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Chinese migrant entrepreneurshi

Chinese migrant entrepreneurshi - Gao, Jia

Keywords: Entrepreneurship

Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship
in Australia from the 1990s

Chinese Migrant
Entrepreneurship in
Australia from the 1990s

Case-studies of success in
Sino-Australian relations
Jia Gao

(The University of Melbourne)



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This book is dedicated to all
the people who have

contributed to this research

List of tables

Table 2.1 Original set of ideals and life priorities 28
Table 2.2 Rearranged set of ideals and life priorities 28
Table 2.3 Chinese language varieties spoken at home (aged 5 years
and over) 34
Table 3.1 Output shares of textiles, clothing and footwear within
manufacturing in Australia, 1968–2000. 60
Table 3.2 Australia’s top 10 two-way trading partners 2012 65
Table 4.1 Australia’s Asian trading partners and their shares in
Australia’s total trade with Asia 81
Table 5.1 Early development of China's outbound tourism,
1992–2007 (in thousands) 95
Table 6.1 Donations to 3CW in 2001 for repairs 124

List of figures

Figure 2.1 Qualifications of the China-born Australian residents aged 41
15 years and over in 2011 (%). Adapted from Community
Figure 3.1 Information Summary: China-born. Canberra: DIAC 53
(2011), p. 4 81
Employment in manufacturing as a percentage of 95
Figure 4.1 Australia's total employment.
Based on data from: (1) Labour Force, Australia, ABS 97
Figure 5.1 catalogue 6203.0; (2) ‘the manufacturing sector: Adapting
to structural change’, Reserve Bank of Australia Bulletin, 106
Figure 5.2 March 2001. 111
China's share of Australia's total merchandise trade. 121
Adapted from ‘Australia-China: Not just 40 years’, Economic
Figure 6.1 Roundup, Issue 4 (2012). Canberra: The Treasury, n.p.
China's official business travellers and private tourists,
1992–2007 (in thousands).
Figure 6.2 Information based on Table 5.1.
Travellers from China to Australia.
Adapted from ‘Australia-China: Not just 40 years’,
Figure 6.3 Economic Roundup, Issue 4 (2012). Canberra:
The Treasury, n.p.
Total Australian migrant intakes by visa category,
Adapted from The Commonwealth-Victoria Working Party
on Migration (2004), Final Report, State Government of
Victoria, Melbourne, p. 16.
Growth in trade between Australia and China, 1954–2007.
Adapted from How China trade benefits Australian
Households. Sydney: Australia China Business Council,
2012, p. 14.
Weekly uses of media in Australia.
Based on data from ‘Internet overtakes TV in Aus’,
Marketing, 16 December 2011.

Preface and acknowledgements

This book is the result of my continuing longitudinal research on the experiences of
new Chinese migrants in Australia. For more than 25 years, I have undertaken a longi-
tudinal study of the new Chinese migrant community that was formed in Australia in
the late 1980s and early 1990s. The early part of their experiences provided me with
a chance to examine Chinese activism, the study of which was published under the
title Chinese Activism of a Different Kind: The Chinese Students’ Campaign to Stay
in Australia (Gao, 2013a). This particular book is my second major publication based
on this area of research.

Direct immigration from mainland China to Australia has resumed since the late
1980s and early 1990s, when tens of thousands of Chinese students were permitted by
the Hawke–Keating Labor government to stay permanently in Australia (Birrell, 1994;
Gao, 2001, 2009). Since then, there have been some studies analysing a range of issues
associated with the settlement of new immigrants from the Chinese mainland or the
PRC (the People’s Republic of China) as it is often called. The Chinese immigrants
have been portrayed in various ways, but there are few analyses of how these Chinese
immigrants survived Australia’s worst post-war recession in the late 1980s and early
1990s (Deloitte, 2012), and how their new community has since sustained itself and
become one of the model communities in Australia.

It is also more than two decades since the late 1980s and early 1990s recession,
when no country like Australia avoided the recession and prospered, but even achieved
a growth rate that was a multiple of many other Western countries (CBC, 2012;
Deloitte, 2012). This significant achievement has been simply credited to Australia’s
historic shift to Asia, if not to some politicians and governments, and some big corpo-
rations, especially a number of mining companies. What has largely been overlooked
in both the public discussion and the current research literature is the role of hun-
dreds of thousands of new Chinese immigrants in not only making Australians aware
of opportunities in China but also in actually transforming Sino–Australian relations
through their entrepreneurial activities.

This book seeks to address the major gaps in the existing literature and knowl-
edge by offering an account of a group of new Chinese migrant entrepreneurs who
have succeeded in their business ventures through their skill and resourcefulness, and
made great contributions to both Australia and China. The profound transformation
of the relationship between Australia and China from the early 1990s to the present is
one of the most important changes in the Asia-Pacific region. This book is therefore
relevant to contemporary Australia, China and the Asia-Pacific region. More impor-
tantly, this book will add new theoretical considerations and solid empirical evidence
to an increasing interest, both in academic circles and among the general public, in

xiv Preface and acknowledgements

e­ ntrepreneurship through thinking beyond the existing institutional and network per-
spectives on a new breed of Chinese migrant entrepreneurs.

Chinese migration and the new breed of Chinese migrant entrepreneurs are hot
topics. This book distinguishes itself from a few other books, both authored and ed-
ited, on ethnic Chinese business and overseas Chinese entrepreneurs in the following
crucial aspects. First, this book focuses on the people whose entrepreneurial activities
have spread across a number of industries, and facilitated trade and cultural contacts
between the host country and the country of origin, instead of simply illustrating and
emphasising macro-economic or political economic conditions, policy designs and
some socio-economic or socio-political factors that would have an impact on individ-
uals and groups.

Second, this research is based on the experiences of the new migrants from China,
not on Australians of Chinese origin who have lived outside of China for several gen-
erations, who form the basis of almost all previously published books in English on
this subject. This new basis will make it possible to analyse rapidly increasing interac-
tions between China and the outside world.

Third, the new Chinese migrants are characterised by experiences, viewpoints and
many other attributes that are different from what are usually called ‘old’ overseas
Chinese. This particular new breed of PRC Chinese migrant entrepreneurs has demon-
strated that various widely held assumptions about ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs, es-
pecially the institutional and network perspectives, are out of date and in need of
further study and modification.

A fourth distinguishing feature of this book is that this study is based on my continu-
ing longitudinal research on the new Chinese migrant community in Australia since
the late 1980s. That is, this book is based on first-hand knowledge and decades-long
observation of a group of new Chinese migrant entrepreneurs who obtained residency
in Australia in the early 1990s and have since actively engaged in business activities.

Fifth, this book also intends to reveal a dynamic process, which to a certain extent
challenges the overemphasis on the impact of globalisation on Chinese entrepreneurs
and confronts the ignorance of their active role in shaping the globalisation process.
To argue for the equal importance of a bottom-up process, this book will detail how
new PRC Chinese migrant entrepreneurial activities have influenced the opening up
of Australian tourism and international education markets, and China’s ‘going-out’

This book could not have been written without the help of many friends and col-
leagues. I owe a great debt of gratitude to those who have for so many years kindly
assisted my ongoing pursuit of studying this large group of new Chinese migrants.
More than anyone else, my wife and our son deserve recognition, as they have not
only borne the burden caused by my long and persistent research of this project, but
encouraged me to persist with my undertaking. Since I was struck by my serious neck
problem, caused by my long hours of desk-bound work, and especially since I had
neck surgery about 10 years ago, I have been fully supported by them.

I could not have finished the writing of this book without the support of many
friends. I am very grateful to a group of old schoolmates who are all now living
in Australia, through whom I have been able to learn more about the community, in

Preface and acknowledgements xv

addition to my own observations and interviews. A network of this kind is especially
helpful when large portions of my time and attention are increasingly confined to cam-
pus. I am particularly thankful to Mr Bob Baoming Shan, the owner and chief-editor
of The United Times, a Melbourne-based Chinese community newspaper, who has for
many years provided me with many ideas and crucial insights into the emergence and
development of community-based entrepreneurial activities.

I am also indebted to Professor Chris Rowley, the editor of the Chandos Asian
Studies Series, for encouraging me to start this book project, and Dr Glyn Jones, the
publisher at Chandos Publishing, for accepting the manuscript for publication. I am
very thankful to all the anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and sugges-
tions on the first draft of the book. I am also very grateful to Dr George Knott and
Ms Harriet Clayton for guiding me through the editorial process and for bringing the
manuscript to press.

Among the many friends and colleagues who have assisted me during the writing
of this book, Ms Li Linye, an exchange student from Tsinghua University, helped me
search various databases to find the information needed for Chapter 6. I am greatly
indebted to Ms Helen Koehne, an accredited editor of Editorial Combat, for her ex-
cellent professional assistance in editing the manuscript, and helpful comments and
suggestions for its improvement.

Most of all, my very special thanks go to all the Chinese migrant entrepreneurs
settling down in Australia since the late 1980s and early 1990s, especially those who
have agreed to be included in this book, the names of whom will appear in each of the
relevant chapters in this book. I owe a great debt of thanks to all of them, and I hope
that they appreciate that their experiences have made an important contribution to our
general knowledge of the new breed of Chinese migrants and their entrepreneurship,
as well as of contemporary China and Australia.

Jia Gao, PhD
The University of Melbourne

About the author

Dr Jia Gao, or Gao Jia in the Chinese order, is a graduate of Beijing-based Renmin
University of China, previously known as the People’s University of China, or com-
monly known as Renda in Chinese. As one of the first group of young Chinese to be
admitted to university based on the highly competitive national entrance examinations
that were swiftly reinstituted in mid-1977, shortly after the Cultural Revolution from
1966 to 1976, Jia Gao studied for his Bachelor degree (4 years) at the then most pres-
tigious Department of Philosophy at Renda from 1978 to 1982. Upon graduation, he
was first assigned by Renda to work as an officer of its administration team, and then
to play an active part in the establishment of the Institute of Sociology at the university.

While teaching social psychology and sociology at Renda, Jia Gao was also play-
ing an important role in introducing new disciplines of social psychology, sociology
and anthropology from the West into China. Before leaving for Australia in mid-1988,
he led the translation and publication of about 10 books in the fields of social psychol-
ogy, sociology and other related academic fields. Because of his role in re-establishing
social psychological and sociological studies in post-Mao China, he was awarded the
first and only national academic prize in sociology by China's National Commission
of Education and the Fok Ying Tung Foundation of Hong Kong in 1988. The prize
was awarded for the first time since 1949. A small group of young Chinese research-
ers received their prizes in US dollars, and Jia Gao was one of only three recipients in
non-scientific and non-technological fields.

In Australia, Jia Gao pursued his PhD in human geography at the University of
Melbourne. His PhD on the topic of the Chinese students’ efforts to obtain the right
to stay permanently in Australia after the so-called June 4 incident of 1989 remains
the most comprehensive study of this largest intake of onshore asylum seekers in the
history of Australian immigration. The thesis has since been revised and was pub-
lished by Brill in 2013 under the title Chinese Activism of a Different Kind. Since the
late 1980s, Dr Jia Gao has actively carried out continuing longitudinal research on the
experiences of new Chinese migrants in Australia. Based on studies of various aspects
of the new Chinese community, his research has focused on the issues that are empir-
ically understudied and theoretically underdeveloped. Examples of his publications
include ‘The role of primary social groups in migration decision-making’ in Asian
and Pacific Migration Journal; ‘Organized international asylum seeker networks’
in International Migration Review; ‘Radio-activated business and power’ in W. Sun
(ed.) Media and the Chinese Diaspora; ‘Migrant transnationality and its evolving na-
ture’ in Journal of Chinese Overseas; ‘Lobbying to stay’ in International Migration;
‘Negotiating state logic’ in Omnes; and ‘Seeking residency from the courts’ in Journal
of Chinese Overseas.

xviii About the author

Dr Jia Gao has also produced a wide range of publications on numerous other
research topics and themes in both English and Chinese, including his early extensive
work on English-Chinese academic translation, a selected list of which can be found
on the website of the University of Melbourne.

At present, Dr Jia Gao is an Associate Professor in the Asia Institute, University of
Melbourne, while at the same time serving as Assistant Dean (China) of the Faculty
of Arts at the same university.

List of abbreviations

ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation
ABS Australian Bureau of Statistics
ACBC Australia China Business Council
ACD Australian Chinese Daily (Xinbao)
ADS Approved Destination Status
AEI Australia Education International
AFP Agence France-Presse
ALP Australian Labor Party
ASIC Australian Securities and Investment Commission
BBC British Broadcasting Corporation
BHP Broken Hill Proprietary (before 2001)
BUAA Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (or Beihang
CAE Council of Adult Education
CAFA Central Academy of Fine Arts (China)
CAIEP China Association for the International Exchange of Personnel
CAS Chinese Academy of Sciences
CASS Chinese Academy of Social Sciences
CBC Conference Board of Canada
CCP Chinese Communist Party
CCTV China Central Television
CCYL Chinese Communist Youth League
CIE Centre for International Economics
CITIC China International Trust and Investment Corporation
CNR China National Radio
COFA China Overseas Friendship Association
CPJ Committee to Protect Journalists
CRI China Radio International
DFAT Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade
DIAC Department of Immigration and Citizenship (2006-now)
DIEA Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (1976-87) (1993-96)
DILGEA Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs
DIMA Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (1996-2001)
ELICOS English Language Incentive Course for Overseas Students
EMDG Export Market Development Grants
FAO Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations

xx List of abbreviations

FDI Foreign direct investment
GMD Guomindang (Chinese Nationalist Party)
HSC Higher School Certificate (in New South Wales)
IMF International Monetary Fund
KMT Kuomintang (see GMD)
MNC Multinational corporation
MP Member of the Federal Parliament of Australia
Oriental BQ [Beijing Youth] Weekly
OBQ People's Liberation Army (of China)
PLA Public–private partnership
PPP People's Republic of China
PRC Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology
RMIT Republic of China
ROC Special Broadcasting Service (Australia)
SBS Socio-economic status
SES State Administration of Foreign Experts Affairs
SAFEA The Sydney Morning Herald
Temporary Entry Permit
SMH Tourism Research Australia
TEP Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority
TRA Victorian Certificate of Education
VCAA Voice of America
VCE Victorian School of Languages
VOA Wonderment Walk Victoria

Introduction to the Chinese 1
in Australia

The history of Chinese migration to Australia from the 1850s to the present could be
broadly divided into several stages. Throughout these stages, the Chinese people have
been portrayed in numerous ways, ranging from outsiders or aliens who were unable to
assimilate, in the early decades, to hard-working citizens and a national economic as-
set, in more recent years. Many of the first Chinese migrants came during the gold rush
in the nineteenth century and then settled into various trades, including market garden-
ing and furniture making, leading up to the turn of the century. The second half of the
twentieth century saw two significant turning points in the socioeconomic background
of Chinese migrants (Sun, Gao, Yue, & Sinclair, 2011). The first turning point was the
introduction of the Colombo Plan in Australia in the early 1950s, which brought in
thousands of educated young Chinese people from selected Southeast Asian countries
(Yuan, 2001; Oakman, 2004).1 The second turning point was the settlement of 45,000
students from the People's Republic of China (PRC) in the late 1980s and early 1990s,
which led to increased immigration from China to Australia. Tens of thousands of
Chinese students came to Australia in the second half of the 1980s under the English
Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) scheme. Almost all of
them were allowed to remain in Australia permanently after the June 4 incident of
1989 (Gao, 2001, 2013a).2 In reality, the decision by Paul Keating's Labor government
in 1993 to allow around 45,000 Chinese nationals to stay was part of Australia's his-
toric shift towards Asia. This was the beginning of the new Chinese migration. The
shift and the significant impact that China and its migrants have subsequently had
on the Australian economy were initiated by both Gough Whitlam's Labor govern-
ment (1972–1975) and Malcolm Fraser's Liberal government (1975–1983) and then

1 The Colombo Plan was launched in 1950 as a post-colonial or post-war initiative to maintain discretely
British colonialism in South and Southeast Asia (Oakman, 2004) and ‘to limit the spread of communism’
(Ninnes, 2005, p. 142). Part of the plan was an overseas student scheme, which benefited the Chinese com-
munity in Australia considerably. For more information on the Colombo Plan and its impact on Australia,
see Watt (1967), Rumley (1999) and Buckner and Francis (2005).

2 The June 4 incident of 1989, or the June 4 as it is simply called in Chinese communities, refers to events
in which the Chinese government used military force to stop student-led long-running demonstrations in
Beijing. The June 4 was a controversial event that has been passionately debated by many different indi-
viduals from different perspectives. While many have regarded it as a democratic movement or a political
disaster in the contemporary history of China, more and more people have lately considered it the decisive
moment that enabled China to focus on its economic development and to achieve rapid and record growth
since the 1990s. As a controversial event, the June 4 created a set of extraordinary circumstances in which
a large number of Chinese nationals living in the West at the time could seek asylum or residency in
their host countries. For more information about the event, see Li (1990) and L. Chai, 2011 and, by some
leading Chinese observers, Pye (1990), Wagner (1991), Goldman (1994), Miles (1996), Barmé (2000) and
Cunningham (2009).

Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s
Copyright © 2015 Jia Gao. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

2 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

strongly advocated by the following Labor governments of Bob Hawke (1983–1991)
and Paul Keating (1991–1996).

Therefore, the settlement of 45,000 or so Chinese students in the late 1980s and
early 1990s is a very important part of Australian history and Chinese migration his-
tory. Since the acceptance of the Chinese students in 1993, the ethnic Chinese com-
munity in Australia has entered its current ‘model community’ or ‘model minority’
phase (Ho, 2007, p. 1; Pung, 2008, p. 4), which is predominantly characterised by their
entrepreneurial spirit, skills and achievements.

This chapter introduces some background information for this book. The first
and second sections of the chapter outline the brief history of Chinese migration to
Australia. The third section looks at the existing literature and some theoretical expla-
nations that are relevant to this study. The final section briefly outlines the organisa-
tion of the book.

1.1  A brief history of the Chinese in Australia

The first Chinese migrant labourers were recruited in the 1840s, arriving in Australia
in relatively large numbers. This followed the decline of convict labour coming from
Britain from the late 1820s and the abolition of slavery in 1833 (Dua, 1999; Hirst,
2008). The expansion of globalised capitalism in a postslavery world led to a des-
perate need for cheap labour (Koser, 2007). What was then termed ‘legitimate trade’
or commerce replaced the slave trade (Flint, 2008, p. 211). As part of the worldwide
expansion of this ‘legitimate trade’, a system of indentured labour emerged. Farmers'
demands led the colonial governments to start indentured labour schemes in Australia
(Curthoys, 2003; Fitzgerald, 2007). At almost the same time, China was forced to
open its door to the outside world, mostly because of the first and second Sino-British
wars (1840–1842 and 1856–1860) (Lovell, 2011; Waley, 1968), and its peasants im-
mediately became a target of the new global system of indentured labour. Against this
particular historical context was a perfect combination of push factors in China and
pull factors in Australia. As Ling (1998) observed, China in the 1840s and 1850s was
full of natural calamities, floods and famines, particularly in the regions of Guangdong
and Guangxi, which gave way to the catastrophic Taiping Rebellion. The rebellion
erupted across South China in 1850 because of population pressure and the wide-
spread famines from 1847 to 1849 (Johnson, 1962). The Taiping Rebellion devastated
the land, uprooted the peasantry and destroyed the economy (Ling, 1998) until the last
group of Taiping rebels was defeated in 1869.

The number of Chinese indentured labourers increased dramatically during the
gold rush of the 1850s in Victoria and New South Wales. Many poor Chinese in South
China were enticed by the offer of paid employment that emerged on Australia's gold-
fields. Tens of thousands of Chinese labourers were brought to Australia from China's
poor and war-torn agricultural south, mainly from Guangdong Province (Choi, 1975;
Clark, 1969). Such multifaceted and complex historical circumstances contradict the
unadorned portrayal of Chinese gold diggers as reckless fortune hunters (Hutcheon,
1996; Davison, 2001), although it was accurate that ‘wherever gold was discovered

Introduction to the Chinese in Australia 3

in Australia, a strong Chinese community developed’ (Porter, 2006, p. 123). By the
standards of the time, this early group of migrants was sizable, resulting in a high
proportion of Chinese in Australia: approximately 4% of the Australian population
(Blainey, 1982), up to 7% of Victoria's population in 1857 (Cronin, 1982) and over
12% in Victoria in 1859 (McConnochie, Hollinsworth, & Pettman, 1988).

The gold rush of the 1850s was the most spectacular episode in both the history
of Australia's nation building and the history of Chinese migration. Since then, the
Chinese have been an important part of Australian society, although the importance
of their role in Australia and even their right to live in the country was contested for a
long time (McMaster, 2001; Scholefield, 1919; Yong, 1977). The history of Chinese
migration to Australia from the 1850s to the present may be divided broadly into six
distinct phases:

1. the gold rush in Victoria and New South Wales in the 1850s and 1860s
2. the ‘establishing stage’ in the years after the gold rush
3. the long consolidation period in the early years of ‘White Australia’3
4. the diversification phase as a flow-on of the Colombo Plan in the 1950s and 1960s
5. the multicultural period from the mid-1970s to the 1980s
6. the ‘model community’ stage since the early 1990s (Sun et al., 2011).

Perhaps in response to the sufferings that numerous Chinese experienced while liv-
ing in China, much of the research literature on early Chinese settlement in Australia
has in some way recorded stereotypical ways of living: digging for gold, paying off
debt and sending money home (Fitzpatrick, 1951). These portrayals ignore that the
Chinese were engaged in a range of business- and community-based activities when
they were still living in the goldfields (Kelly, 1977; Lovejoy, 2007; Rolls, 1992).
In reality, a small group of literate Chinese helped build up the new community in
Australia, especially towards the end of the gold rush (Cronin, 1982).

During the gold rush, the Chinese were in fact the largest non-British group (Leuner,
2008) who worked in Australia's goldfields. Apart from a small group of Chinese who
worked as storekeepers and merchants, a great majority were diggers in the goldfields.
The first collective effort made by Chinese gold diggers was the formation of their net-
works (Bowen, 2011), which were mainly aimed at organising basic supplies includ-
ing accommodation, equipment, food and clothing. This challenged what European
gold diggers were used to. The networks meant that the Chinese stopped buying sup-
plies from European merchants. It was at that time seen as a serious economic threat
to Europeans, resulting in hostility towards the Chinese (Reeves, 2009).

Contrary to the earlier understanding that Chinese diggers spread around Australia
after the gold rush and died out after a considerable decrease in their numbers by about
two-thirds (Clark, 1969; Willard, 1967), numerous studies have recorded their efforts

3 This refers to the ‘White Australia’ policy that was introduced in 1901, when Australia became a fed-
eration, through two pieces of legislation: the Immigration Restriction Act 1901 and the Pacific Island
Labourers Act 1901. These two acts restricted nonwhite immigrants to Australia, and the associated pol-
icies and practises became known as the ‘White Australia’ policy. It was then progressively abandoned
between 1949 and 1973 (Fitzgerald, 2007; Gao, 2011; Yuan, 2001).

4 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

to stay in Australia, as they ventured into small businesses in towns and cities (Choi,
1975; Cronin, 1982; Wang, 2001).

After the gold rush of the 1850s, the ‘establishing stage’ of early Chinese set-
tlement in colonial Australia began. Over this period, Chinese diggers were making
efforts to find other livelihoods to avoid rivalries with European diggers. From the
early 1860s, there was a gradual occupational shift of the Chinese, from gold m­ ining,
to other ­alternative livelihoods, initially market gardening (McGowan, 2004), to fur-
niture making and laundering (Huck, 1970; Yong, 1977). In Victoria, around one-
third of the Chinese worked in market gardening in the late 1860s, and the number
increased to about 50% by 1901.

The occupational shift of Chinese immigrants during this period was also met with
difficulties and resistance. European diggers were also suffering from the decreasing
yields of the goldfields. Furniture making and laundries became a new focus of labour
unrest against the Chinese in both Sydney and Melbourne (Denoon, Mein-Smith, &
Wyndham, 2000). Victoria and New South Wales enjoyed a few years of prosperity
after the early years of the gold rush; the populations were growing and economies in
nongold sectors were booming. At the time, both furniture making and laundries were
profitable industries. A number of discriminatory legislations against various Chinese
businesses were soon passed, restricting the hours that the Chinese could work in
laundries and the furniture trade, because unionists representing white workers tried
to push the Chinese out of these profitable industries (Kee, 1992). However, because
of the shortage of labourers, especially in the prosperous 1880s, the Chinese survived.
Furniture made by the Chinese had to be stamped as made by non-Europeans, yet
these actions did not push the Chinese out of the industry. In some small urban cen-
tres and townships, they even managed to monopolise the furniture-making industry
(Griffiths, 2006; Markus, 1979).

As a direct result of the occupational shift, Chinese settlers began to move into
local towns and cities. According to Choi (1975), only about 1.5% of the Chinese
population in New South Wales lived in Sydney in 1861, but the percentage reached
4.7% in 1871 and then almost 13% in 1881, 26.4% in 1891 and 34% in 1901. The con-
centration of the Chinese population in big urban centres created new opportunities
for them. There were as many as 799 Chinese stores and grocers in New South Wales
by 1901. In Victoria, 168 small furniture factories, one-third of the total number of
factories, were Chinese-owned. Chinese workers accounted for about 31% of laundry
workers in 1912.

Import–export businesses were also on the rise when the goldfields were no lon-
ger able to provide adequate incomes, and more Chinese were moving into new em-
ployment in new locations. Running import–export businesses required better English
language skills, networks and investment, but there were a number of Chinese-run
import–export businesses in operation in Melbourne and Sydney in the late 1870s
(Collins, 2002; Kuo, 2009). The emergence of this category of business was an in-
dicator of how the Chinese were established in and integrated into the economic and
social life of Australia.

The push–pull forces behind the Chinese migration of the late nineteenth century
started changing after a few decades of economic development in China, ­predominantly

Introduction to the Chinese in Australia 5

driven by the Yangwu Yundong (Westernisation Movement), which was initiated in
the 1860s (Huters, 2005; Scott, 2008). As a result, the attraction of an economically
revitalised China, especially South China, increased noticeably. The direction of the
push–pull dynamics shifted in favour of the return migration to China. The pull of
China was then strengthened by the collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, which was
followed by a period of prosperity in China. This led to a sharp decline in the number
of Chinese settlers in Australia, as many migrants returned to China and there were
no new migrants coming from China. Those who remained entered the next phase of
the Chinese settlement in Australia, which was characterised by efforts to consolidate
what their community had achieved.

In this consolidation phase, which largely overlapped with the early years of ‘White
Australia’, the Chinese who stayed in Australia not only survived but continued to estab-
lish and operate profitable businesses. This period saw the expansion of Chinatowns na-
tionwide and confirmed the establishment of several Chinese communities in Australia.
The communities formed more trade associations to protect their businesses and other
community interests, because more Chinese families ran factories, shops, restaurants
and laundries, while many others remained active in the import–export trade.

Their success in businesses resulted in the formation of a sizable middle-class
and better educated younger generations. They also maintained and consolidated
a community tradition, initiated by Donghua Xinbao (The Tung Wah News) in the
late 1890s, of being politically associated with the ruling party in China. Before the
collapse of the Qing dynasty in 1911, Donghua Xinbao supported the reformist pol-
icies of Emperor Guangxu in late-Qing China and was even directly involved in var-
ious activities of the Society for Protecting the Emperor (Liu, 1989). After the 1911
Republican Revolution, it turned to support the Guomindang (GMD), the Nationalist
Party (which was once spelt Kuomintang (KMT)). This consolidation phase did
not lead to the organisation of Chinese language schools, but the community-based
press was further developed with the publication of Jingdong Xinbao (Arouse the
Orient News). The newspaper was then called Minbao (Civic News) to show its link
to GMD's Minguo Bao (The Republican News). In the same period, Chinese com-
munities also published Aiguo Bao (Patriotic News) and several other newspapers
(Fitzgerald, 2007; Yuan, 2001).

The Colombo Plan was launched in 1950, well before the official end of the ‘White
Australia’ policy, which occurred in 1973. This particular plan brought, directly and
indirectly, thousands of young students of Chinese ancestry from several Southeast
Asian countries to Australia (Oakman, 2004). The plan can be considered as the start
of the diversification and revitalisation of the Chinese community (Huck, 1970; Ryan,
2003) and the beginning of the second chapter of Chinese settlement in Australia.

At the end of World War II, Australia was suffering from a serious shortage of
labour, and there was a growing awareness that a population growth was the key to its
future growth. The government designed a large-scale immigration programme and
implemented it after the war. However, the ‘White Australia’ policy resulted in post-
war immigrants being predominantly recruited from the United Kingdom and Ireland
first and then from continental Europe. The Chinese and other ‘nonwhites’ were ex-
cluded from the planned immigration programmes. What was really ironic was that

6 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

when a large number of immigrants were arriving from European countries, many of
whom were on government-assisted passages, Arthur Calwell, Australia's first ever
minister for immigration, asked all the Chinese war evacuees from the Pacific to leave
Australia, now that the war was over (Yuan, 2001).

Though the Colombo Plan was seen as a post-colonial or post-war initiative to
maintain British influence in South and Southeast Asia (Oakman, 2004), it benefited
the Chinese community in Australia. The plan was not simply an overseas student
education plan as many thought, and it has had a deep impact on many aspects of
Australian society, especially on the Chinese community. According to Oakman
(2004), only about 20,000 Asian students arrived between 1950 and the early 1980s
under the official scheme. At the same time, the plan paved the way for Australian uni-
versities, colleges and schools to open their doors to privately funded Asian students.
The number of these was believed to be more than five times greater than the number
of official Colombo students (Hull, 2003; Oakman, 2004). Many official Colombo stu-
dents and a very high portion of privately funded students from Southeast Asian coun-
tries were of Chinese origin (Shum, 2001). Unlike those living in Australia during and
after the gold rush, these new young Asian students were able to speak English, were
from middle-class or even upper-middle-class backgrounds and excelled at academic
studies. While studying and living in Australia, many played a helpful role in ne-
gotiating cultural differences between Anglo-Australians and Chinese settlers (Yuan,
2001). A benefit that the plan did not anticipate was that those Asian students helped
to ‘remove a lot of the fear about the Asian people’ (Hull, 2003, p. 2).

More importantly to the Chinese settlement, many of those young Chinese students
stayed in Australia after their courses finished or migrated back to Australia after
working in their original countries for a while, which added a large group of educated
Chinese to the community. An outstanding example is Dr. Victor Chang, a Chinese-
Australian cardiac surgeon and a pioneer of modern heart transplantation. Though he
was not a Colombo Plan student, Dr. Chang came to study in Australia in 1953 as a
privately funded student. He is widely regarded as an Australian hero, and after his
tragic death in 1991, he was named ‘the Australian of the Century’ (Mealey, 1999).

The starting point of the Australian education export sector could, therefore, be
traced to the early 1950s, and two of the stages of the post-war Chinese settlement in
Australia (i.e. the diversification and current ‘model community’ stages) were direct
outcomes of the formation and expansion of this sector. As a result, education has
been an important mechanism ever since the Colombo Plan for the movement of eth-
nic Chinese population to Australia, despite occupational and educational criteria that
have been progressively added to the immigration selection process since the first half
of the 1980s when trade and economy became ‘a major focus of immigration policy’
(DIMA, 2001, p. 12). The use of education as an important entry or selection criterion
was never intended as a vehicle to increase direct immigration from mainland China,
but it has been very helpful for Australia to attract the remigration of Chinese living in
some Southeast Asian countries, transform the ethnic Chinese community in Australia
and subsequently subdue racial phobias among many white Australians.

Since the settlement in Australia of large groups of Asian students under the
Colombo Plan, the Chinese have gradually become visible among the professions,

Introduction to the Chinese in Australia 7

especially in the areas of accounting, engineering, medicine, teaching and academia,
civil service and law. At the same time, significant numbers have continued to earn a
living through what the Chinese call sanbadao (the ‘three knives’ or ‘three blades’,
i.e. the chef's knife, tailor's scissors and barber's razor) (Liu-Farrer, 2009; Zhao, 2010).
The transformation in dominant occupations from market gardening, furniture making
and laundries started in the 1950s and 1960s.

The 1970s was a decade of significant social and political transformation in
Australia. Australians' views on war, the role of women, immigration and labour rights
all underwent far-reaching changes. When Whitlam's Labor government was elected
to power in 1972 after 23 years of Liberal rule, not only did it withdraw Australian
troops from Vietnam, but also it introduced many domestic changes (Viviani, 1996),
including the abolition of the ‘White Australia’ policy in 1973. As a result, hundreds of
thousands of immigrants from Asia and the Middle East were admitted into Australia
in the late 1970s and 1980s, including many boat people from Vietnam. At the same
time, the concept and practise of multiculturalism were also introduced (Jupp, 1995),
providing new immigrants with a cultural space to maintain their heritage and identity.
The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 endorsed multiculturalism as a state policy and
was accepted by the major political parties in Australia (Jupp, 1995).

Australia's post-war (1945–1965) nation-building strategy did place a new empha-
sis on immigration (DIMA, 2001). Though the great majority of its earlier immigration
intakes were from Europe, including countries of both the capitalist West and socialist
East, from the 1970s, it began accepting large groups of Indochinese boat refugees.
In the first ten years after the first boat arrival in 1976, Australia accepted and settled
about 100,000 Indochinese refugees. The number doubled in the following ten years
(Coughlan, 2001; Jordens, 2001). Of the thousands of Indochinese refugees, Coughlan
(2001) believed more than one-quarter to be of Chinese origin; Jordens (2001) be-
lieved the figure was closer to half. On a moderate estimate, the Indochinese arrivals
added over 50,000 new members to the ethnic Chinese community in Australia.

The acceptance of Indochinese boat people from the 1970s was beyond the Australian
government's control (Ang, 1997) and impeded Australia's new i­mmigration strategy
to attract educated Asians, but the steady intake of many immigrants of Chinese origin
from other Asian countries helped change the ethnic Chinese community dramatically.
From a small ethnic community with fewer than 10,000 in Australia in the late 1940s,
around only 13,000 in 1954 and 50,000 in 1976, the number of people claiming pri-
mary and secondary Chinese origin in Australia in 1986 had reached no fewer than
200,000 (Kee, 1992). The largest increase occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The 1986 Census of Australia indicated that the Chinese did not rank highly in wealth
accumulation, partly because of the intake of hundreds of thousands of Indochinese
refugees. However, also in the 1980s, the Chinese population already displayed sig-
nificant achievements in education. The proportions of those with a tertiary education
were 13% (first generation of Chinese settlers), 16.4% (second generation) and 10%
(third generation). At the time, the national average in Australia was as low as 5.4%
(Kee, 1992). The emphasis on education and training laid a solid foundation for mas-
sive upwards social mobility of the Chinese-Australian population in the 1990s and

8 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

1.2  Chinese students in the late 1980s

Apart from a small number of Chinese who were attracted by the communist success
in mainland China in the late 1940s and early 1950s and returned, and a very handful
of the so-called touduke who had run away from the Chinese mainland before the late
1970s, permanent movements of people between the Chinese mainland and the out-
side world stopped for almost three decades after 1949. Australia also did not receive a
large number of immigrants from China until the Australian-Chinese Family Reunion
Agreement became effective from the mid-1970s. This agreement was initiated by
Prime Minister Gough Whitlam when he met Zhou Enlai in early 1973 (Hocking,
2013; Simington, 1985; Woodard, 1985), and many thousands of Chinese nationals,
many of them from China's Uyghur regions in Xinjiang, migrated to Australia.

Australia resumed significant direct immigration from the Chinese mainland in the
late 1980s and early 1990s in a very peculiar fashion. Tens of thousands of Chinese
students came to Australia under its ELICOS scheme in the mid-1980s, and almost
all of them, totalling up to about 45,000, were given a four-year temporary residency
permit after the June 4 incident of 1989. They were given permanent residency in
1993 (Gao, 2001, 2006a, 2009). The presence of these Chinese students in Australia
resulted from a significant and rapid expansion of the Australian education export
sector in the mid-1980s. In late 1986, within only a few months of the introduction of
the ELICOS scheme, the real goal of which was to earn foreign currency to save the
vocational and training education sector that was in serious trouble (Marginson, 1997;
Wang & Lai, 1987), a small group of students from the Chinese mainland began to
arrive in Australia.

At the same time, many significant sociopolitical changes were also taking place
in China, including a strategy to send thousands of young Chinese to study abroad
(Orleans, 1988; Pieke, 1998). This part of China's open-door policy was so tempting
that a social craze emerged in the early 1980s called ‘the tide of going abroad’, named
after a popular newspaper serial recounting how young Chinese tried to be part of the
new trend (Hu, 1988). The tide became more forceful after the first major setback
to China's economic reform in 1984 (Goldman, 1994; Luo, 1988). At the time, the
United States was the most favoured destination among Chinese for studying abroad,
but it insisted on only taking graduate and research students, whereas a few compet-
ing countries, such as Canada, Germany, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, quickly
identified a new market segment for themselves, or precisely for the vocational and
training education sector, which was language education. Once the ELICOS scheme
was put into action in 1986, a few hundred Chinese students came to Australia in the
second half of 1986 to take some ELICOS courses.

While the number of Chinese students did not dominate the overseas student market
in Australia at the time, the new interest of many young Chinese in studying overseas,
along with Australia's efforts to attract more students from Asian countries to take var-
ious ELICOS courses, resulted in a steady flow of PRC students to Australia. Although
China was poor then, it was potentially the biggest market in the world and soon be-
came a prime target for Australia's language export industry. A number of ELICOS
colleges started to promote their courses heavily there. A few colleges even set up

Introduction to the Chinese in Australia 9

offices in the larger urban centres in China. Their message was very simple: a half-year
in Australia including living costs for only AU$5000 (Wang, 1987; Wang & Lai, 1987).
It was because of such promotion that a so-called Australia fever emerged in China.
The ‘fever’ firstly appeared in Guangdong province, where young people were directly
influenced by Hong Kong and its panic pre-1997 transition, which was in full swing.
As Chan (1997) pointed out, Hong Kong was losing, on average, over 1% of its total
population annually to Canada, the United States, Australia and several other countries.

While ‘the tide of going abroad’ was also in full swing in China, the ‘Australia
fever’ promptly spread from Guangdong province to other big Chinese cities. The
attention of a large number of Chinese – especially many who were not qualified to
study in the most preferred country, the United States – turned to Australia, one of
several countries competing in the global foreign student market by offering language
courses. Australian efforts to export English language education even set two records
in the history of the PRC. First, one ELICOS college became the first foreign educa-
tion body to advertise its course in a reputable, official Chinese national newspaper
(Wang, 1987; Yang, 1988). Second, and with far-reaching consequences, in order to
cool down the ‘Australia fever’ in several Chinese cities effectively and quickly, the
Australian Embassy in Beijing made use of the services of the official Chinese me-
dia. In June 1987, the Australian Embassy held three press conferences, in Beijing,
Shanghai and Guangzhou, to refute the rumour that there would be an amnesty for all
unauthorised migrants residing in Australia when the country celebrated its bicente-
nary in 1988. All the major newspapers in those cities carried similar reports: there
would be ‘no amnesty when Australia celebrates its bicentenary’ (People's Daily, 26
June 1987; Wang & Lai, 1987).

However, so extraordinary were the press conferences and the information and so
practised were Chinese people at the time at reading messages that the statement was
read in an unanticipated way: many readers were convinced that its real meaning was that
Australia needed more Chinese labour. It also seemed to them that Australia was different
from other countries because it would provide foreign students not only with a chance to
study but also with the possibility of staying permanently (Yang, 1988; Gao, 2001). These
misreadings and other rumours made Australian language schools even more attractive.
Australia, which had been known as the ‘new gold mountain’ at the time of the gold rush,
in comparison with the ‘old gold mountain’ of San Francisco, was rediscovered by many
young Chinese (Clark, 1969; Fitzgerald, 2007; Rolls, 1992; Yuan, 2001).

In 1988, the Chinese students who were recruited by many new ELICOS colleges
came to Australia in large groups. The number of new arrivals doubled shortly before
June 1989. It was estimated that over 100,000 Chinese students studied in Australia
from 1986 to 1989 (Fung & Chen, 1996). Shortly after the Tiananmen Square incident
that occurred on 4 June 1989, the Australian government published the number of
Chinese nationals living in Australia on 4 June 1989 as 15,405 (Birrell, 1994; Gao,
2001; Jupp, 1991). However, the number then increased significantly because none
of the ELICOS colleges wanted to refund the tuition fees that thousands of Chinese
students had already paid, though they had not yet arrived in Australia by 4 June
1989. To help ELICOS colleges keep the money, the Australian government made
a few changes to tighten the screening procedures for visa applications and allow

10 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

more Chinese students to come to Australia to start their ELICOS courses a couple of
months after the June 4 incident (DILGEA, 1990).

The June 4 incident marked the occasion when Australia joined a number of Western
countries to provide protection for Chinese nationals living within their borders. As a
result, two days after June 4, all the PRC nationals whose temporary entry permits had
expired, or were about to expire after 4 June, were given short, temporary protection
visas until 31 July 1989 (The Australian, 7 June 1989). These PRC students were then
given two similar short temporary protection visas within six or so months (Cronin,
1993; DILGEA, 1990). A later development of Australia's approach to the student issue,
combined with changes to the Migration Act 1958 and other regulations, had resulted
in a slow and complicated process in dealing with the protection of PRC students. At its
simplest, its approach included four unconditional temporary protection visa extensions,
which allowed all the PRC students to apply for residency on humanitarian grounds or
through the refugee programme and took a different approach from both legal visa hold-
ers and those who overstayed their visas (Birrell, 1994; Gao, 2013a).

In early December 1989, before the second temporary visa extension reached half
of its term, the government announced that it would extend protection until January
1991 and that the cut-off date for students to remain protected was 20 June 1989.
The number of students in this category increased to 19,640 (Jupp, 1991). At the
same time, the Australian migration offices in China resumed processing visas for
new students from early October 1989, and approximately 25,000 arrived soon after.
Therefore, the Chinese nationals who struggled to stay in Australia after the June 4
incident of 1989 consisted of two major groups: the ‘pre-20 June group’ and the ‘post-
20 June group’. The events of June 4 changed the nature of the ‘tide of going abroad’,
turning the great majority of Chinese students studying overseas in the 1980s into a
new generation of Chinese migrants.

Since the mid-1980s, especially in the early 1990s, many thousands of Chinese
students and migrants have arrived in Australia every year (Forster, 1996; Fung
& Chen, 1996). If viewing the resumption of Chinese immigration to Australia
from a different angle, the final decision of 1993 to allow around 45,000 Chinese
students to stay in Australia was part of Australia's historic shift towards Asia.
This historical shift was initiated by both Whitlam's Labor government and Fraser's
Liberal government in the 1970s and early 1980s and vigorously advocated in the
1980s and 1990s by the next two Labor prime ministers, Bob Hawke and Paul
Keating. In fact, Sino-Australian trade amounted to US$1.27 billion in 1980, and
Australia was China's fifth biggest trading partner (Huan, 1985). It was also in
1980 that Australia already achieved a trade surplus of about AU$650 million with
China (Fung & Mackerras, 1985), and ‘the annual growth rate averaged 24.5% al-
most twice Australia's total export growth rate’ (Woodard, 1997, p. 147). Australia
clearly saw greater trade potential in China than in other countries in the early
1980s. By the mid-1980s, Australia had effectively integrated itself into the Asia-
Pacific economy, and more than 60% of its total foreign trade was conducted in
Asia and the Pacific (Humphreys, 1985).

As a result, despite being regularly distracted by numerous pessimistic comments
about China, Australian policymakers found China's potential as a trading partner too

Introduction to the Chinese in Australia 11

good to be ignored. While Australia was making efforts to integrate its economy into
the rapidly developing Chinese economy and connect its economic restructuring to
China's modernisation, the renewed interest of young Chinese in studying abroad and
Australia's ELICOS programme brought thousands of Chinese students to Australia.

The 1993 decisions to allow 45,000 or so Chinese students to stay permanently
were not made without consideration of Australia's long-term and strategic national
interests. As a strong and forceful advocate of integration with Asia, Keating made
the decision that was flawlessly timed to coincide with a new phase of China's re-
form, accelerated by Deng Xiaoping's well-known inspection tour to southern China
in early 1992. Despite the humanitarian nature of the Chinese student issue, this
perfect piece of Keating's ‘Asianisation’ policies (Cotton & Ravenhill, 1997, p. 12)
not only ­reemphasised education and skills in the immigration selection but also
included an understanding of the potential of human capital for Australia's future
relations with China and the region. This was why The Herald, one of the forerun-
ners of Melbourne's Herald Sun, published an editorial as early as 1990 declaring the
decision to let the PRC students stay permanently as ‘China's loss is our gain’ (The
Herald, 7 June 1990).

Over the course of dealing with the Chinese student issue of the late 1980s and early
1990s, the Labor governments of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating had three ministers look
after the immigration department: Robert Ray (September 1988–April 1990), Gerry
Hand (April 1990–March 1993) and Nick Bolkus (March 1993–1996). As a member of
the Federal Parliament (MP) representing the left faction of the Australian Labor Party
(ALP), Gerry Hand once used the number of students and the low level of their qualifi-
cations to argue against a blanket approach to deal with the student issue (Easterbrook,
1992). Hand was ‘dumped’, or retired, from his position soon after making the com-
ment, which was said to be potentially damaging to the ALP's ethnic support.

However, Gerry Hand's successor, Nick Bolkus, publicly praised the students as
‘an enormously highly talented group of people’ based on research conducted by re-
searchers of his department (Banham, 2003, n.p.). Nick Bolkus later recalled that his
department carefully ‘went through the profile of the students, and discovered that we
had within our shores some of the crème of young China’ (Bourke, 2009, n.p.). The
post-1993 Chinese migration to Australia has had more selective policies than previ-
ously, a key change of which was a new criterion: a capacity to invest.4 In general, the

4 The Howard Coalition government (1996–2007) was in power for eleven years for the past two decades,
during which immigration policy became even more central to Australia's nation-building and economic
growth strategies. One of the many changes tried by the Howard government was to allow a large number
of foreign students to seek permanent residency under its onshore skilled migration policy. The students
from mainland China were well represented in this category, which once had a significant impact on
Australia's international education sector. At the same time, more Chinese migrated to Australia under
its offshore skilled and business migrant categories. All these policy focuses and measures have resulted
in an annual intake of thousands of Chinese, making China the third-largest source of overseas-born
Australians. Lately, attention has also been given to the capacity to invest in Australia. By the end of the
1990s, approximately 80 percent of business migrants were of Chinese origin (Jordens, 2001, p. 69). This
trend has continued in the past ten years, for example, around 84 percent of sponsored business migrants
in Victoria were from China in the mid-2000s (Allan, 2006). Since the Global Financial Crisis of 2008,
China has been the first source country in the business and skilled immigration categories (DIAC, 2010b).

12 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

Chinese student issue of the late 1980s and early 1990s helped Australia develop its
new immigration selection trilogy of educational qualifications, skills and the capacity
to invest.

Several studies, including some of my own, identified that the new Chinese mi-
grant population included a large number of members of the Chinese Communist
Party (CCP) and the Chinese Communist Youth League (CCYL). Many of them were
CCP or CCLY branch leaders, and some held mid-level positions (Wang, 1987; Wang
& Lai, 1987). There were also a large number of middle- and high-ranking research-
ers and other professionals, such as engineers and journalists, from the top universi-
ties, research institutes and other prestigious institutions in China. There were even
some mid- and high-ranking policy advisers and bureaucrats who had worked in
China's party-state systems at central and local levels. In fact, a small proportion of
them belonged to privileged Chinese social classes or groups and were the sons and
daughters of senior or high-ranking government officials, CCP members or senior
officers of the People's Liberation Army (PLA). A higher than average percentage
of them had spent years in the PLA and many had then become CCP members (Gao,
2013a). Even if many were not connected to big institutions in China, they all had
very strong sociopolitical skills, experience and confidence, because they had all
grown up in a China that had been highly politicised and emotionally charged for
several decades.

As a direct result of the settlement of 45,000 or so Chinese nationals in Australia
in the early 1990s, Australia has seen a very rapid and considerable increase in the
Chinese-speaking population. The estimated number of ethnic Chinese living in
Australia in 1986 was approximately 200,000 (Kee, 1992), but ten years later, the
1996 Census recorded as many as 343,523 Australian residents identifying themselves
as speakers of ‘the Chinese varieties’ (Clyne & Kipp, 1999). Since the mid-1990s, the
number of Australian residents claiming Chinese origin has been rapidly increasing.
The 2001 Census showed that the number of speakers of Chinese had increased to
about 401,300 (ABS, 2001) and that more than 555,500 Australian residents self-­
identified as being of Chinese ancestry (Chan, 2005). In the past ten or so years, these
figures have increased significantly. In 2006, the number of people claiming to be of
Chinese origin rose to about 669,900 (ABS, 2007). The 2006 Census also showed
that the largest group of overseas-born in Australia were still those born in Britain
and New Zealand, but the China-born population had moved up, from seventh place
on the list in 1996 to third place (ABS, 2007). In 30 June 2009, the number of China-
born residents in Australia had increased to about 351,000 (DIAC, 2010a). According
to the 2011 Census data, there were around 866,200 Australian residents claiming
Chinese origin, and as many as 74% of them were the first generation in Australia
(ABS, 2012a). Considering a range of limitations in the census designs, such as listing
Australia as a country of ancestry and excluding grandparents' countries of birth, the
Chinese population in Australia is believed to be higher, almost certainly just above
one million, than what the latest census indicated. One of the foremost factors in this
increase was the inflow of students from mainland China. It was since the acceptance
of 45,000 or so Chinese students in 1993 that the Chinese community as a whole has
entered its current ‘model community’ phase.

Introduction to the Chinese in Australia 13

1.3  Current literature on Chinese entrepreneurship

The expansion of the Chinese community in Australia and the experiences of new
PRC migrants have been researched and analysed in a number of ways, resulting in a
large number of scholarly publications. For that reason, the existing literature on the
Chinese in Australia could be broadly categorised into two types, depending on the
focus of research.

The first category of research is oriented to mainstream society. It is focused
on documenting and analysing how the Chinese in Australia were mistreated or
­misunderstood in the nineteenth century, including drawing on the early Chinese ex-
perience in a wide range of genres and social contexts (e.g. Cronin, 1982; Fitzgerald,
2007; Huck, 1970; Jose, 1995; Kuhn, 2008; Palfreeman, 1967; Price, 1983; Rolls,
1992; Ryan, 1995; Ryan, 2003; Willard, 1967). Some studies have also related the
Chinese experiences in Australia to broader issues, such as racism and its global
and historical contexts, capitalism and multiculturalism in Australia (Brawley, 1995;
Fitzgerald, 2007, 2012; Jakubowicz, 2011; Lake & Reynolds, 2008; Markus, 1979).
According to Tung (2005, p. 34), there were also many studies that looked at specific
geographic regions, smaller localities, Chinatowns, family networks and trade activ-
ities of earlier groups of Chinese settlers and immigrants (Atkinson, 1995; Brumley,
1995; Comber, 1995; Couchman, 1995; Fitzgerald, 2001; Lydon, 1999; May, 1984;
McCarthy, 1995; McGowan, 2004; Wilton, 1995).

The second category of research is oriented to the Chinese community itself.
There are various studies on premigration experiences of new Chinese migrants
and the various factors that affected their decision to come to Australia (Coughlan,
1996, 1998; Harris & Ryan, 1998; Ho & Coughlan, 1997; Kee & Skeldon, 1994;
Sun, 2002; Wang & Lai, 1987; Yang, 1988). A small number of publications have
also documented how Chinese students obtained the right to stay in Australia af-
ter 1989 (Birrell, 1994; Gao, 2001, 2006a, 2009, 2011; Gao & Liu, 2002; Jose,
1995). Since the mid-1990s and especially from the 2000s, more scholars have
turned their attention to postarrival experiences of Chinese immigrants to focus
on a range of settlement-related issues (Chan, 2005; Choi, 1975; Kee, 1988, 1992,
1995, 1997; Khoo & Mak, 2003). These research topics include changing percep-
tions of Australia and China (Forth, 1994; Fung & Chen, 1996; Ip, Chung-Tong,
& Inglis, 1998; Ngan & Chan, 2012), family life (Chiang, 2004a; Crissman, 1991;
Pe-Pua, Mitchell, Castles, & Iredale, 1998), identity and transnationality (Ang,
2000; Chiang & Yang, 2008; Fung & Chen, 1996; Gao, 2006b; Ip, Inglis, & Chung
Tong, 1997; Kuo, 2009; Lee, 2006; Ngan, 2008; Tan, 2006), media consumption
and cultural life (Gao, 2006c; Sinclair, Yue, Hawkins, Kee, & Fox, 2000; Sun,
2005; Sun et al., 2011; Yue, 2000) and social mobility (Chiang, 2004b; Gao, 2013a;
Hugo, 2008; Ip, 2001; Wu, 2003; Wu, Ip, Inglis, Kawakami, & Duivenoorden,
1998). Also explored are gender issues (Cooke, Zhang, & Wang, 2013; Da, 2004;
Hibbins, 2005; Hibbins, 2006; Ho, 2006; Ho, 2008; Ryan, 2003; Syed & Murray,
2009; Yue, 2008), health and ageing issues (Guo, 2005; Lo & Russell, 2007; Tan,
Ward, & Ziaian, 2010; Yan, 2005) and some education and intergenerational issues
(Dooley, 2003; Ngan, 2008).

14 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

Among research publications of the second category, there are some aimed at ex-
amining issues specifically related to the occupational adjustment of a few differ-
ent groups of Chinese immigrants (Chiang, 2004b; Cooke et al., 2013; Hugo, 2008;
Iredale, 1983; Wu et al., 1998) and their family businesses and entrepreneurship
(Collins, 2002; Collins & Low, 2010; Dai, Wang, & Teo, 2011; Ip, 2007, 1993; Lever-
Tracy & Ip, 2005; Lever-Tracy, Ip, Kitay, Phillips, & Tracy, 1991; S. Liu, 2011; Lund,
Woods, Hibbins, & Barker, 2006; Ye, Parris, & Waddell, 2010; Yu, 2001). These
studies have identified and focused on a key aspect of postmigration life, which is
the means of livelihood of new migrants, and have continued the scholarly tradition
of studying the entrepreneurship of overseas Chinese (Ch’ng, 1993; Dobbin, 1996;
Godley, 1981; Weidenbaum & Hughes, 1996). In more recent years, due to Asian
economic growth, the topic of entrepreneurship, ethnic entrepreneurship in particular,
has attracted more attention than before, and a large number of recent studies have
examined the causes and consequences of ethnic Chinese entrepreneurship and re-
lated conceptual issues (Li, 2007; Morrison, 2006; Zhou, 2004). As part of this global
trend, researchers have sought to explain Chinese immigrant entrepreneurship in
Australia, the topics of which include the impact of social and human capital (Collins
& Low, 2010; Dai et al., 2011; Lund et al., 2006; Sequeira & Rasheed, 2006) and
the inevitable relationship between them (Peters, 2002b; Zolin, Chang, Yang, & Ho,
2011), the integration experience of some Chinese entrepreneurs (S. Liu, 2011), inter-
generational succession (Ye et al., 2010), their role in trade and commerce (Tung &
Chung, 2010) and the related transnationalism and dynamism (Gao, 2006b; J. Hsu,
2009; Selvarajah, Chelliah, & Lee, 2012; Selvarajah & Masli, 2011).

Despite all of these achievements, the depth and scope of such research efforts still
lag far behind the rapid expansion of the new mainland Chinese migrant community
in Australia, and research outcomes are insufficient to provide guidance on the topic
of how to understand this economically and socially active community. The lack of
adequate research efforts has led to significant gaps in existing research literature, as
well as in the understanding of the growing Chinese community in Australia. Three
such noteworthy gaps are significant for this research.

First, insufficient analysis has been undertaken on Chinese migrants' entrepreneur-
ial efforts and their home country and region, including their relationship with their
home country or region. Though some studies have identified and focused on crucial
aspects of migration life and carried on the academic practise of examining the entre-
preneurship of overseas-born Chinese, many of them are still limited to an Australia-
centric approach. As a result, too much attention has been devoted to how the Chinese
migrants have adjusted to Australian ways of life, especially to its employment envi-
ronments, market and networks (Dai et al., 2011; S. Liu, 2011). This type of approach
that focuses on the host country is actually rooted in the old international economic
system and its geopolitical order. It is a rather outdated perspective and is unquestion-
ably one-sided. It fails to consider the effects of globalised economies and the diversi-
fication of the world economy on global migration and settlement.

This perspective is particularly problematic in the case of new mainland Chinese
migrants, because their home country has provided many people with chances to be
economically successful over the last few decades. The decision of these Chinese

Introduction to the Chinese in Australia 15

migrants to leave China has complicated the issue even further and confused many
researchers who not only are unfamiliar with the newly emerged transnational per-
spective, as a result of their own view of the world, but also are unable to completely
comprehend what has happened outside their own sphere of research interests and
activities. Consequently, what is less explored, and what is less understandable, is
how new Chinese immigrants in Australia have responded to the transformations in
China and how they have used the chances created by China's economic growth and
Australia's historic shift towards Asia. That is, there is an obvious missing link in our
understanding of how the Chinese migrants in Australia relate to what has happened
in China.

Second, there are not sufficient and adequate examinations of overall trends, pat-
terns and main features of the Chinese experience in Australia over a longer time span.
In fact, there has been little research on the relationship between Chinese business ac-
tivities in Australia and the country's constantly changing immigration policies in the
past few decades. Their experiences are rarely examined ‘within the political economy
of the nation state’ in the words of Jakubowicz (2009, p. 115) or as an important part
of ‘the global economic restructuring process’ (Lo & Wang, 1997, p. 49). Such a gap
has not only made it impossible to answer questions on why new Chinese migrants
are so different from earlier migrants or why many are considered ‘reluctant entrepre-
neurs’ (Ip, 1993, p. 57) but also allowed anti-Chinese sentiments, such as ‘Chinese are
coming’ or ‘Chinese pushing up house prices’ (The Age, 19 September 2009; SMH
(The Sydney Morning Herald), 13 September 2013), to run mad in Australia. The
latest episode of such popular sentiment is the suggestion by a number of researchers
that ‘students who speak Mandarin at home could be barred from studying Chinese
as a second language’ (The Age, 16 October 2013). Such a proposal seems to repeat
the story of furniture making in Australia in the 1880s, when the furniture made by
Chinese labours had to be stamped as made by Chinese as part of the creation of White
Australia in the late nineteenth century (Griffiths, 2006).

Third, recent research efforts have paid some attention to a number of aspects of
ethnic entrepreneurs themselves and the entrepreneurial process (Dai et al., 2011;
S. Liu, 2011; Lund et al., 2006; Ye et al., 2010), while there are hardly any serious
studies on the ‘the synergy of entrepreneurship in community building’ (Zhou, 2004,
p. 1040; Zhou, 2009, p. 14). As Zhou also pointed out, research efforts that cannot
extend beyond various existing conceptual frameworks in understanding the causes
and consequences of ethnic entrepreneurship may well detract from the big picture
and are likely to lead to an intellectual dead end (Selvarajah & Masli, 2011; Zhou,
2004, 2009). Even if such a strong argument were made, the trend of focusing on a
set of causes and consequences of ethnic entrepreneurship and different constraints
of the existing analytic frameworks would have continued not only in Australia but
also internationally. That is to say, there are still no reliable studies of the synergy of
entrepreneurship in community building, which is a key to our understanding and
knowledge of globalised economies and modern societies.

As stated in the ‘Preface’ of this book, it is very important for Australia, even more
so than for many other countries or regions, to pay scholarly attention to the synergy of
Chinese migrant entrepreneurship in community building, as Australia relies heavily

16 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

on the Chinese economy and the entrepreneurial activities of ethnic Chinese to gain
greater access to China's market. According to several recent analyses, such as those
produced by Deloitte and the Conference Board of Canada, what has taken place in
China and other Asian countries in the past few decades has enabled Australia to
remain a very lucky country that has prospered for more than 20 years without a re-
cession, achieving a significantly higher growth rate than many other developed econ-
omies (Deloitte Access Economics, 2012). Australia is also the only major developed
economy to have avoided the 2008–2009 recession and one of only two major rich
nations to be ranked as the top economic performers in 2010 and 2011 (CBC, 2012).
These achievements are often credited to certain sections of Australian mainstream so-
ciety only, for example, a few mining companies, and the efforts of Chinese migrants
and entrepreneurs are given less credit than they deserve. This is partially because
the Chinese had previously been seen as a problem in White Australia, and even up
until now, many of their entrepreneurial activities and their contributions as well have
largely remained unnoticed and unrecognised, not only in Australia but also in China.

Leaving aside its history and its deep-rooted anti-Chinese sentiment, Australia is
not a Chinese-speaking country, which makes it very difficult for new Chinese immi-
grants to seek employment opportunities outside their own community. In the eyes of
the Chinese who migrated to Australia before the mid-1990s, Australia virtually has
no job security, making it less likely that they will enter the local workforce without
the assistance of employment agencies. In other words, without considering migrants'
efforts to be relevant to Australia and the importance of their home country in their
postmigration life, researchers have provided no reliable clue as to why the Chinese,
who were once considered as ‘undesirable aliens’ (Chan, 2005, p. 643), have been so
active economically in a country widely known for its anti-Chinese past and its recent

In fact, not much is known about the postmigration lives of many new Chinese
migrants, especially their employment, economic activities and settlement or their
attitudes, identity and transnationality. Since there are still a steady and enormous
increase in the number of Chinese in Australia and a shift in the acceptance of them by
the Australian public, the lack of knowledge of this rapidly expanding community has
not only made it difficult for decision-makers at different levels and in various sectors

5 Hansonism is to some extent seen as ‘evidence of a resistance to multiculturalism in some sections of
Australian society’ (Moore, 2001, p, 55). Its most visible targets are Aborigines and Asian immigrants.
Therefore, it is also considered ‘a set of traditional discriminatory politics that works under the guise of
‘equality’ for all Australians’ (Khoo, 2003, p. 24). But according to the-then prime minister John Howard
(1996–2007), Hansonism was actually ‘a cry from people who felt that they were missing out econom-
ically’ ( Pauline Hanson was a single mother and a fish-and-chip
shop owner in rural Queensland before being elected to the House of Representative as an independent
member in the 1996 federal election. Her background indicates that she did not have the necessary sophis-
tication for politics and she spoke about what she heard from many ordinary Australians. For more infor-
mation, readers are referred to the following books: McMaster (2001) and Kelly (2010). Readers could
also refer to Kingston, M. (1999). Off the Rails: The Pauline Hanson Trip. Sydney: Allen and Unwin;
Leach, M., Stokes, G., & Ward, I. (Eds.), (2000). The Rise and Fall of One Nation. St. Lucia, Queensland:
University of Queensland Press.

Introduction to the Chinese in Australia 17

of society to tell the difference between the new migrants and the earlier groups but
also resulted in ignorance of this part of the changing workforce and changing reality
of Australian society. Importantly, all these changes and understandings have policy
implications for the domestic workforce, international trade and the future develop-
ment of the Australian economy as a whole. The missing link has also made it im-
possible to understand how so many new Chinese migrants have survived Australia's
worst post-war recession, during much of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and how
their community has sustained itself and become one of the model communities in

In addition to Australian research on Chinese immigrant entrepreneurs, the topic
and its various aspects have also been studied internationally for decades. In the past
decade alone, several books about ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs have been published
in English (Au, Craig, & Ramachandran, 2011; Chan & Chan, 2011; Fong & Luk,
2006; Khanna, 2008; Menkhoff & Gerke, 2002; Menkhoff et al., 2013; Susanto &
Susanto, 2013; Wong, 2008; Yen, 2013). While these scholarly publications have in
effect made Chinese immigrant communities and the new breed of ethnic Chinese
entrepreneurs a trendy topic in a number of fields, such as migration studies, Asian
studies and China or Chinese studies, their themes and approaches have shown the
limits of existing approaches to the subject. These limits are even more evident when
comparing my own observations of new PRC migrants and the activities of many new
Chinese migrant entrepreneurs over the past 20 or so years with what has been written
so far.

The most obvious problem with many publications is that they are usually based
on what have been called ‘old overseas Chinese communities’, especially those living
in a number of Southeast Asian countries, and various conclusions have been drawn
accordingly (Wong, 2008; Susanto & Susanto, 2013). While there is no denying that a
high proportion of overseas Chinese have kept Chinese cultural tradition and identity,
they differ in numerous ways from those who grew up and were educated in post-
1949 China. This particular point is relevant considering that mainland China, since
1949 when the CCP came to power, has practised some different socioeconomic and
sociopolitical policies from other countries. For the same reason, there are also various
studies that are concerned with entrepreneurs of Chinese origin in particular regions,
such as Hong Kong (Chan & Chan, 2011). Although this book is not concerned with
socioeconomic or sociopolitical histories of particular Chinese regions, it is worth
pointing out that long disconnection from the Chinese mainland and its mainstream
society has created a marked difference between the people of Chinese ancestry living
in those regions and people living in mainstream society in China.

Since so many books are based on old overseas Chinese communities and a few
Chinese regions, the family-oriented approach that was strongly associated with earlier
stages of overseas Chinese entrepreneurship not only has endured but also has been
applied to various contemporary studies (Au et al., 2011; Yen, 2013). It was accurate
historically that many family-owned and family-run businesses were the main form of
ethnic Chinese entrepreneurship when they initially started their commercial opera-
tions outside their country of origin and that the family-oriented perspective was once
helpful in analysing ethnic Chinese business and their entrepreneurship. However,

18 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

recent developments and changes in the Chinese business world have significantly
diversified and complicated their businesses and operations, which has meant that
family-owned businesses are no longer the most distinguishable trait or attribute of
overseas Chinese entrepreneurship. Numerous journalistic accounts of new overseas
Chinese entrepreneurs have, in effect, made the conventional family-oriented point
of view less dominant and helpful. The same change has also been observed in oral
histories, literature, films and various other narratives. Even among family-owned
businesses, there have been many significant changes, and a wide range of new issues,
patterns and aspects have emerged. Obviously, more studies need to be conducted,
both empirical and theoretical, to reflect recent changes in Chinese migrant entrepre-
neurship and to explore the conceptual and theoretical meanings of a large number of
contemporary cases.

The excessive, narrow and outdated focus on the role of family in overseas
Chinese entrepreneurship has resulted in the perpetuation of another long-used
concept or theory: the sociocultural network, known as guanxi. For decades, this
particular point of view has been expressed in a number of different ways (Ch’ng,
1993; Gambe, 2000; Hamilton, 1991, 1996; Hsu, 1971; Limlingan, 1986). It is
primarily based on an understanding of the Confucian tradition, but has been used
to interpret modern overseas Chinese entrepreneurship without any major modifi-
cation. For example, as recently as the mid-1990s, the East Asia Analytical Unit
of Australia's federal Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade published Overseas
Chinese Business Networks in Asia, which still used kinship (or clan), place of or-
igin in the sending country, dialect or subdialect and then craft as the main factors
in analysing overseas Chinese business activities (East Asia Analytical Unit, 1995,
pp. 2, 16–17). This research unit was in fact clearly aware that the ‘Chinese busi-
ness community is itself enormously diverse and complex’ and is also ‘changing
rapidly as the economies and societies of Asia evolve’ (1995, p. iii), but the limited
research literature that was available to them meant that their attention could only
focus on theoretical views that were developed based on the early experiences of
Chinese migrants.

It was as a direct result of the extensive use of the cultural-network perspective that
the unfussy Chinese term guanxi has been theorised into a key concept and has since
been widely used to refer to a wide range of Chinese practises (Pye, 2000, p. 252). In
the report written by the East Asia Analytical Unit, Singapore's former prime minister
Lee Kuan Yew was even quoted as saying: ‘Guanxi capability will be of value for the
next twenty years at least’ (East Asia Analytical Unit, 1995, p. 195). However, it is
within the past 20 years that there have been many anecdotes and observations about
how the concept guanxi has been overused, misleading many people to make mistakes
in their business dealings. Many of these mistakes have actually made the guanxi con-
cept itself, as well as what Lee Kuan Yew predicted, less credible and valuable. Some
publications based on the guanxi approach are, therefore, in urgent need of moving be-
yond the narrow focus on the roles of family, filial morality and kinship-based groups
or links in the study of contemporary overseas Chinese entrepreneurship (Fong &
Luk, 2006; Game, 2000; Hamilton, 1996; Menkhoff & Gerke, 2002; Wong, 1998,

Introduction to the Chinese in Australia 19

It is true that, for many decades, China has benefited from its ‘diaspora dividends’
in the words of Khanna (2008, p.167), and the dividends have been significantly in-
creasing because of the rapidly changing community of Chinese migrants. A num-
ber of researchers have observed some of these changes, but have failed to adjust
their research accordingly or to put forwards convincing explanations about what has
happened in contemporary Chinese diasporic communities. Therefore, this book will
distinguish itself from the previously mentioned literature on overseas Chinese entre-
preneurs in the following key aspects.

First, this research book will focus on the people whose entrepreneurial activi-
ties have spread across several different industries and facilitated trade and cultural
contacts between Australia and China, instead of simply telling or illustrating mac-
roeconomic and sociopolitical conditions or factors and policy designs that influence
individuals. Second, this study is based on the experiences of the new migrants from
China, not on those of Chinese ancestry who have lived outside of China for several
generations, unlike almost all previously published books on this subject. This new
basis will make it possible to document and examine increasing interactions between
China and the outside world. The new Chinese migrants are mainly characterised
by experiences, viewpoints and numerous other attributes that are different from the
old overseas Chinese. This particular new breed of Chinese migrant entrepreneurs
challenges various outdated but still widely held assumptions about overseas Chinese
entrepreneurs, especially the cultural-network and institutional perspectives. The em-
phasis of this book on the individual Chinese migrants also differs from an emerging
focus on the role and importance of large Chinese companies involved in business
activities outside China (Alden, 2007; Huang, 2003; Jilberto & Hogenboom, 2010;
Nie, 2009; Voss, 2011). Third, this book is an outcome of my continuing longitudinal
research on the new Chinese migrant community in Australia since the late 1980s and
early 1990s (Gao, 2001, 2002, 2006b, 2006c, 2009, 2013a). That is, this book is based
on first-hand knowledge and decades of observation of a large group of new Chinese
migrant entrepreneurs who obtained residency in Australia in the early 1990s and have
since actively engaged in various forms of business activities. Fourth, this book in-
tends to present a dynamic process, which is sharply different from the overemphasis
on the impact of a top-down process, especially globalisation, on ethnic Chinese en-
trepreneurs. To argue for the equal importance of a bottom-up process, this book will
look closely at how different ethnic Chinese entrepreneurial activities have influenced
the opening up of Australia's tourism and international education markets and China's
‘going-out’ strategy.

1.4  Organisation of this book

Given the above-mentioned pitfalls, omissions and problems associated with the ex-
isting literature on overseas Chinese and their commercial activities, this study needed
to find a set of concepts and ideas through which the analysis of new Chinese migrant
entrepreneurs and their entrepreneurial behaviours could be meaningfully carried out.
While searching for some concepts and reviewing the existing research literature,

20 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

I was constantly thinking along the lines set out in a famous debate between Andre
Frank, an esteemed sociologist and political economist, and his Chicago cultural an-
thropologist colleague Sid Mintz over whether ‘structure matters’ or actually ‘culture
matters’ (Frank, 1998, p. xvi). Of course, as some researchers put it, it might be wise
and sensible to say ‘both matter’, even if not necessarily in identical proportion, espe-
cially as culture is considered to be ‘more mercurial than structure’ (Close & Askew,
2004, p. 67). My attention to the debate resulted in a rethinking of my long-term re-
search interest in process (Gao, 1986, 1999, 2006b, 2009, 2013a).

‘Process matters’ is not a completely new idea, and many scholars in several fields
of study have identified it as a very useful perspective (Miller, 2010; Qin & Wei,
2008; Weber, 2004; Williamson, 1993). Among scholars who advocate the idea that
‘process matters’, Mark Granovetter, an American sociologist, also put forwards an-
other new idea, the concept of embeddedness, as part of this theoretical perspective
(1985). Though the study of process was initially often conducted ‘at a very high
level of abstraction’ (Williamson, 1993, p. 111), the concept of embeddedness has
been not only brought into migration studies but also linked to the notions of human
and social capital (Coleman, 1988; Portes & Sensenbrenner, 1993; Portes & Zhou,
1992; Reed, Butler, & Lobley, 2012, p. 70). It appears to me that the combination of
the concept of human and social capital and the concept of embeddedness could be
a very useful set of theoretical frameworks and empirical tools for analysing the new
breed of ethnic Chinese entrepreneurs, and it enables this research not only to look
at the process of embedding immigrants into their new host society, especially into
‘particular sectors of the economy’ as Waldinger (2001, p. 323) pointed out, but also
to look into immigrants' capacity to embed.

As indicated, this research project carries on the theoretical journey initiated by
other migration scholars, such as Portes and Sensenbrenner (1993), to look at how
new immigrants become embedded in their host society and its networks through the
implicit nexus between embeddedness and human and social capitals. This choice
to combine these perspectives is mainly because the study of Chinese migrant entre-
preneurs is heavily influenced by the cultural perspective. In fact, many analyses of
overseas Chinese entrepreneurs appear to have been largely based on an ancient feudal
socioeconomic and sociopolitical system and a few aspects of Confucian practises.
The modern aspects of Chinese society, its population, ways of thinking, behaving
and living are, for the most part, absent from many studies. What has been overlooked
is that ‘culture is not a once-for-all influence but an ongoing process, continuously
constructed and reconstructed, during interaction’ (Granovetter, 1985, p. 486). This
problem could well be defined as the mistake of not seeing the trees for the forest,
which may result from a wide range of circumstances such as a lack of in-depth factual
knowledge of migrants or insufficient field data.

At the same time, in order to avoid not seeing the forest for the trees, this research
not only makes use of the concepts of human capital, social capital and embedded-
ness to consider how new Chinese migrants become embedded into Australian soci-
ety and economy but also looks at their entrepreneurship in three different types of
industry. Specifically, these include long-established or conventional sectors (such as
­community-based education and manufacturing), growth sectors (such as import and

Introduction to the Chinese in Australia 21

export industry and tourism) and future growth sectors (such as a transnational media
business). One of the purposes of this book is to help readers see both the trees and the
forest, offering a complete picture of what many Chinese migrants, especially Chinese
entrepreneurs, have been doing in Australia and China in the past decades at the indi-
vidual, economic sector and societal levels. Based on these, a clearer understanding of
what has been happening in the Asia-Pacific region and in new Chinese entrepreneur-
ship can hopefully be reached.

It is also worth pointing out that entrepreneurship means different things to differ-
ent people, and therefore, it could be discussed from a number of theoretical perspec-
tives (De Bruin & Dupuis, 2003; Kumar, 2008). Entrepreneurship is used in this book
to refer to actions that are novel, creative and oriented towards growth and opportu-
nity (Shane, 2008). In the case of the new mainland Chinese migrant community in
Australia, entrepreneurial activities not only are a means for economic survival but
also are helpful sociocultural processes, shaping the development of the community
and enriching community life. This book is about what is commonly called ‘a new
breed of Chinese entrepreneurs’ (Wong, 2008, p. 3) and their role in facilitating and
strengthening community-based social and economic regeneration.

In this book, the concept of cultural capital is derived from the work of Bourdieu,
who believed that ‘cultural capital acts as a social relation within a system of ex-
change that includes the accumulated cultural knowledge that confers power and
status’ (Bourdieu, 1984, p. 268). Similarly, social capital can be simply defined as ‘a
particular kind of resource available to an actor’ (Coleman, 1988, p. 98), and human
capital is widely used currently to mean individual abilities, including education,
qualifications, knowledge and wisdom, experience, skills and abilities, competencies
and insights, that enable individuals not only to act in innovative ways but also to
achieve their goals. To make this book part of a broader academic debate, this book
will also include discussion of the Chinese concept of suzhi, which has generated a
great amount of intellectual interest in the past few decades (Anagnost, 2004; Jacka,
2009; Kipnis, 2006, 2007, 2011; Sun, 2009b; Yan, 2003), but this book will use the
basic and neutral meaning of suzhi, referring to a set of desired education and train-
ing, qualifications and skills or overall readiness that helps people perform well in
work or life.

In order to examine dynamic aspects of the embeddedness framework, this book
will use the concept of embeddedness in a way that differs from the generalised way
it is used by many other researchers (Coleman, 1988; Granovetter, 1985; Uzzi, 1997),
including those who put forwards the concept of mixed embeddedness (Barrett, Jones,
& McEvoy, 2001; Kloosterman, Leun, & Rath, 1999). As noted, this study is more
interested in the dynamic side of embeddedness and sets out to look at the process
by which new immigrants become embedded into their host society and economy.
Through considering the effects of both human and social capital, this book also at-
tempts to look closely at why some migrants are more able and better equipped than
others to become embedded in the host society.

To convincingly explain how some Chinese immigrants in Australia have trans-
formed themselves from new arrivals to active business operators and have effectively
maintained and expanded their competitiveness in the market for a couple of decades,

22 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

this book has five main chapters detailing how new Chinese migrant entrepreneurship
has, since the early 1990s, developed and thrived in Australia in several sectors.

Chapter 2 looks at the New Gold Mountain School, or Xin Jin Shan as it is called
in the community. Established in Melbourne in the early 1990s, the school is regarded
as the first and most successful of a number of Chinese schools and coaching centres
that new migrants have established in major Australian cities since the early 1990s.
Schools, newspapers and associations have traditionally been seen as three pillars of
Chinese communities (Gao, 2006c; Sun, 2006); however, Xin Jin Shan has gone be-
yond the educational practises that are regarded as traditional and normal and helped
numerous children of migrant families to succeed in school education. The practises
advocated by the school have not only acted as a game changer for new migrant fam-
ilies but also been a factor in driving changes in attitudes and practises in other com-
munities as well.

Chapter 3 examines another successful new migrant business called Yellow Earth,
which started as a small sheepskin-tanning business, but has progressively developed
into the largest manufacturer and supplier of Australian sheepskin products. Thanks to
its role in making Australian sheepskin boots and other products a new fashion item
in China, Yellow Earth was one of the few Australian companies showcased in the
Australian Pavilion at the 2011 World Expo in Shanghai. This is an almost textbook
case of how migration helps open up new markets, reduce international trade barriers
and foster economic development. This case is all the more remarkable considering
that sheepskins were useless in wealthy Western countries like Australia, where the
cost of manufacturing the boots would have been prohibitively high, and the owner of
Yellow Earth had the idea and skills to turn seemingly useless by-products into high-
priced fashion items in Asian markets, earning himself a significant profit.

Chapter 4 is concerned with how Chinese televisions were first imported into
Australia by a company set up by a couple of new Chinese migrants, which became
the first and largest Chinese importer of televisions. After being granted residency in
Australia in 1993, the founder of Pebble visited China and brought back a Shenzhen-
made Konka television. Although the television did not work in Australia as it used
a different system, it was Pebble's first venture in Australia. In 2003, about ten years
after the first television was brought to Australia, the sale of Konka televisions reached
about 10% of the market share, which then peaked at above 20% in 2004, making
Konka the second-most popular brand of television set in Australia by 2008. The ex-
port of electronic products was a vital step in China's first round of its ‘going-out’
strategy, and this case will reveal how the tactic was put into action at the company

Chapter 5 moves on to examine how Chinese migrant entrepreneurial activities
have facilitated the opening up of two tightly closed doors: China's door to allow
its people to travel worldwide and Australia's door to Chinese tourists and to more
Chinese students. The development of both international tourism and education as
industries in Australia since the 1990s has been phenomenal, placing both sectors well
within the county's top three foreign-currency earners and making them an incredibly
crucial part of the Australian economy, as both sectors earn several billions of dollars
each year. This is the fourth case study of this book, which is about the experiences of

Introduction to the Chinese in Australia 23

a successful pioneer operator of Chinese official training or study-tour programmes
in Australia. The new Chinese migrant company called Tudor Hill International was
established in the early 1990s. Tudor Hill is believed to have organised no fewer than
one-third of the Chinese study-tour groups from the early 1990s to the mid-2000s and,
therefore, has played a very important role in the expansion of the in-bound tourism
and education industries.

Chapter 6 extends the discussion of successful examples from the traditional eco-
nomic sectors for new PRC migrant entrepreneurs in Australia to a sector of future
growth. It will expand on what I wrote a few years ago about 3CW Chinese Radio,
established by new Chinese migrants (Gao, 2006c), but this chapter will include a
further analysis of the suzhi of the new migrants in order to tell why their entrepre-
neurship is important and feasible. As discussed in my early publication on the case,
3CW Chinese Radio, a community-based media operation, was a small business es-
tablished as an alternative method of earning a living in their new country, rather than
having to endure hard physical labour. Even in their wildest imaginings, the 3CW
founders never really expected anything more than being Chinese community media
operators, but the business expanded to become one of the few successful and sizable
entrepreneurial businesses with China-born founders in global media industry. This
chapter will then discuss how this local community-based media has been expanded
into an international media business, which has been seen by many mainstream critics
in Australia as part of China's soft-power or ‘going global’ strategy.

Chapter 7 concludes the study with a summary of the main features of new Chinese
migrant entrepreneurship and some thoughts on how migrant entrepreneurship can
be used to enhance coexistence and sustainability at the community level, which has
become increasingly important in the highly globalised and interconnected world of
today. This chapter is based on the cases, trends and features of the entrepreneurship
discussed in Chapters 2–6 and will pay more attention than the other chapters to the
limits and gaps in the existing literature and the impact of migrant entrepreneurship
on the community and sustainability by closely looking at two forms of entrepreneur-
ship: business and sociocultural. The chapter aims to offer an explanation for how
many Chinese migrants have been mobilised in Australia to engage in various trades
and community economy development. Also examined is how and why the Chinese
migrants, who were once seen as aliens in Australia, have made their entrepreneurship
achievable in what appears to be untenable social circumstances and also become an
integral part of contemporary Australian society. This discussion also includes sug-
gestions for future research directions and needs. Some questions will be put for-
ward for further research, with a view to extending research work on ethnic Chinese

This book is primarily based on the data collected through my continuing longitudi-
nal study of the new Chinese migrant community, which I have been conducting since
1988. This ongoing effort has resulted in a number of publications, some of which are
listed in the ‘References’ of this book. In addition to what has already been mentioned,
this particular book is different from other books in the following ways. First, the book
will be based on a range of entrepreneurial activities of new migrants from China, who
have been more conspicuous in their achievement of economic success than migrants

24 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

from elsewhere. Second, my analysis of this particular type of new migrant entrepre-
neurship will be guided by the Chinese idea of suzhi, which has generated research
interest in the past ten or so years and has also been loosely linked to the concepts of
human and social capital. This book will look at how the new migrants become em-
bedded into the host society from the perspective of suzhi. Third, the entrepreneurial
activities examined in this book have happened in Australia, or between Australia
and China, which is unique in terms of considering the impact of rising China on the
global system. Finally, this book not only recognises that globalisation has nurtured
many Asian businesses and ‘shaped the contemporary economic, political and social
life’ in the Asia-Pacific region (Rowley & Warner, 2005, p. 5) but also aims to investi-
gate how globalisation has been driven and shaped by entrepreneurial activity.

Settling down in the New 2
Gold Mountain

The reputation of the Chinese as ‘gold diggers’ in several countries, especially in
Australia, has been well known to people for a long time (Clark, 1969; Choi, 1975;
Cronin, 1982; Fitzgerald, 2007). As a historical reflection of the gold-rush period that
was discussed in the preceding chapter, San Francisco is still, and officially, called ‘Old
Gold Mountain’ (Jiu Jinshan) in Chinese; and Melbourne, specifically the area of old
goldfields around the historic town of Ballarat, was once known as the ‘New Gold
Mountain’ (or Xin Jinshan in Chinese). Xin Jinshan is not in official use because the size
of the Chinese population in Australia was comparatively small during the gold rush, but
it is now often used as a brand name or the name of a business. What many non-Chinese
readers do not realise is that the story of the Chinese gold diggers in Australia and else-
where is a newer, and also a less important, part of the Chinese history than another gold
mountain discovered by millions of Chinese. For a fairly long period of time, the Chinese
have identified another gold mountain hidden among books, as an old Chinese saying
puts it, ‘shuzhong ziyou huangjinwu’ (‘in books are found houses of gold’) (Miyazaki,
1981, p. 17).1 For many hundreds of years, this old saying has been widespread in China
to encourage people to pursue education in order to have a more comfortable life.

What the traditional Chinese wisdom does not clearly see and tell, however, is the
role of teaching in building up family wealth or building houses of gold in the words
of the saying. This chapter is about such an entrepreneurial venture, one that is based
on teaching or, more precisely, one that is anchored in the delivery of both Chinese
language education and preexamination coaching. This is based on the New Gold
Mountain School, or Xin Jinshan School as it is usually called in the community. The
school was established in Melbourne in the early 1990s and has since been regarded
as the first and most successful of a number of Chinese schools and coaching centres
that Chinese migrants have set up in major Australian cities. This chapter elaborates
the Xin Jinshan story as an entrepreneurial venture.

2.1  New migrants and postmigration realities

As introduced in Chapter 1, the first large group of Chinese migrants to Australia from
the Chinese mainland first came as students in the late 1980s and early 1990s and then
obtained the chance to stay in Australia through a collective protection ­campaign,

1 This old Chinese saying does not have a recognised English translation. Lau et al. translate it as ‘there are
gold houses in books’ (2000, p. 74), while Lin Yi wants to keep every original word in his version, ‘there
are automatically gold-made houses in books’ (Yi, 2008, p. 27). In Yi's book, he also lists a number of
similar old sayings, as in Miyazaki (1981).

Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s
Copyright © 2015 Jia Gao. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

26 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

which was detailed in my book, Chinese Activism of a Different Kind (Gao, 2013a).
At that time, many students actively negotiated the changing stance of the Australian
government towards asylum seekers in order to meet its criteria to stay and also stra-
tegically made use of resources in staging an active campaign for their right to stay.
However, since they were allowed to stay as a result of the ‘1 November (1993) de-
cisions’, a number of early studies have identified that these new migrants had all
experienced a great deal of frustration in seeking professional and skilled jobs and
further training for skilled jobs (Coughlan, 1998; Fung & Chen, 1996; Gao, 2006b; Ho
& Coughlan, 1997; Ip, Inglis, & Chung Tong, 1997; Ip, Chung-Tong, & Inglis, 1998;
Wu, Ip, Inglis, Kawakami, & Duivenoorden, 1998; Yan, 2003).

In the study I carried out in 2003, almost all the new PRC migrants were found to
have experienced serious difficulties after settling down in Australia, especially in a
few key areas of their daily lives that were different from the expectations of the new
country (Gao, 1999, 2006b). Of course, they all had made enormous efforts, as well
as great sacrifices, to lead normal lives in their new country, including attempts at
studying formal courses to gain locally recognised qualifications, searching for ideal
jobs, assisting with the reunion of other family members or the migration of rela-
tives, running family businesses, buying houses, sending children to better schools and
searching for opportunities to invest or to do business.

Though their efforts did not appear to be unusual for migrants, they constituted
the start of their postmigration life. Three crucial efforts, in particular, were tried by
almost all of them: to get an ideal job, to take formal courses and to buy and run a busi-
ness. In fact, roughly 63% of the interviewees I met for the 2003 survey made all three
efforts either at the same time or one after another, and around 82% were found to have
attempted two of the strategies. As mentioned, the new Chinese migrants were already
different from Chinese gold diggers of the past centuries when they left China. Most
of them were relatively well educated and well positioned in China before coming to
Australia. Many of them may not have been part of what Senator Nick Bolkus, the for-
mer Australian minister for immigration, called ‘the crème of young China’ (Bourke,
2009, n.p.), but Bolkus was correct in comparing the favourable to not only the earlier
Chinese migrants but also some other migrant groups that Australia had received. The
socially well-off backgrounds and strong desire for a better life in Australia meant that
the new Chinese migrants attempted to study formal courses two or three times in the
first decade of living in Australia, while almost all of them tried to find an ideal job or
start a business, often with at least 10 attempts at both.

Their great efforts aside, realities in the new country were harsh for the new mi-
grants. In many cases, the attempts failed because of both their own low English
language skills and local policies of not recognising certain overseas qualifications.
Based on his study in Canada, Li pointed out that foreign credentials penalise visible
minority migrants, negatively affecting their social capital, the point of which is also
applicable in this study. However, in the same study, Li also suggested that migrants
who ‘maintain weak ethnic ties earn more than their counterparts with strong ties’ (Li,
2008, p. 291). As detailed next, Li's second point is less valid in Australia, because
ethnic ties are found to be a unique type of social capital that many migrants are able
to utilise when it is needed.

Settling down in the New Gold Mountain 27

What had happened to new PRC migrants is a typical problem of skilled migration
or the international migration of educated people, with which many migration coun-
tries were not familiar in the 1990s. In theory, all migration countries prefer to have
skilled and educated immigrants, but not many countries can fully utilise their talents.
In this case, Australia was found to have not only, as mentioned, no job security but
also virtually no employment services. The job-market theory that was formed based
on a less mobile society is still used as an excuse for lack of action.

Many new PRC migrants were particularly upset by a set of questions regarding
their training, qualifications and local experiences, which they were all asked again
and again when applying for jobs or formal courses. While some considered those
questions reasonable when seeking further training or study, more became aware that
the questions were used to protect the interests of dominant groups and deny migrants'
access to jobs. Many new migrants were further frustrated by practices of unfair
competition when they operated small businesses. From the early 1990s, many retail
chains in big Australian cities were allowed to extend their trading hours; at the same
time, many small shops were purchased by this group of PRC migrants. This change
badly affected numerous newly purchased businesses. This was why some complained
that Australia simply wanted them to be cleaners, vegetable growers and dishwashers
and that it even did not want them to be the owners of milk bars and takeaway shops,
let alone technicians or white-collar professionals.

The new migrants spent, on average, more than one and a half years on the pre-
viously mentioned three crucial efforts. That is, they all seriously reassessed what
they wanted to achieve after about one and a half years of being granted residency,
and many of them concluded that it was extremely difficult for them to be part of the
mainstream society. Perhaps to offset the frustration in Australia, no less than 80% of
them visited China to seek business opportunities. Their visits appeared to be fairly
frequent in the first three years of their permanent residency, and at least 73% of them
went to China at least twice.

Despite their frustration as new migrants, their problems could not be solved by
giving up their hope in Australia and returning to China. In the 1990s, the standard
of living in Australia was significantly higher than in China, which attracted a very
high proportion of them to stay in Australia. Of course, they all then went through
a reverse process as they discovered that reality differed from what they expected
from living in Australia. The crucial change of this reverse process was to reconsider
what were the important needs of themselves and their families, which enabled them
to effectively deal with the contradictions between their ideals and the realities of
their lives.

Although easy to describe, it was a painful experience for many new migrants,
especially those well-educated, relatively young and ambitious Chinese, to be forced
to reconsider their ideals and life priorities and also to accept the redefined ones as
reality. Through such a process, many at least accepted that what they had anticipated
from migration was different from what they were able to achieve. The difference
was so great that changing their ideals and life priorities became the key to their new
lives. In my 2003 study, these migrants were found to have high hopes, with a list of
more than 10 goals, for their life in Australia (Gao, 2006b). Table 2.1 lists their top six

28 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

Table 2.1  Original set of ideals and life priorities

No. of mentions %
No. Original set of ideals and life priorities (107 applicable)
1 To undertake formal study 107 100
2 To get an ideal job 107 91.6
3 To buy and run a business 98 88.8
4 To send children to a better school 95 84.1
5 To improve English within years 90 81.3
6 To buy a house 87

Adapted from Gao (2006b), p. 206.

original ideals and life priorities extracted from the longer list. This is based on 107
applicable records and listed according to the number of mentions.

According to Table 2.1, after being granted residency, many migrants still wanted
to pursue their original goals: to find an ideal job, to undertake formal study and to run
a business. The reality forced them to review their ideals and life priorities. Having
lived in Australia for a couple of years, and also having tried the three goals, they were
found to form a new understanding of their lives as migrants. Table 2.2 lists their rear-
ranged set of ideals and life priorities.

Aside from the changes in the order of some basic ideals and life priorities, which
were expected considering what they had experienced in the first couple of years in
Australia, many no longer insisted on finding an ideal job or taking formal study.
These were replaced by family-oriented priorities: to buy a house and to send children
to a better school. Also new was the inclusion of two new priorities: to save for an
investment and to help their next of kin migrate to Australia. Of course, the number of
mentions in both figures also dropped, which might make it evident that this process
was not voluntary, but was forced upon them.

There are no better examples of the educated new Chinese migrants who were
caught in the dilemma of having to choose between the ideals and the realities of their
lives than those of the Xin Jinshan School founders. As pointed out a few times now,

Table 2.2  Rearranged set of ideals and life priorities

No. of mentions %
No. Rearranged set of ideals and life priorities (107 applicable)
1 To buy a house 98 81.3
2 To send children to a better school 87 69.2
3 To buy and run a business 81 62.6

4 To save for an investment 74

5 To improve English within years 71

6 To help their next of kin migrate to Australia 67

Adapted from Gao (2006b), p. 207.

Settling down in the New Gold Mountain 29

Australia has attracted a large number of educated and skilled Chinese, many of whom
held junior or middle managerial and administrative positions at different levels of
China's massive bureaucracy and the CCP's apparatus, while many were also qualified
in China for a range of professions.

The Xin Jinshan School was founded by a group of such educated new Chinese
migrants. Sun Haoliang and his wife, Lin Liya, were teaching and research staff at
China's famous Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA). In the case of Sun, he did his
undergraduate degree at Fudan University and then his graduate degree at the Chinese
Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), a leading think tank in China. Before joining his
wife in Melbourne, he was already promoted to associate professor and deputy direc-
tor of the CCP's propaganda office of the CAFA (Sun, 2007; People's Daily (Overseas
Edition), 16 June 2009).

Another high-profile founder is Ye Jun, who was among the very first group, the
1977 group, of post-Mao university students. After his graduation from Beijing-based
University of International Business and Economics in 1981, he worked for several
years at the China Minmetals Corporation and then at the CITIC (China International
Trust and Investment Corporation), both China's state-owned big foreign trade and
investment companies (Zi, 2005).

The founders of the Xin Jinshan School also include Li Shujun and his wife Liu
Aiyun. Li Shujun completed both his undergraduate and postgraduate degrees at
Shandong University in the post-Mao years (Hometown in Shandong, vol. 1, 2011).
After his studies at Shandong University, one of the top universities in China, Li was
offered not only a teaching and research position but also a quick promotion at the
same university. However, like many educated young Chinese at the time, he decided
to leave for Australia in 1992, some months before the cutoff date of the ‘1 November
(1993) decisions’ that allowed tens of thousands of the Chinese nationals to stay per-
manently in Australia.

Because of the background of these Xin Jinshan School founders, the ‘grey real-
ities’ of their postmigration lives became even greyer when the ‘golden dreams’ of
these Chinese migrants turned into ‘grey realities’ (Fung & Chen, 1996, p. 2). While
everyone in the community was adjusting their aspirations to the new realities, the
early training and experiences, or suzhi in Chinese, of the Xin Jinshan School founders
helped them choose more suitable business activities for themselves than running milk
bars, takeaway shops, fruit and vegetable stores or laundry services, which is what
many of their fellow migrants opted to do then. A journalist of Hometown in Shandong
recorded Li Shujun's decision-making with the following details:

His motivation to create a Chinese-language school was quite simple: he wanted to
make a living in the field of education that he is familiar with. In front of camera, Li
Shujun honestly said that: ‘At the time, I did not think of any long-term, great ideal
goals, such as how to promote the traditional [Chinese] culture and prolong the
burning joss sticks of the nation’.

Hometown in Shandong, vol. 1, 2011, n.p.

This was how they became embedded into a suitable sector in the Australian econ-
omy. It was true that in the early 1990s, a large number of new migrants already

30 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

started importing some cheap Chinese goods and, up to the mid-1990s, almost none
had completely ignored the option of importing or exporting various products or ser-
vices. However, China at that time could only export a fixed set of low-value-added
goods and hardly imported anything expensive from Western countries in large quan-
tities through unofficial channels. China has since gradually changed many of its pol-
icies, developing from a place that could simply export soy sauce, canned fish and
pickles to Chinatown shops to an active economy that is able to sell shoes, socks and
shirts to some countries, and also produced various low- to high-tech products for the
global market. However, many early new migrants missed the changes or were unable
to wait until the changes took place in their favour. On the other hand, Australia as a
free market economy is often dominated by monopoly companies. When new Chinese
migrants started engaging in the import business, they could only import products that
the purchasing managers of big Australian companies did not purchase.

At the personal level, what Li Shujun said to the journalist shows how painful the ex-
perience of well-educated migrants can be. What many already well-established people
could not understand before migration is that cross-cultural migration is revolutionary,
equivalent to a social restructuring process, in which their hard-earned qualifications,
jobs and social status are no longer adequately recognised. In the case of new PRC
migrants, they were often irritated by informal social practices used in the host country.
They saw people who never attended university in China being given better jobs, and
those who never taught in China become teachers in Australia, while many fully qualified
people were struggling in the free labour market. This was partly because Australia at
that time did not know enough about China, and it was not keen to learn more. However,
the main problem in the eyes of many migrants was that they themselves were not part of
the local network and had too little power to be a crucial part of social exchange. Under
such circumstances, whether they could feed themselves, which is what Li Shujun's
words really meant, became a significant factor in their decision of what to do.

In the early 1990s, Australia saw a small number of new Chinese migrant entrepre-
neurs. Jin Kaiping was a household name in the local Chinese community before the
world's first solar-power billionaire, Dr. Shi Zhengrong, became famous in Australia.2
Jin's early ventures had influenced the formation of the new Chinese entrepreneurship
in Australia.3 What Jin first tried was to run traditional Chinese medicine clinics in

2 Among the new Chinese migrants settled in Australia in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Dr. Shi Zhengrong
should be regarded as the most successful scholar-turned-entrepreneur in a new and emerging business.
However, he does not meet a couple of key selection criteria of this book because he did not start his active
commercial activity early enough. As detailed in Note 3 of Chapter 6, Dr. Shi had no choice but to return
to China and set up his solar-energy company there in 2001 (Knight, 2011; SMH, 25 March 2013). As his
company is not based in Australia, it does not fit within this study.
3 Like Dr. Shi Zhengrong, Jin Kaiping is a successful new Chinese migrant entrepreneur, but he does
not meet a few main selection criteria of this book as he was given residency several years before the
‘1 November (1993) decisions’. For more information about his business ventures, readers can visit his
Aust-China Group website <> or read the following books that
he published: Aozhou meng (Australian Dream), Shanghai: Shanghai Arts and Culture Press, 2005, and
Zhongguoren zai Aozhou zuo dizhu (Chinese property owners in Australia), Shanghai: Shanghai People's
Press, 2011.

Settling down in the New Gold Mountain 31

Melbourne (Xinhuanet, 19 May 2006), providing his fellow migrants with a clue to
find their own business opportunities by relying on their ethnic ties. This is a contra-
diction to the previously mentioned argument that Li pointed out based on a Canadian
study (Li, 2008). In fact, ethnic ties are found to be beneficial in many cases, including
this entrepreneurial Xin Jinshan case. Sun Haoliang, the leading Xin Jinshan School
founder, once pointed out that the community is a market and ‘Chinese language edu-
cation is a rich mine’ (, 10 July 2009). Sun was quoted in a feature
article in China's People's Daily, the institutional newspaper of the CCP, as follows:

Sun Haoliang gave up his admirable teaching position at Australia's Monash University
to pay full attention to establishing the weekend school. At that time, many of his
acquaintances were against the idea, even including a person who himself was a teacher,
and persuaded him by saying: ‘Forget it, Mr Sun, I have heard of no person who earned
money from running a [weekend] school in this country’ … [However], Sun Haoliang
has adhered to it ever since. (People's Daily (Overseas Edition), 16 June 2009, n.p.)

Regardless whether it was a rich gold mine or it was the moment to be brought
down from the high horse, these were the realities of postmigration life in the early
1990s that thousands of new Chinese migrants had to face in Australia. Fortunately,
a large number of them stayed in Australia, where various new opportunities were
created, and a range of previously unavailable and unexplored market niches emerged
as a result. Those opportunities and market niches in Australia were the new gold
mountain they could dig.

2.2 The Xin Jinshan School

Although the story of how the Xin Jinshan School was established sounds simple and
straightforward to many community members and readers, it was an entrepreneurial
endeavour of a group of educated migrants to re-establish themselves in a new country
and initiate a new institution in the community, but without possessing particular ex-
pertise in scientific and technical areas. By 2014, according to its two main websites
( and, the Xin Jinshan School had more than
fifteen campuses covering almost the entire Melbourne metropolitan area. In recent
years, its student enrolment has been about 4600, providing more than 300 community
members with chances to teach, earn income, and, importantly, do things that are close
to what they were trained for (Pacific Times, 25 November 2013).4 For more than fif-
teen years, the total enrolment in the Xin Jinshan senior high school classes has always
been more than 300 students, and their examination results have been ranked as the

4 Pacific Times is also called Dayang Shibao, a Chinese-language newspaper published in Melbourne, more
details of which can be found in Chapter 6. The figures mentioned in Pacific Times in 2013 are significantly
higher than what was mentioned in the People's Daily (Overseas Edition) in 2009, when the school had
about 3500 students and 160 teachers (16 June 2009). The differences clearly show the significance of the
school's growth in recent years.

32 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

best in Victoria, making it the number-one choice for Chinese language, senior high
school education (People's Daily (Overseas Edition), 16 June 2009).

The Xin Jinshan School had a very humble start in 1992. According to the media
reports, only six students turned up, despite well-organised publicity, but in August
2012, when I went to visit the school with Japanese researchers, Sun told us that those
six students actually included children from the families of Xin Jinshan School found-
ers. It took a whole school term to attract more than 20 students, which was assisted
by other efforts, including using their own cars to transport some students to their cam-
pus, which was in an outer suburb. By mid-1993, the school had almost 100 students,
which partially resulted from the fact that all new Chinese migrant families lived in
Australia under a four-year special protection residency permit after the June 4 inci-
dent of 1989, and they needed to prepare their children for a possible return to China.

As hinted earlier, Sun Haoliang, the most senior person in the team, initially wanted
to re-establish himself in the ethnic community media. In 1992, only a few months be-
fore the school venture, he was actively involved in the publication of Jiaodian Zazhi
(Focus Magazine) in Melbourne. As will be detailed in Chapter 6, Focus Magazine
was one of the new magazine and newspaper businesses created by new migrants in
the early 1990s. If anything was helpful with setting up the Xin Jinshan School ven-
ture, it must be Focus Magazine and Sun's connections in the community. Before the
Xin Jinshan School was properly established, Focus Magazine was used several times
to promote the idea of a new weekend school run by new Chinese migrants. In fact,
the school was called Focus Cultural School at first. The school's online chronicle has
the following paragraph in reference to it:

Evening, 12 December 1992: At the New Year party of Focus Magazine, Mr Sun
Haoliang formally publicised the establishment of the Focus Cultural School, and
he was also interviewed on the spot by Ms Hu Mei of SBS [the Special Broadcasting
Service, which was funded by the government at that time] Mandarin Radio. (The Xin
Jinshan chronicle,

Also according to the chronicle, Sun took over control of Focus Magazine in late
1993 and renamed it Xin Jinshan monthly. As a result, the name of Focus Cultural
School was also changed to Xin Jinshan School. This was a typical case of what the
Chinese call ‘walking on two legs’ (Murphey, 2005, p. 53; Pepper, 1996, p. 302), us-
ing the school and the magazine to promote each other. This strategy was also used in
3CW Chinese Radio business, which will be discussed in Chapter 6.

While they were familiar with how to develop strategies, especially how to use
propaganda techniques, the reality was that there was an established education market
in the Chinese community in the early 1990s. What the school founders had to do then
was to make parents believe in them and send their children to their school. In order
to do so, they had to identify the problems of several older community-based Chinese
language schools and find out where their opportunities were. Ye Jun mentioned the
following in Alumni Newsletters of his old university:

All the Chinese language schools at that time were set up and run by older generations
of overseas Chinese, who were basically teaching traditional [Chinese] characters

Settling down in the New Gold Mountain 33

in Cantonese … The reason why the Xin Jinshan School was able to expand bigger
and bigger was firstly, or the first element of its appeal, because of their background
of being from Beijing and [speaking] authentic Chinese. The second rationale was
because the school had a large number of strong capable teaching staff members,
who could deliver high-quality teaching, and all the teaching materials were from
mainland China. The third reason was because the Xin Jinshan also paid close
attention to management.

Zi (2005), n.p.

The Xin Jinshan School founders were not the first group of Chinese migrants
who were aware of the problems of the older, more established Chinese communities,
especially their practice of speaking Cantonese and using traditional Chinese char-
acters. In my early study of the community, the Australian Chinese Daily, or Xinbao
(ACD), was found to have stopped using old-style Chinese characters in 1988 when
the Xinbao realised that a large number of students and migrants from mainland China
presented them with an opportunity in the community media market (Gao, 2013a).
However, the Xin Jinshan School was the first to make the change in the community
education market. Though they took the risk of being negatively labelled as ‘pro-
China’ or ‘pro-CCP’, which was the terminology often used in Chinese migrant com-
munities to scare off business competitors, the Xin Jinshan School founders clearly
made the right decision, demonstrated by what subsequently happened.

Teaching traditional Chinese characters in dialects, such as Cantonese, was also not
the only problem that the established Chinese communities had. As briefly mentioned,
many members of what is called old overseas Chinese communities were away from
China and its direct sociocultural influence for a few generations, and most of them
did not have a proper education in the Chinese language. For many decades, the old
groups were also influenced, one after another, by racially and politically motivated
attitudes towards their motherland. These attitudes included the stereotyped beliefs
that China was the sick man of Asia before the Cold War and that China was a com-
munist society since the Cold War. Although many of the old migrants ethnically and
culturally identified themselves as Chinese, they were deeply confused by what they
were told in their host countries or regions before the mid-1990s or late 1990s. There
were also many from the old groups who regarded their fellow migrants from the
Chinese mainland as poor cousins, despite their own marginalised status in their host
countries. Leaving aside other details of any specific community group, the week-
end Chinese language schools in Melbourne before the Xin Jinshan School were run
by the migrants from Vietnam, East Timor, Malaysia and Taiwan. In addition to the
problems of teaching old-style characters in dialects, two other problems also caused
concern among parents: the use by many teachers of nonstandard expressions and
unintelligible grammar.

Therefore, a new school, like the Xin Jinshan School, was needed, at least by new
migrants from mainland China. As a result of the above-mentioned reverse process
in which many migrants from the Chinese mainland retreated from the identities they
presented when seeking residency in Australia (Gao, 2006b), many new migrant fam-
ilies started sending their children to weekend Chinese language schools in the early
1990s. It is known that after migration, many cross-cultural migrants are often pushed

34 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

back to their original identities and groups, but the case of the Xin Jinshan School
shows how a high level of cultural identity change in a sizeable community can be
effectively turned into a commercial market.

The decision of many new PRC migrant families to send their children to the Xin
Jinshan School influenced many other migrant families. A large group of students
from Vietnamese-Chinese migrant families soon joined in because not only they value
education but also they respect those who are educated and trained in China, at least
with a much less negatively politicised view of China and its people than some other
groups. These families were described as a ‘neutral majority’ by a few interviewees
(Gao, 2006b). According to a number of Xin Jinshan School teachers, this type of
attitude has, in the past two decades, helped many Vietnamese-Chinese students out-
perform those from wealthier ethnic Chinese migrant groups, such as those from Hong
Kong and Taiwan, in school examinations. What is also interesting is that the decision
of new PRC migrant families to send their children to weekend Chinese language
schools was found to be mainly driven by their frustration with their postmigration sit-
uations, according to my studies in 2003, not by community pressure or their respect
for their cultural heritage. However, many Vietnamese-Chinese families seem to have
been influenced more by the latter factors.

As shown in Table 2.3, during the entire 1990s and up to 2001, there were fewer
Mandarin speakers in Australia than speakers of Chinese dialects. Therefore, the deci-
sion by non-Mandarin-speaking families to send their children to learn Mandarin was
a wise, far-sighted decision. Of course, Table 2.3 also gives a demographic account for
the steady development of the Xin Jinshan business. What the figure does not show is
that since the late 1990s, a large number of Cantonese and other dialect speakers, who
were identified as such based on the self-reported language use at home (Schüpbach,
2008, p. 20), have been users of Mandarin training services, including the Xin Jinshan

Despite the favourable trend, as revealed in Table 2.3, a series of new management
practices were introduced. In fact, a few weeks after the Xin Jinshan School was set
up, the school started working on the development of a standard curriculum and the
introduction of guidelines for preparing classes based on the curriculum (Zi, 2005).

Table 2.3  Chinese language varieties spoken at home (aged 5 years
and over)

Census Mandarin Cantonese Other Chinese dialects Total

1996¹ 87,320 190,104 46,531 323,955
20012 139,286 225,307 30,051a 394,644
20062 220,603 244,588 27,486a 492,677
2011³ 336,410 263,675 51,243 651,328

a Note: These lower figures seem to result from the changes the ABS made to its original survey papers, which included
a few loose and confusing categories such as Chinese (not elsewhere classified); Chinese (not further defined).
Data compiled from (1) 1996 Census of Population and Housing: Australia – Language Spoken at Home. Canberra:
ABS (2007); (2) The People of Australia: Statistics from the 2006 Census. Canberra: DIAC (2008); (3) Basic Commu-
nity Profile: 2011 Census of Population and Housing. Canberra: ABS (2011).

Settling down in the New Gold Mountain 35

From the very beginning, the attractiveness and uniqueness of the Xin Jinshan School
were based on the reputation of China-trained teachers and scholars and their profes-
sional way of running the school. These were their cultural capital for success in the
market. In order to uphold their reputation for high-quality teaching and learning, each
Xin Jinshan School founder contributed special knowledge and skills to the school in a
joint effort. Their goal was to achieve a high level of professionalisation and standard-
isation of the school's teaching, learning and administration. Years later, Sun Haoliang
told the People's Daily's reporter:

Overseas Chinese-language schools cannot lower their standards because of
teaching it [Chinese] as a second-language on a part-time basis on the weekend.
The Xin Jinshan has introduced a complete set of standards, rules and norms in
the management [of the school], including student codes of conduct, guidelines
for student rewards and discipline, and the standard curriculum. Also set up was
a structure of grade coordinators, letting them lead and coordinate teaching and
learning in each year level.

(People's Daily (Overseas Edition), 16 June 2009, n.p.)

The Xin Jinshan's direct competitor outside the local Chinese community was the
Victorian School of Languages (VSL). As the first government-run weekend lan-
guage school established in 1935, the VSL provided foreign-language programmes
for students in Years 1–12 who do not have access to language study in their day
schools (Clyne & Kipp, 1999; Leuner, 2008). In the 1990s, as a result of the strict
and rigid, and also protective, teaching qualification requirements, the mainstream
schools, including many expensive private schools, were unable to employ good
Mandarin speakers to teach, and therefore, the mainstream schools were not con-
sidered a rival to the Xin Jinshan School in Chinese language teaching. As many
Chinese community members often put it, mainstream school teachers possessed
locally recognised teaching qualification, but their Chinese language skills were
evidently not as good as many new PRC migrants, especially those teaching at the
Xin Jinshan School. However, the VSL was given leeway to hire some overseas ed-
ucated teachers and other professionals to teach its courses.5 This hiring flexibility
was allowed because the VSL offered about 30 languages in the 1990s and it ran
all its classes on the weekend, which was outside the comfort zone of many of the
so-called mainstream Australians. What was ironic about this hiring flexibility was
that the VSL recruited some good teachers for its Mandarin programme, lightened
the demand on the mainstream day schools, but made the VSL a challenge to the
Xin Jinshan School.

A number of measures were introduced by the Xin Jinshan School to compete with
the VSL. Some of its strategies went beyond the areas of language teaching and learn-
ing, which will be examined in the following section. However, three courses of action
were considered necessary steps to compete directly with the VSL.

5 I have to acknowledge that I was an ‘on-call’, or ‘replacement’, teacher at the VSL for much of the 1990s
when I was doing my PhD research, which provided me with a small, but helpful, amount of income that
enabled me to focus on my PhD.

36 Chinese Migrant Entrepreneurship in Australia from the 1990s

To a large extent, Xin Jinshan School teachers were overlooked or forced to stay
outside the mainstream school systems by the strict teaching qualification require-
ments, but they knew what was wrong with the mainstream school systems. Despite
the hiring flexibility, the VSL still had many teachers who were not accepted by the
Chinese community because of their inadequate language skills. This impression be-
came stronger in the community than before, as they knew there were now many
highly qualified teachers from China. The Xin Jinshan School, therefore, put its own
rules into place for selecting veteran teachers, and parents' visits to the school and open
days were then used to demonstrate the strength of the school. For a number of years,
positive comments on the Xin Jinshan School from the Chinese and non-­Chinese com-
munities posed a challenge not only to the VSL but also to private schools. Before
the mid-2000s, there was a trend that students from mainstream day schools sought
permission to study the Chinese language at the Xin Jinshan School.

At the same time, the Xin Jinshan School tried to obtain the right to deliver what
is usually called Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) Chinese. The VCE is the
certificate that the majority of students in the state of Victoria would receive on sat-
isfactory completion of their secondary education, and it is institutionally recognised
as the pathway to further education or training at university, or technical training col-
lege, and to employment. Having been in operation for only 2 years, the Xin Jinshan
School was given permission in early 1995 to teach VCE Chinese subjects. While
the authorisation process itself is an interesting topic that has not been studied ad-
equately (e.g. why was a community school allowed to deliver VCE courses when
their teachers were not qualified to work in the government school system?), the first
group of Xin Jinshan School VCE students performed very well. The school's overall
number-one ranking in VCE Chinese in 1996 further boosted its competitive position
in the market. According to the latest 2013 figures from the Victorian Curriculum and
Assessment Authority, the Xin Jinshan School produced 14, 22 and 27 ‘high achiev-
ers’ in Chinese as a second language in 2011, 2012 and 2013, respectively, but the
VSL produced only two ‘high achievers’ in 2011 and 2012 and none in 2013 (The Age,
18 December 2013).

The Xin Jinshan School learned from the operational model of the VSL and opened
up more campuses and evening classes to spread its name and services to other sub-
urbs and groups and to reach more students. Since the VSL offered 30 or so languages,
it was pointless for the Xin Jinshan School to repeat what its competitor was able to
do, but it was a decisive step to run multiple centres. In fact, the strategy of running
evening classes was learned from another language education provider in Victoria:
the CAE (Council of Adult Education until 2001, or Centre for Adult Education after
that). The CAE was set up in 1947 under Victorian government legislation, and an
active part of its programmes is to deliver language classes. According to the Xin
Jinshan chronicle, its first evening class, introduced in 1996, was deliberately offered
at the school where the CAE Chinese language classes were also being taught.

It was the Xin Jinshan School founders' early strategy to compete in the local
Chinese language education market with the aim of gaining a bigger share of the mar-
ket, but the last measure also served as an organisational base for easing the internal
tension that was growing as a result of the rapid development of the school and the

Settling down in the New Gold Mountain 37

founders' growing expectations of their roles and recognition. Just like the primary
social group that I identified among Chinese asylum claimants in my early study (Gao,
2013a), it was not practical for the Xin Jinshan founders to dissolve their group and
partnership, despite the tension. The apparent solution to their internal problems was
to expand the school operation, thus opening up new opportunities for each founder
and their family. That is, in addition to some logical developments of entrepreneurial
ventures, the internal tension within the school facilitated changes in the manage-
ment structure and the scope of their business activities, driving the school to compete
harder and professionally in the education market.

2.3  Competing in the education market

The Xin Jinshan School founders were highly successful in establishing their new
school, which has for many years been admired by their fellow Chinese migrants,
but their high levels of education and previous social status in China were constantly
haunting them. In a feature story about Li Shujun's life in Australia, he was quoted as
often reciting, as a joke, Karl Marx's famous saying, ‘The proletarians have nothing
to lose but their chains. They have a world to win’ (cited in Schacht, 1988, p. 567).
Migration had actually lowered their social status and turned them into proletarians
or an underused part of the labour pool available for local economies (Hometown in
Shandong, vol. 1, 2011). As I found in my 2003 study, even if settling in the West
was regarded as an ideal among young Chinese in the early 1990s, many new PRC
migrants were, in the words of Maslow, ‘self-actualizing people’ (1987, p. 199), who
still wanted to maximise their potential and actualise the self, in the words of the late
1980s (Gao, 2006b). This was why, as listed in Table 2.1, many initially wanted to get
an ideal job or undertake formal study with a view to embarking on a new professional
career in the host country.

Maslow's theory, especially his interpretation of the basic needs of humans, was
introduced in China in the 1980s and was once very popular. Many Chinese used this
concept of self-actualisation without knowing the origin. What happened after migra-
tion made many well-trained and highly skilled migrants realise that their needs for
esteem and self-actualisation, which are the top two levels of Maslow's hierarchy of
basic human needs, became unachievable parts of their ideals. These migrants defi-
nitely could not be satisfied with a life that only met their basic needs without the pros-
pect of attaining esteem and self-actualisation, given their backgrounds. Obviously,
it seemed to Li Shujun that life without esteem and self-actualisation is a wasted life
and is a new and special type of proletarian. Their new proletarian status drove them
to expand their school business in the local education market, if not aiming at winning
the whole world (Hometown in Shandong, vol. 1, 2011).

In addition to setting up more centres to establish a bigger revenue base, the Xin
Jinshan School started introducing several new schemes to diversify its education
business and lift its competitiveness in the market, almost immediately after enrol-
ments reached their first plateau. It only took the school about 3 years to reach 2000
students. By the end of 1996, it had already gained more than 1200 students and

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