Chinese in Australia need to speak up today
Australia has long been a favorable vacation choice for Chinese. But a string of recent events have made people wonder whether Chinese have been targeted by a deeply harbored prejudice.
Clive Palmer shocked the world in August when he described the Chinese government as “mongrels,” who “shoot their own people,” on ABC TV’s popular program Q&A. He apologized later but questions lingered. Before this incident, top politicians of Australia including Prime Minister Tony Abbott had made remarks that were repugnant to the Chinese government.
China should care about what Palmer said, but it is not worthy to worry about whether Australia’s attitude toward China is getting worse. Many studies and public surveys have showed the public opinion in Australia toward China has been improving, although China will probably not replace the US as Australia’s favorite country any time soon.
After Palmer’s disturbing words, a few more news reports about acts of discrimination and prejudice against the Chinese in Australia came out. It made Chinese worried again. I don’t think it necessarily shows Australians have become unfriendly to Chinese. Racial issues exist in any country. It is not fair to judge a country by some individual behavior. Australia is an immigrant country, and its racial issue is more complicated.
Don’t the Chinese have racial issues ourselves? A Darlinghurst café owner, Steven He, a Chinese businessman, who moved to Sydney from Shanghai 10 months ago, refused to hire a Brazilian-born Australian man, Nilson Dos Santos, because his “customers are white,” and he did not think his customers “would like to have their coffee made by black people.”
Mainstream values in Australia resists racial discrimination. It is pathetic that He assumed Australians were racist. With nine years of experience as a barista, Santos is a good-looking man from a country famous for its coffee. Santos would probably have brought more customers, if he were hired. The café is closed now, as Australian customers chose to not spend money at a racist establishment.
He is not alone in China. African business people in Guangzhou are discriminated against by local Cantonese even if African people bring trade and business opportunity to China. I notice many Chinese people often talk down about black people without realizing it is racial discrimination.
Lack of effective communication has contributed to biased perception. Except for the Australian who have been to China, not many Australian get updated picture of what China is like now, regarding the changing face of China in past 10 years. I can talk about China’s current anti-corruption campaign with my Australian friends who worked in China for years, but I feel frustrated if I try to make conversation even about popular Chinese film or music with local Australians, or second generation of Chinese-Australians. They only ask about two things; dumplings and pollution.
It is interesting to notice that the Chinese restaurants in Sydney still keep the style of the 1980s, or the 1970s, and mainly play 1990s Hong Kong pop songs, or Teresa Teng’s “Tian Mimi (Sweet Honey).” Although Australians today hear more Putonghua than Cantonese in Chinatown, the impression of China is either distorted or stuck in the 1990s.
My flat mate Wister immigrated to Australia with his family from China when he was a child. Graduated from a prestigious Australian university, Wister is an intelligent and successful young man working for a famous Australian bank.
He does not think being a Chinese-Australian influences his promotion in career. Instead, he thinks Australia offers him an equal chance and fair competition at work, although his Chinese parents are always worried about discrimination and tells him to “work harder, because you are Chinese.”
I have to stress that Wister is a confident, straightforward person. He is never afraid to say what he wants. That’s how he gains opportunities and respect from the others.
In comparison, I find many Chinese in Australia often hang back due to the influence of Confucius, or to maintain “harmony” with the other. They try to avoid argument and direct conflict.
We learned at school how to be modest and respect others, but it just does not work in Australia. From my own experience, Western people do not take you seriously if you are too modest. To earn respect, you need to be confident, speak for yourself, and make your own points.
The author worked for the Guardian Beijing office as a researcher and news assistant and is currently studying for a Master of Arts in Journalism in University of Technology, Sydney. firstname.lastname@example.org