Anglo-Saxonizing Machines: Exclusion America, White Australia

By Williams, Michael | Chinese America: History and Perspectives, Annual 2003 | Go to article overview

Anglo-Saxonizing Machines: Exclusion America, White Australia


Williams, Michael, Chinese America: History and Perspectives


In 1887, Hawai'i was described as an "Anglo-Saxonizing machine," comparable on a smaller scale to the United States as a "converter of all sorts of men into ultimate Englishmen." However, the same source noted, the "Chinese element seems ... likely to prove the most refractory to the moulding influence of our Anglo-Saxon civilisation." (1) This assessment of the Chinese attitude to the obvious benefits of becoming "ultimate Englishmen" is one that would have been found not only in Hawai'i and the United States but also in the Australian colonies of the time--so much so that when the writer made this boast, laws limiting the entry of this "refractory" element were being enforced, or soon would be, in all the Australian colonies and the United States.

Many parallels besides efforts to restrict their entry exist in the histories of Chinese people in Australia and the United States from the mid-nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. Here, however, the focus is on the restrictive immigration laws of the pre-Federation (1901) Australian colonies, the Australian Commonwealth, and the United States that were directed against Chinese people. (2) By comparing the development of such laws, their political and social background, and aspects of the Chinese people's response to them, our understanding of the restrictive laws, their role and context can be broadened. The relative weight of factors, the limit to the concept of exclusion, the paradox of "hostile entry," and variations in responses to the restrictions are all discussed. (3)

RESTRICTIVE LAWS IN AUSTRALIA AND THE U.S.

United States literature on the so-called exclusion laws emphasizes their racist origins and the impact they had on Chinese people, both those attempting to enter the United States and those living there already, and their "exclusion" is taken for granted. Yet a basic comparison between United States and Australian restrictions reveals a wide variation in the very area they were primarily intended to affect--namely, the number of Chinese people in each country. Beginning in the early 1880s, when both countries introduced major restrictions and when the Chinese populations in both were at their height, the number of Chinese in Australia fell to 25 percent of its maximum, while the Chinese population in the U.S. fell to about 60 percent. (4) The Chinese population in the U.S. began to rise again in the late 1920s, whereas in Australia such an increase did not take place until the 1940s. (5)

It is not my intention to argue that the U.S. restrictions on Chinese entry were not severe and did not have a profound impact on the history of the Chinese in the United States. Chinese exclusion in the United States is usually compared to migration from Europe, and in this context the use of the word "exclusion" is unremarkable. (6) Rather, my purpose is to provide an alternative perspective by comparing U.S. restrictions with those of another "Anglo-Saxonizing machine."

The answer to the question of how Australia so reduced its Chinese population compared to the United States lies not only in the details of the restrictive laws but also in the political and social background to their development and administration. Before proceeding, a brief overview of the restrictive laws in both countries is necessary. Before 1901, "Australia" meant several separately governed colonies, each of which enacted its own restrictive immigration laws. The colonies of Victoria and New South Wales (NSW), to which most Chinese people went, first set up such restrictions in 1855 and 1861, respectively These early laws were repealed by 1867, as numbers of Chinese residents fell, but as numbers again increased, restrictive laws were reenacted in both these colonies and others by 1881. In 1888, as the result of an intercolonial conference, nearly all the colonies of the future Commonwealth of Australia had enacted similar but harsher restrictions. (7)

The anti-Chinese restrictions were, like all the pre-Federation Chinese restrictions of the colonies, a combination of poll tax and tonnage restrictions. …

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