Strategic analysis: Australia and the Chinese, past and present; and quarantine

In strategic analysis, peace and war, prosperity and decline, health and disease are always considered together as ever present possibilities, even if they are by definition complete opposites; the dialectical interplay between these opposites in politics, economics and public health (quarantine) are conceptually co-temporal and ontologically equiprimordial.

A strategic view in the national interests of Australia, then, does not answer the question whether Chinese immigration to Australia is in essence good or bad. Instead, the more meaningful question to pose is whether the implications of Chinese immigration are contingent upon China’s role and conduct relating to its power in the Asia-Pacific region, where Australia has become increasingly self-conscious of its inescapable geo-political place since the abolition of the White Australia Policy after World War II. For a Western society like Australia, this sense of place is potentially an uneasy one.

Strategically speaking, quarantine, to take one example, is morally neutral. It does not talk about good or evil; its main concern is the effectiveness in the identification, isolation and hopefully cure of dangerously diseased bodies, which, if left uncontrolled, can transform civilisation into death. The success of a quarantine is measured by the victory of a war against the holding sway and the expansion of untimely deaths by diseases in society. During an epidemic or a pandemic, quarantine acts as the fine line between life and death, or between society and burial sites (cemeteries as well as mass graves). When it works, quarantine is what stops fear and despair from exiling hope from the world of the living. When it does not, society falls into decline, accompanied by a chaos tinged with a mortal’s deep sense of horror.

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Learning from old Chinese graves in Australia

The precise indication of the origin of the deceased in grave inscriptions in the early Chinese community in Australia found no equivalent in the case of the old gravestones of the dominant group of European settlers. The main reason for this was that traditional Chinese settlers commonly had the culturally influenced yearning to have their remains returned to the place of their birth after death. However, sometimes due to the individual circumstances of the deceased, this was not always possible. Chinese folk beliefs are earth-based – “pagan”, so to speak -, hence the location of earth, namely Chinese or Australian, is significant. In essence and traditionally speaking, the Chinese deceased cannot be at home unless his or her remains find their final resting place in the soil of their birthplace. For the Chinese, to have one’s corpse buried permanently in Australia would create the postmortem condition of a wandering, restless spirit. European Christian beliefs, in contrast, are otherworldly based – the soul of the deceased returns to God, no matter where one dies, and provided one is not condemned to hell through unforgiven “mortal sins” committed while on earth.