New Chinese Diasporas in Oceania

Rediscovering the New Gold Mountain: Chinese Immigration to Australia Since the Mid-1980s

Jia Gao


Graeme Hugo, an Australian demographer, wrote in 2012 that in the postwar shift of Australian economic, political and social attention to Asia, one of the major elements has been “an increased level of population movement in both directions” (Hugo 2012: 20). He defined the 1970s as a significant turning point because of the official end to the “White Australia” policy in 1973 and the acceptance of large groups of Indochinese boat people after 1976. According to James Jupp, a British-Australian political scientist, the concept and practice ofmulticulturalism were also introduced in Australia in the 1970s, and multiculturalism was endorsed by the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 (Jupp 1995). The 1970s were a decade of crucial social and political transformation in Australia. Australians’ views on war, the role of women, immigration, labor rights and many other social issues underwent far-reaching changes (Viviani 1996). As a result, hundreds of thousands of immigrants from Asia and the Middle East were allowed to migrate to Australia in the late 1970s and 1980s.

J. Gao (*)

University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia © The Author(s) 2017

M. Zhou (ed.), Contemporary Chinese Diasporas, DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-5595-9_10

During the 1970s, when Australia opened its doors to large numbers of immigrants from Asia and the Middle East, China’s door was still largely closed to the outside world. Australia received few immigrants from China before the mid-1980s, with the exception of a few thousand Chinese nationals from Xinjiang, allowed in under the Australia China Family Reunion Agreement initiated by Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and Premier Zhou Enlai in early 1973 (Woodard 1985). Other immigrants of Chinese descent who arrived in Australia during the 1970s and 1980s were mainly Indochinese boat people or remigrants from other Asian countries. Their arrival helped change the Chinese community in Australia dramatically. The ethnic Chinese population, fewer than 10,000 in the late 1940s, grew steadily to about 50,000 in 1976 and 200,000 in 1986 (Kee 1992). According to the 1986 Census, the Chinese population experienced the largest increase in the late 1970s and early 1980s. While not ranking high in terms of wealth accumulation, they already displayed significant educational achievement. For example, 13 % of first-generation, 16.4 % of second-generation and 10 % of third-generation Chinese settlers had a tertiary education compared with the Australian average of 5.4 % (Kee 1992).

As shown in Fig. 10.1, Australia mainly attracted migrants from the UK and other European countries before the early 1970s. At the end ofWorld War II, the country was seriously short of labor, and there was a growing awareness that population growth was the key to future prosperity. The government implemented a new large-scale immigration program. However, the “White Australia” policy resulted in post-war immigrants still

Foreign-born population in Australia, 1901-1971 (Source

Fig. 10.1 Foreign-born population in Australia, 1901-1971 (Source: DIBP 2015)

being recruited from the UK, Ireland and continental Europe. Chinese and other “non-whites” were excluded.

Australia’s ethnic Chinese population grew suddenly and significantly in the late 1980s and early 1990s as a result of the settlement of45,000 or so Chinese students living in the country. Since then it has seen a rapid increase. The 1996 Census recorded 343,523 Australian residents identifying themselves as Chinese speakers, and in 2001 the number claiming to be of Chinese origin rose to about 555,500 (Gao 2015). According to the 2011 Census, around 866,200 Australian residents claimed Chinese origin and as many as 74 % were first-generation immigrants (ABS 2012a). The settlement of 45,000 or so Chinese students in the late 1980s and early 1990s not only reactivated direct immigration from the Chinese mainland to Australia but renewed Australia’s status as the “new gold mountain,” a preferred destination for new Chinese immigrants.

This chapter asks how and why the settlement of Chinese students affected immigration from China to Australia from the mid-1980s onwards, and examines its patterns, trends and characteristics from the mid-1980s to the present. It offers an analysis in political-economic terms of immigration and diasporic development as impacted by contemporary inflows of migrants, students, tourists and investors from China, and explains how and why Chinese, once seen as aliens, have now become an integral part of contemporary Australia. The chapter goes on to take a brief look at the literature on Chinese immigration to Australia. This is followed by a section that looks at how the tightly closed doors to China and Australia were opened in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and another that examines major changes in the ethnic Chinese population in recent decades and their current socioeconomic status in Australia. The chapter concludes with some thoughts on how Chinese migrant experiences can be analyzed in future research.

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