3/1912). The Chinese Times often quoted items from the English language press which mentioned this phobia and others, about cheap labour, sexuality and disease, and the editors seem to have been so horrified and at times so bitter about the hatred many Australians expressed that they failed to see the fear and insecurity which fuelled it. Perhaps prejudice was too overwhelming and the decay of the once great Chinese empire too traumatic for them to do otherwise.
Conditions for Chinese varied markedly in different parts of Australia. In the west and north racism was implacable but in the south-east, the Chinese had allies in their struggle for dignity and equality. In Victoria in particular Protestant clergy, lay Christians, liberal businessmen, professionals and others ensured that some racist bills
were not passed, attended meetings of Chinese organisations and took up individual cases. When, in 1912, a Geelong businessman, Pon Gooey, sought permission for his wife to stay in Australia, townspeople campaigned vigorously for him in the press, by letter and deputation, gaining extensions to Mrs Poon's visa but not, in the end, an exception to the law. (11/5/1912 — 2/8/1913). Businessmen who benefited from the presence of Chinese usually supported their customers and in the first editions of The Chinese Times advertisements from Australian businesses outnumbered those from Chinese. Close support, though, cost some people dearly. Australian women marrying Chinese immigrants lost their citizenship and all its rights (24/5/1913).
Chinese flair, diligence and attention to detail brought success. Yong has detailed the sometimes amazing entrepreneurial ventures of some merchants and of the Chinese ability to capture certain areas of the Australian market, in the banana trade, fruit and vegetable wholesaling and furniture making. There were also more modest success stories: of a businessman returning home with 8,860 (12/3/1902) or a Japanese ship leaving Melbourne with substantial remittances for Chinese villages (22/2/1913). (An interesting aspect of remittance procedure was that Chinese merchants offered banking facilities to compatriots. Shing Yuan Shan and Leong Lee were two Melbourne stores that advertised their remittance services in The Chinese Times.) There was sometimes a bittersweet taste to good fortune however as in the case of Leong Man, a popular identity who, “tired of living away from his home”, was farewelled in Melbourne in 1903. He had been in Victoria for over 20 years and had visited his family in China only once during that time. (15/4/1903).
“The Chinese Times, written for and about them, is a memorial to them. It is also a valuable source for those interested in the histories of Australia, China and the Chinese diaspora.”
Unsuccessful immigrants were often tragic cases. They lingered here into old age, dependent on charity, failures in their own eyes and within the sojourning tradition, which expected men to return home affluent. Those too old or too weak to visit the benevolent societies for rations sometimes starved to death (16/4/1902); some, despairing, killed themselves (27/8/1902); and others were imprisoned for vagrancy (29/7/1905). From time to time organisations such as the See Yup Society or the Bo Leon organised to send some of them back to their villages so that their family or clan could care for them in their last days. (5/2/1902, 16/4/1902, 15/7/1903). In a poignant speech at the See Yup Society temple, Louis Ah Mouy told how spirits of compatriots appeared to him asking that memorial tablets for them be placed within the temple so that they would not he forever unmourned and unremembered in a foreign land. (8/10/1902)).
Despite their members being bonded by cultural ties and discrimination there were tensions in Chinese communities. They arose from regional and class differences, personal enmity, organisations quarrelling over gambling houses and from criminal activities. Believing that disunity was a major cause of Chinese problems at home and abroad The Chinese Times unhesitatingly criticised community divisions. It also attacked behaviour which it considered showed Chinese in a bad light, such as gambling, opium smoking and fighting. Early in the three-month long 1903 Melbourne cabinet makers’ strike it urged worker-employer reconciliation so that Australians would not see the strike “as another fault”. (30/9/1903). In hoping to win acceptance through exemplary behaviour the paper showed it did not understand the strength of racism at every level of Australian society. However, given the concern not to give westerners cause for criticism it is disconcerting to read that in 1909 Consul General Liang arrived accompanied by his wife and concubine. (20/3/1909). Happily, it seems that Melbourne society remained unaware of Mr Liang's domestic arrangements. There were also substantial differences among Australia's Chinese communities. A merchant elite was more dominant in Sydney than in Melbourne where intellectuals and artisans were also important leaders. As late as 1920 Sydney was more sympathetic than Melbourne to the Consul General's proposal that all Chinese in Australia should register with him. Melbourne's Chinese did not want their particulars in the hands of an authority which they claimed, did little to protect them and there was no I doubt an unspoken concern about the fate of illegal immigrants. (8/5/ 1920).

Sewing machine store advertisement with telephone no. 40. The Chinese Times. 23 Dec. 1905.

Australia's Chinese faced many disappointments during the first twenty years of this century. The Japanese, an early symbol of Asian resurgence, proved to be just as rapacious in China as the Europeans; the 1911 revolution did not bring a strong, united China; indeed Chinese were still pushed to seek work abroad where discrimination was a fact of life for many. On occasions they doubtless felt, like The Chinese Times, that they had “no country and no protection” and that their lives were “worth no more than those of crickets and ants” (10/10/1914) but mostly they tried to make the best of their opportunities, strove for dignity and happiness and worked hard to build lives for themselves and their families both here and in China. The Chinese Times, written for and about them, is a memorial to them. It is also a valuable source for those interested in histories of Australia, China and the Chinese diaspora.
Morag Loh