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Chinese immigration in Australia

Last week we were in Melbourne for a holiday. We stayed at a serviced apartment in the city – and just around the corner from us was Melbourne’s Immigration Museum. So one day we went there for a look – and it was fascinating!
Aside from information on what it is like to travel on a ship as a migrant, and the kinds of reasons people migrated to Australia, there were also displays about the notorious White Australia Policy…
1. White Australia Policy
Victoria was host to the first great influx of Chinese people into Australia during the Victorian gold rush of the 1850’s. During 1851-1861, half a million immigrants headed to the goldfields of Ballart! However diggers of European descent were suspicious of Chinese culture, and resentful of Chinese competing for claims, and their industriousness in finding gold in claims that had already been worked over by European diggers. 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 notoious 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.
2. Origins
The musem also had an interactive display called Origins, which filled to the brim with statistical data drawn from ABS census information. Origins allows you to see the trend of migration from different countries over the years, as well as seeing the breakup of religion among those migrants for any particular census year … a very powerful tool! And surprisingly, Origins is accessible for FREE via the Internet here! It is limited to Victorian statistical data, but it’ll at least give you a glimpse about the trends.
The two graphs below are from Origins, and is a summary of the number of people in Victoria who were born in China and Hong Kong over the years…

From these graphs you can see the impact of the White Australia Policy in the years before its abolition in 1973. The graphs also show the influx of people from China after the Tianamen Square incident of 1989, as well as the the influx of people from Hong Kong in the years leading up to the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997.
It’s because of these factors that the Chinese churches in Australia are relatively young compared to those in other countries, such as Canada and USA. Here in Australia, we are only now going through issues that Chinese churches in other places have already gone through!
One of these is the identity crisis of Australian Born Chinese (ABCs). I often hear ABCs ask the question: is there a future for Chinese churches in Australia? Will the next generation see Chinese churches die out, as ABCs join Aussie churches? For that answer we can look to the experience of Canada and USA – where Chinese churches are still thriving, despite having a much longer history. In those places, Chinese churches still remain the most effective way to reach the Chinese!
3. Religion amongst those from China and Hong Kong
The Origin software also includes statistical data such as gender, profession … and religion. The following two graphs show how Victorians born in China and Hong Kong identified their religion at the 2001 ABS census.

As you can see, a huge amount of Chinese and Hong Kong migrants identify themselves as having ‘no religion’! These graphs show how much more work we need to do to reach the Chinese in Victoria – and probably in the rest of Australia as well. So let’s get on with the job of bringing the gospel to the Chinese!
[ PS: if you know of a similar database to Origin for NSW, I’d love to hear about it! ]
Categories: Statistics
  1. Andrew
    27 September 2006 at 1:32 pm

    Note that Canada and the United States were not immune to xenophobism! Canda also had the Chinese Immigration Act of 1904 (repealed in 1947), and the United States had the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 (repealed in 1943).
    So the Canadian and American Chinese churches generally have a history that is 30 years longer than Australian Chinese churches.

  2. Laura Shao
    9 October 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Dear Pastor Hong,

    I am a lecturer at university of Sydney and has been teaching Japanese & Japanese Society here for 20 years. I am interested in Chinese community in Australia and I read you article “Statistics on the Chinese in Sydney SCCCA English”.

    I would like to know you and learn from you on Chinese community. Do you mind giving me your contact number and I can make an appointment with you?

    I am looking forward to hearing from you.

    Laura CF Shao
    University of Sydney
    9351-4570 (office)

  3. Joseph Presli
    14 November 2012 at 5:55 pm

    i need help why did the Chinese come to Australia also why did the American’s come to Australia also. Please help

    • 14 November 2012 at 6:22 pm

      Well, there’s no one answer.

      But the best way to answer this is to get hold of historic migration data from China/Hong Kong/etc and also from the United States, at the Department of Immigration website. Then look for significant movements, and trace back to what might have caused those movements (eg. gold rush, WWII, Colombo plan, Tiananmen Square, British handover of Hong Kong to China, economic reform in China…).

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