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Event details

ANU China Seminar Series

Enterprising Chinese Australians in the early 20th century: capital, sociability, and diaspora nationalism

Kuo Mei-fen

4:00pm - 5:30pm
03 May 2018
Seminar Room A, China in the World Building (188), Fellows Lane, ANU


Kuo Mei-fen

Research literature on contemporary entrepreneurship among overseas Chinese tends to focus on how individual Chinese migrants adjust to their host societies. Far less attention is paid to how Chinese diaspora networks were mobilized to take advantage of China’s economic development and to stimulate the economies of their host societies as part of the dynamic evolution of Asian economies. Taking the case of Chinese Australian businesses in the early 20th century we see how the dynamic processes of Chinese enterprises were produced and reproduced by community organizations in order to enhance group mobility, social creativity and commercial strategies.

By examining bilingual archives and records, I argue that Sydney branches of the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuo Min Tang), Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Chinese Masonic Society functioned as agencies that promoted different economic interests among Chinese in Australasia in addition to their other roles. These three organisations unquestionably mobilised the community in the name of ethnic identity. This ethnic identity, however, was also important in shaping Chinese diaspora business culture and were a source of entrepreneurial resilience, creditability and social network.

In this talk I will address questions such as how was it that identity politics pushed Chinese Australian business culture to a higher level of complexity? I will conclude that merchants from three organisations — the Chinese Nationalist Party, the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese Masonic Society — developed business cultures while simultaneously strengthening financial capital, philanthropic sociability and diaspora nationalism. The diversity of business interest, practice and mobilisation of the community organisations reflects that it is no longer possible to claim that Chinese Australians share a uniform business culture.

About the speaker

Dr Mei-fen Kuo is an ARC DECRA Research Fellow at School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, University of Queensland. Her current project examines the important but under-acknowledged role of Chinese Australian businesses and merchants in bilateral trade and investment from the late 19th century to WWII. Her publications include Making Chinese Australia: Urban Elites, Newspapers and the Formation of Chinese Australian Identity, 1892–1912 (Monash University Publishing) and, with Judith Brett, Unlocking the History of the Australasian Kuo Min Tang, 1911–2013 (Australian Scholarly Publishing).

After the seminar

All attendees are invited to join us in the CIW Tea House for informal discussion with the guest speaker after the seminar. With the consent of speakers, seminars are recorded and made publicly available through the Seminar Series’ website to build an archive of research on the Sinophone world.
The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the China Institute and the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University’s College of Asia & the Pacific.

Updated:  16 February 2016/Responsible Officer:  Director, China in the World /Page Contact:  China in the World