Red-Hunting in Sydney's Chinatown

By Cottle, Drew; Keys, Angela | Journal of Australian Studies, March 2007 | Go to article overview

Red-Hunting in Sydney's Chinatown


Cottle, Drew, Keys, Angela, Journal of Australian Studies


During the course of the Cold War, the level of repression experienced by Chinese people in the West varied. In Australia, following the establishment of the People's Republic of China in October 1949, the Chinese were considered 'not just "yellow", they were also "red"'. (1) In the United States during the Cold War years of the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of Chinese immigrants and Chinese Americans were hunted down, gaoled, and subsequently deported. The US government revived the Trading With the Enemy Act--originally passed during World War II--which criminalised Chinese migrants who sent money to support their families in China. The FBI interrogated and arrested Chinese who supported the new China.

The Min Ching (the Chinese-American Democratic Youth League) had their premises raided and the China Daily News was closed down. In San Francisco, the Chinese Student Christian Association was raided by the FBI, who described the Association as a 'Chinese Communist front'. In New York, the State Department subpoenaed every major Chinese organisation, demanding that they produce all records and photographs of their members, and a full account of their income. The treasurer of the China Daily News, Tom Sung, harassed by the FBI from 1950 to 1955, finally hanged himself. The manager of the Wet Wash Laundry in New York leapt to his death from the Brooklyn Bridge after three of his friends were gaoled by the FBI for being illegal immigrants. (2)

State surveillance and repression of the Chinese in Australia during the Cold War was not as draconian as in the United States. Tens of thousands of Chinese resided in the United States in this period, while only a few thousand Chinese lived in Australia, mainly in the Sydney and Melbourne Chinatowns or in isolated country towns. Apart from the numbers of Chinese involved, the Cold War's repression was experienced differently in the Chinatowns of the United States and Australia; state repression in the United States was on a massive and enduring scale, whereas in Australia surveillance and repression was carried out on specific Chinese individuals and organisations.

In the past quarter century, studies of the Cold War in Australia have burgeoned, with topics ranging from the reflections of existing and former communists and anti-communists, to examinations of trade union politics, the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, the 'milk-bar economy' and Australian foreign policy. (3) Although fading in political importance in Australian history, the Cold War, in its many manifestations, has become a subject of growing cultural interest. One area of the Cold War which has been neglected, if the anti-communism of Captive Nations can be overlooked, is its effect on ethnic communities in Australia. The Captive Nations Council of Australia consisted of anti-communist Eastern European migrant groupings within Australia. Their influence and organisation buttressed the anti-communist Liberal ascendancy during the period 1949 to 1975. (4) While Mark Aarons has explored the migrant politics of Captive Nations and their association with ASIO (5), to date no study of state surveillance and suppression within specific Eastern European communities in Australia during the Cold War has been attempted.

This paper will examine the effects of the Cold War on Sydney's Chinese community from the establishment of the People's Republic of China in October 1949 until the 1961 Sino-Soviet Split. Throughout this period, the Chinese of Sydney lived and worked in the Haymarket district, the city's Chinatown, which bordered the Darling Harbour goods yard and the ports. (6) Although Shirley Fitzgerald's Red Tape, Gold Scissors offers a broad social history of Sydney's Chinese (7), it offers only general comments on the political effects of the Cold War in Chinatown. (8) Nevertheless, as Fitzgerald and the scattered and limited archival records of the state reveal (9), the Japanese invasion of China and the subsequent Pacific War galvanised the Chinese in Sydney.

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