1906-1907: Imperial Chinese Commissioner’s visit to Australia and its positive reception

White Australia Policy, which began in 1901 through the introduction of the Immigration Restriction Act, did not cause Australia to cease diplomatic and trade relations with China, which until October 1911 had its last imperial dynasty, that of Qing. Most notable was the warmly received visit of Commissioner Hwang Hon Cheng (family name in Cantonese pronunciation is Wong) to all States in Australia except Western Australia between late October 1906 and January 1907. As reported in a Tasmanian newspaper, Commissioner Hwang’s visit was given a grand welcome by the Chinese community, and it had the strategic plan of establishing the office of Qing consul-general in Melbourne, whose expenses would be substantially covered by the local Chinese residents (The Mercury, 28 May 1907, p. 8). In the same news article it was also mentioned that apart from mainland Australia, Commissioner Hwang also visited Tasmania, New Zealand and the Dutch East Indies.

In other words, the Immigration Restriction Act was not intended as a political offensive against China, but was instituted as a means of socio-economic control of Australian society. It was basically a question of sovereignty, given the real impact of a rapid, swelling and uncontrolled demographic shift during the Gold Rush years of mid- to late 19th century. However, the success of Commissioner Hwang’s visit caused some Australian politicians to make public statements that the Immigration Restriction Act should be revised if Australia were to benefit from trade relations with China.

Racial restrictions in immigration to Australia were polarised between the needs of social hegemony and those of economic expediency, both of which were considered by politicians and businessmen to be essential to the nation building of the young Federation. Among ordinary Australians, however, the main concern was to maintain and to develop an European society that would necessarily regard Asian cultures from the populous north as alien and incompatible. Such cultural concern is still very much alive today in postwar Australia transformed by multiculturalism, given that Australia as a Western democracy would cease to exist if non-European values were ever to gain ascendancy over traditional European norms and institutions through a radical demographic displacement of white Australians. If Australia were to one day become an Asian majority nation, whether it would still be able to continue with the Westminster system in its true spirit would be very doubtful indeed.

 

In January 1930 Li Ming Yen was appointed Consul-General by China’s Foreign Minister Wang. The Consulate-General would be based in Melbourne (Chronicle, 23 January 1930, p. 46).

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