Lawson, Gunn and the "White Chinaman": A Look at How Chinese are Made White in Henry Lawson and Mrs Aeneas Gunn's Writings


  • Ouyang Yu


If the pendulum of Orientalism swung to its negative extreme in the representations of the Chinese in Australian fiction before 1901, it began swinging gradually back to the positive extreme, starting in Henry Lawson and Mrs Aeneas Gunn's fiction, and culminating in Charles Cooper's "China" novels in the late 1930s and early 1940s. An important change took place in the Australian social discourse after the establishment of the "White Australia" policy in 1901. The Japanese had replaced the Chinese as the major source of threat to Australian security; the remaining Chinese in Australia had become assimilated and domesticated; the international political climate had been favourable for China after its overthrow of the Ching Dynasty in 1911; the Sinophile tradition began asserting itself in such works as Letters from a Chinese Official: being an Eastern View of Western Civilization (1903), which was quite in vogue at the time. In Australia, where the Sinophile tradition had not been strong, a much softened attitude towards the Chinese can nevertheless be discerned both in the political arena and from the books written during the time, such as Edward W. Foxall's Colorphobia (1903), E.W. Cole's A White Australia Impossible (1903) and, later, Eldred Pottinger's Asiatic Problems Affecting Australia (1928).