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Big White Lie – Chinese Australians in White Australia

By: John Fitzgerals (472/35696)
Publisher : UNSW Press ISBN: 978-0-868408-705

‘In recent years an attempt has been made to restore the reputation of the White Australia Policy. The Chinese were excluded from Australia, we have been told, not for racist reasons but because their habits, instincts and culture were incompatible with Australian foundation values: mateship, democracy and the fair-go.

The central purpose of John Fitzgerald’s book is to show how this new defence of White Australia rests on nothing more substantial than the revival of the original fantasy on which the exclusion was based; the myth of the servile, hierarchical, secretive and sinister “John Chinaman”. As antidote, Fitzgerald provides, for the first time in our historical literature, a colourful, sometimes quirky and frequently surprising individual and collective portrait of the community of the Chinese who migrated to Australia before Federation. Many we discover were principled democrats and nationalists. Many became deeply involved in the struggle to liberate and modernise China. Some became the most important figures of Shanghai business before the Communist victory of 1949. Several served Australia nobly both in peace and in war. Although dwindling in numbers and driven to the margins of the society by the White Austrlia Policy, many continued, despite everything, to feel great affection for Australia and for the values of the society that had needlessly turned it back on them.

This is a fascinating, fresh and highly original book. Its greatest achievement is to take the Australian Chinese from the shadows of history and to reveal their human face. No one could read this book without feelings of pity and of shame. That the Chinese did not belong here is the Australian nation’s Big White Lie.’

August 2007


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