Australia, as a modern nation, was born as a result of the global reaches of the British Empire; it was the product of an imperial colonialism. The first settlers to arrive in Australia – fair-skinned British subjects – wasted no time in establishing a polity to safeguard their interests. The Federation of 1901 only served to unite the self-interests of the earlier Colonies under the modern banner of nationalism. In view of this, the Chinese, who came in significant large numbers during the Gold Rush and were inheritors of an imperial and expansionist tradition far older than that of the British, were perceived by white Australians as a threat to their position of self-styled superiority over Indigenous Australians, who never had a “sovereign” say in which stranger could come and stay in their country, which, in contrast to the British notion of the Empire and the Chinese notion of the Middle Kingdom, and also to the modern notion of nation, was both an embodiment and a spirituality of the unity of human and earth. Meanwhile, the stunted growth of our national psyche continues through lack of restoration of justice.
The White Australia Policy was an instrument used by one kind of colonists to protect themselves against the potential challenge posed by colonists of another kind. Both were motivated by gain, even if one was oppressed by the other. The postwar abolition of the White Australia Policy further dispossessed Indigenous Australians in their peaceful efforts to reclaim their country and their identity. For a genuine reconciliation to happen in our generation, there has to be a third way – out of the historic animosities between Asians and Europeans in Australia.
Major quarantine stations in Australia such as North Head and Point Nepean, which segregated non-Europeans from European Australians and European immigrants, each acted, in its historicity, as the contested ground for the opposing forces between strategic oppression by the white authorities and the passive resistance of the coloured internees. On the general level, the same forces were being played out in Australian society as a whole under the White Australia Policy. Quarantine stations were microcosmic reflections of the highly racially determined Australian ethos of the time, which rejected any notion of an integrated citizenship but preferred the ancient dichotomy of Innengard and Utgard as described in the Old Norse sagas. In terms of public health control, this allowed for populist scapegoating of those outside the white Innengard as sources of dangerous infectious diseases that threatened to bring down its superior order, progress and prosperity.
Yi (邑), which literally means “county”, actually implies, on the hermeneutic level, a far more evocative and reflective attunement to a unique cultural sense of place that defines the traditional, earthbound Chinese attitude. For the Chinese, existence is not merely presence in spatiality, but an existential reference to place – what the German philosopher Heidegger describes as the engagement with the “placeness” of place (Örtlichkeit der Orte) as the “placehood” (Ortschaft) of being (Heidegger, 1996). Yi, in essence, is existential topology. In its meaningfulness, yi is also the voice of the Chinese people. Often found on Chinese gravestones in foreign lands, yi speaks beyond death, hence beyond the temporal limitations of an individual’s temporality.