Ways of Seeing China: From Yellow Peril to Shangrila

Article excerpt

Ways of Seeing China: From Yellow Peril to Shangrila, by Timothy Kendall. Fremantle: Curtin University Press/Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 2005. 254 pp. AS29.95 (paperback).

This book grows out of the author's PhD thesis undertaken at La Trobe University. Trained in the fields of literary, postcolonial, Australian and Chinese studies, Timothy Kendall examines the ways in which Australians have perceived and understood China since World War II. He draws on a range of literary works, as well as travelogues and accounts of captivity, and locates them within the now-familiar framework of Orientalism, to show how Australian perceptions of China have been shaped by Western biases and prejudices as well as by misinformation and, at times, sheer ignorance.

The book is arranged thematically as well as chronologically. Kendall begins by developing the theme of invasion anxiety, or the Yellow Peril syndrome, on the part of Australians who felt insecure as an outpost of Europe on the edge of Asia. He makes the point that the invasion anxiety was appropriated by the Menzies government as well as by the Democratic Labor Party and others to combat Communism. He highlights John Hay's fiction The Invasion (1968), which reworks the theme of a White Australia under threat from an allegedly aggressive China, despite some less emotive and less politically biased alternative voices that parodied the stereotypes.

Kendall then devotes a chapter to the captivity narratives in which the prisoners tell about their mistreatments at the hands of Oriental despots. The fantasy of Oriental despotism is used in fiction as an ideological weapon to fight Chinese Communism. In non-fiction, too, the captives claim to have been tortured and brainwashed, as in the narrative of the Australian journalist Francis James, who was detained by the Chinese authorities in late 1969 at the Hong _ Kong-Shenzhen border and not released until January 1973. James speaks of his unlawful detention and alleged tortures, his resistance to Oriental despotism, his failed escape attempts, and his battle with his interrogators, to emphasize the lawlessness of the Chinese regime. Yet he professes his "love" for the Chinese, wanting to build a bridge of understanding between China and the rest of the world.

Australians of different descriptions traveled to Mao's China before and after the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Their travelogues vary in their perceptions of China and its people. Kendall argues that, for these authors, "China existed as some form of personal fantasy" (p. 123): as a site of exploration, as a mystery, as a spectacle, as enlightenment, as discovery, and as redemption, reinvention or desire. None are based on empirical research.

While still on the Cold War period, Kendall analyzes the "either with us or against us" dichotomy, describing Menzies' ideology of the containment of China (following the United States), the role of the Australian security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) in tracking dissent in the Australian community, and the fate of the Communist Party of Australia (CPA). Some CPA. cadres slipped through the surveillance net and visited China. Non-Communist travelers were, however, no cause of concern to the Australian government. …