The Brisbane overseas Chinese community 1860s to 1970s: Enigma or conformity

Fisher, Joan (2005). The Brisbane overseas Chinese community 1860s to 1970s: Enigma or conformity PhD Thesis, School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies, The University of Queensland.

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Author Fisher, Joan
Thesis Title The Brisbane overseas Chinese community 1860s to 1970s: Enigma or conformity
School, Centre or Institute School of Languages and Comparative Cultural Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2005-11-18
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Low, Morris
Total pages 516
Collection year 2005
Language eng
Subjects 420211 Chinese
210303 Australian History (excl. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander History)
L
370302 Social and Cultural Anthropology
750901 Understanding Australia's past
Formatted abstract This study examines the development of the Brisbane overseas Chinese community from the 1860s to the 1970s. Lawrence Crissman, in his segmentary model, encapsulated the essence of urban overseas Chinese communities during this period. He claimed that people in these communities displayed common characteristics. These characteristics include similar origins in China, diverse speech groups, rural backgrounds, gold discoveries overseas luring Chinese abroad, political unrest and famine in China, assimilation into the host society, monopoly of specific occupations, a predominantly male-only Chinese community, sojourner expectations, and chain migration. This study of the Brisbane overseas Chinese community shows that it shared some but not all of these characteristics.

Crissman argued that these particular characteristics segmented the community into groups. These groups comprised clans, surnames, dialects, county or district organisations and a peak body resulting in a hierarchical structure. In light of the time scale of this study, it would be expected that the Brisbane overseas Chinese community would conform to a segmentary system such as predicted by Crissman.

This study searches for evidence of each of the characteristics in the literature, the official archives and relevant documentary and anecdotal data. An important element of this study is the existence in Brisbane of what is traditionally described as a Chinatown, namely, a geographical area that discloses the ethnic, social, economic and political dimensions of these characteristics. The existence of a segmentary system in Brisbane is investigated through a search for anything that may have constituted a Chinatown and through an analysis of the history of the traditional Chinese Temple - San Sheng Gong - constructed outside the town area of Brisbane in 1886. This study argues that organisations consistent with the model were begun in Brisbane but were short lived, of single purpose and formed no hierarchical structure. An organisation which did emerge in Brisbane in the 1950s - The Chinese Club of Queensland - displayed few of the features of a typical Crissman organisation. Significantly, this was the only organisation to represent Chinese people in Brisbane from the 1950s until the 1970s, a very small part of the period under investigation. There was no hierarchical structure. Chinatowns throughout the world have emerged for the reasons indicated. A typical Chinatown of the period did not emerge in Brisbane.

None of these Brisbane entities satisfied the criteria described by the segmentary model. Why? The Brisbane overseas Chinese community behaved differently because of the lack of chain migration, a geographically ill-placed Temple, a violent riot in the town in 1888, a dispersal of residential and commercial activity within Brisbane, a community assimilated to such an extent that the outside community ignored them, and because of a lack of individual leaders within the Chinese community.

Very little popular and academic interest has been shown in the Brisbane overseas Chinese community and often writers have extrapolated Queensland information to apply to Brisbane. This research relies on primary data from an abundance of official archival sources to argue that the Brisbane overseas Chinese community from the 1860s to the 1970s did not behave in a way entirely consistent with the segmentary model.
Keyword Chinese -- Queensland -- Brisbane
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