Tag Archives: China
In a new series, we look at under acknowledged women through the ages.
There are “hidden women” in history who deserve to be known for the same reasons as we know about “great men”. The film Hidden Figures showed us a few of them: African-American women who did the mathematics for the first US space program.
And then there are the rest of us: ordinary people who at first glance look more like products than producers of their times. Hop Lin Jong was one of these, or should I say one of us: a turn-of-the-century immigrant whose arrival in Western Australia in 1901 was remarkable only because she was Chinese. Her life might have passed in obscurity if her daughter Ruby had not been murdered in 1925.
Hop Lin Jong was born in Guangzhou according to immigration records, but arrived in Australia on the S.S. Australind, which plied the Singapore-Fremantle route. Singapore was a hub for human trafficking from China, a multi-million dollar business that linked villages in South China to the world. Hop Lin Jong may have been a victim of this trade.
The year of her birth is uncertain: 1884 in the family genealogy, 1886 in her residential documents. When she disembarked in Fremantle she was somewhere between 15 and 17 years of age. Her surname was Jong or Jung. In Australia she was known as Lin or Lucy, or more formally as Mrs Lee Wood, for on arrival she was wed to James Lee Wood, butcher, merchant and a prominent member of the local Chinese community. The instability of names resulting from poor English rendering is typical for this generation of Chinese migrants.
Lin arrived at the very dawn of the White Australia era, when restrictions directed mainly at preventing Chinese immigration had just been brought into force across the country. How she crossed this colour line is unknown, except that minors were treated differently from adults. Her youth may have been a factor.
Life in early 20th-century Perth
Lin’s wedding photo, published on the Chinese-Australian Historical Images site, shows a well-dressed young woman in a ruffled blouse and tailored skirt. Ruffles must have been all the rage then. A second family photo shows her older daughters, May and Ruby, aged around two and three, dressed identically in ruffled dresses and little boots. She had five children in all, born between 1902 and 1910.
At that time there were few Chinese women in Perth. Census figures for 1901 show 18 women of Chinese nationality in the whole of Western Australia. But the European wives of Chinese men and their children added to the size of the local community. Lin undoubtedly knew Elizabeth Gipp, the wife of Charlie Ah You, and mother of the Gipp boys of Anzac fame. (George, Leslie, and Richard Gipp all served in the First World War.) These women must have supported each other during confinements: this was before the age of hospital births.
The Chinese community of Perth was centered in James St, Northbridge. The Chung Wah (Chinese) Society, established in 1909, had its premises in James St, and Lee Wood’s butcher shop occupied the ground floor of the same building. In 1914, the Lee Woods bought a house in Tiverton St, not far away. Family social and economic life appeared to have operated between the two poles of Tiverton and James Streets. There was a primary school in James St that was attended by the Gipp children. It is possible that the Lee Wood children, too, went there.
Lin was a seamstress, and took in sewing. She may have passed her skills onto Ruby, who became a dressmaker. She also worked when needed in the butcher shop. The marriage, however, was not happy. By the 1920s, she and Lee Wood were living apart, she in Tiverton St and he at the shop. Yet as an economic and social unit, the family remained intact. There were family photos, and family notices in the local newspaper. Both parents were involved in the marriages of the children: May’s to local merchant Timothy Chiew in 1922, and Ruby’s to recent immigrant Leong Yen in 1924.
Death of a daughter
Ordinary life with its ordinary problems changed forever in the middle of 1925. On the morning of 13 July that year, a Monday, Lin was working in the shop when Ruby called in to leave the house key with her. That night, when her daughter failed to return home, Lin knew immediately that something must have happened. On the Thursday she went to the police. On the next Thursday again, Ruby’s body was pulled from the harbour in Fremantle.
There followed a coronial inquest, the arrest of Leong Yen for the murder of his young wife, and a trial presided over by Chief Justice Robert McMillan. The case meant an unusual degree of public exposure for a Chinese-Australian family. Newspaper reporting was detailed, giving close to verbatim accounts of the evidence. Perth was glued to the events. During the trial, the public gallery was packed, with women making up a large percentage of onlookers.
From the court records we learn that a local Chinese pharmacist, George Way, had served as matchmaker for Ruby’s marriage; that Leong and Ruby had lived with Lin after their wedding in 1924; and that at one stage Lin had thrown him out of the house. We know from the forensic report that the marriage had not been consummated, and from Leong’s evidence that the couple did not share the same bedroom. Perhaps due to these facts, the all-male jury felt sorry for Leong and while finding him guilty of manslaughter, recommended leniency. The judge obliged, with a sentence of two years hard labour. On expiry of the sentence, Leong was deported.
In later decades, the press periodically revisited the case in salacious and sometimes imagined detail (“as the taxi rattled towards Fremantle, thunder rumbled and rain lanced down in swirling flurries”). Quite recently, The West Australian carried a report on the “chilling coincidences” between the current “body-in-a-suitcase trial” centred on the death of Annabel Chen and the trial of Leong Yen more than 90 years ago.
Between the obscurity of life as a Chinese working-class woman in a small Australian city and the glare of publicity surrounding her daughter’s death, Lin is just dimly visible to history. At only five foot high, she was smaller than any of her Australian children. The West Australian reported on her appearance in court, describing “a slight, frail woman, in deep mourning and weeping quietly.” But she was stalwart. According to her grandson Bill Chiew, she “used to work like hell.”
She was barely if at all literate, finding it difficult to sign her immigration papers. Her spoken English, however, was quite good, according to immigration records. In middle age she spent much time minding her grandchildren. Her English may have benefited from time with these second-generation Australians, who could hardly speak Chinese at all; and she may have taken comfort from them.
From the public record we can see that she was swept along in the course of Australian history. With the outbreak of World War II, her youngest son, William (“Boy”), joined the army. In the post-war years, the family enjoyed upward mobility. Granddaughter Irene graduated from university in 1952. And by the time Lin died in 1970, the White Australia Policy had effectively been dismantled. Citizenship had become possible for someone like her.
The last photo of her in the public record is attached to her application for renewal of residential status in 1948. It shows a woman in the ordinary dress of the post-war era, a button-through frock, her hair parted in the middle and done up at the sides. Her birthplace is given as Canton and her nationality as Chinese. By then she had lived in Perth for nearly 50 years. Not surprisingly, she looks Australian and Chinese at the same time.
July 1 marked the 80th anniversary of Australia’s iron ore embargo against Japan. The official reason was resource conservation, but the ban was really driven by a fear of Japan – which had been buying up assets like iron ore and scrap metal – gaining a stronghold in Australia that threatened our sovereignty and security.
Despite the passing of 80 years, Australia is having the same discussions we had back in 1938, only this time about China.
China’s growing commercial influence in Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries has sparked concerns about its political ambitions. Responding to these concerns with economic sanctions is likely only to pander to US desires to curb Chinese influence, placing Australia’s economic future and regional security at risk.
The economic sanctions Japan faced in the 1930s and early 1940s contributed in large part to the outbreak of the Pacific War.
With the recent tit-for-tat US and Chinese trade restrictions, is the world heading down a similar path?
What can we do differently this time around?
Australia must recast its foreign policy with a view to the role it wishes to play in its immediate region. This needs to be a little more adventurous than the 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper.
The Australia of the 1930s faced a region in flux. There were territorial disputes, the waning power of Britain – Australia’s primary ally and protector – and the growing military and commercial weight of regional power Japan, whose intentions remained unclear. Sound familiar?
In early 1937, fears emerged of a world steel shortage. While iron ore restrictions were being introduced elsewhere, the Australian government maintained that it was not a lack of resources that had created a shortage but an inadequate output.
It came as quite a surprise then, in May 1938, when the Australian government announced an embargo on iron ore exports, effective July 1 1938. The government cited a (then) recent and very brief report, compiled by the Commonwealth government geological adviser, which concluded iron ore deposits were much smaller than had been estimated and perhaps would not meet domestic needs.
The embargo included existing agreements with foreign investors, such as the Japanese lease at the Yampi Sound mines in Western Australia, where preparations for the first iron ore extraction were well under way.
The government stressed that the embargo was not due to anti-Japanese sentiment. Nevertheless, this was the conclusion the Japanese government drew as it tried and failed to secure access to the Yampi Sound project.
The size of Australia’s current iron ore exports calls into question the logic of this report and the export ban it led to.
A foreign foothold in Australian territory
Throughout the 1930s, Japan pursued a policy of southward expansion, both territorial and economic in nature. At the centre of this policy was the need for resources to cater for Japan’s rapidly growing population. This involved the “economic penetration” of Far Eastern nations, investing Japanese capital to secure essential goods.
Australia, still recovering from the Great Depression, welcomed these investments.
Japan’s visions for territorial expansions became clear in July 1937. Japan – as Australia had long feared – proved itself an aggressor when its army invaded China, signalling the start of the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Australia opted for a diplomatic response to this conflict, remaining impartial and encouraging “cooperation and conciliation” as the solution.
However, Japanese economic investments were being viewed with increasing caution.
Australia’s trade commissioner in Tokyo, Eric E. Longfield Lloyd, reported that Japan’s territorial expansion into China had been aided by a seemingly innocent system of economic penetration throughout the 1920s and ’30s. He feared that allowing the Yampi Sound project to continue, operated as it was by Japanese staff, would result in a “foreign foothold” in Australian territory.
Longfield Lloyd pressed for the project’s cancellation “by any means whatsoever”. One proposal was was an export embargo “by declaration of insufficiency”.
Here was the origin of the 1938 iron ore embargo.
Much like in 1938, today’s fears about Chinese investments hinge on the question of political influence and security implications.
Further afield, China’s vast infrastructure program, the Belt and Road Initiative, has sparked speculation that the nation is using chequebook diplomacy – and perhaps debt-book diplomacy – to secure economic leverage and gain greater influence in regional and global affairs.
This is of particular concern in Australia’s immediate sphere of influence, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
Most recently, the Australian government sought to protect its diplomatic and security interests when it outbid the Chinese telecom giant Huawei for the rights to construct a network of internet cables linking the Solomon Islands to Sydney.
Time for a long-range view of Australia and its foreign policy
The economic pressure exerted on Japan in the 1930s and early 1940s – in which Australia was by no means alone, with the US and Britain leading the charge – deprived the nation of its means of survival. This hastened the campaign of aggressive regional conquest in pursuit of raw materials that eventually led to Pacific War.
To be sure, China’s current economic position makes it unlikely that trade sanctions will lead to armed conflict. But throw in territorial disputes, erratic leadership, the US-China struggle for Pacific dominance, and the future seems a lot less certain.
With all this in mind, the 1938 iron ore embargo does serve as a warning against over-reliance and a blinkered outlook that sees only potential dangers in our immediate region.
Now is the time for Australian to broaden its foreign relations, avoiding the potential downfall of over-reliance on the Chinese market and the US alliance, while building new diplomatic ties.
There is such an opportunity in Australia’s neighbourhood, “that part of the world”, as shadow defence minister Richard Marles recently argued, “in which our influence matters the greatest. What we say and do in the Pacific carries enormous weight.”
Australia must take the initiative in its immediate region to develop varied and mutually beneficial economic, diplomatic and strategic relationships.
In this way, Australia can strengthen its own economy, the economies nearby and its role as a regional leader and collaborator.