China

China

From the 1840s until the 1890s, more than 100,000 Chinese migrated to Australia. Internal factors such as wars caused by peasant uprisings and foreign invasions influenced emigration. One war in particular, the Taiping Rebellion, lasted over 13 years and affected over 18 provinces. From 1849 until 1878, severe famine and floods caused havoc throughout China and spurred on emigration. Also, between 1830 and 1850, the increasing Chinese population caused overcrowding and encouraged some to seek a better life in Australia.

In the 1850s, Chinese businessmen migrated to Australia to capitalise on the discovery of gold in the country. Former Chinese farmers, hawkers, shopkeepers, carpenters, boatmen and fisherman were contracted to work as labourers in Australia’s gold fields. Fortunes were made by some and money and gold was sent home to relatives in China. However, after the gold rush, the majority of labourers returned to China or died in the colonies; others took up agricultural labour.

Free Chinese - such as merchants, artisans and doctors - also came to Australia. Some sold their property in China to finance their trip. Others borrowed money from relatives and friends to make the voyage or entered into invisible contracts with passage providers.

The communist politics back in China forced some to flee to Australia and set up rival political organisations such as the NSW Chinese Empire Reform Association and the Chinese Nationalist League.

However, the introduction of the White Australia policy saw the Chinese-born population of Australia decline from 29,900 in 1901 to 6,400 in 1947. Many Chinese men had wives in China or Hong Kong who were not allowed entry into Australia, and with further immigration restricted, the Chinese population dwindled.

But from the 1950s, private overseas students were allowed to enter Australia and many young Chinese came to gain a university education. Australia was an attractive prospect due to its geographical proximity to China and low expenses, particularly as tuition fees were waived between 1974 and 1980. Many remained in Australia after graduation, applying for relatives to join them.

Since the mid-1970s refugees from Indo-China have also been admitted under Australia’s humanitarian program.

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Interactive

Explore the stories and lives of dozens of remarkable immigrants -- and their descendants -- in this immersive interactive documentary about the building of multicultural Australia.