Chinese Australians

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Chinese Australians
華裔澳洲人 or 华裔澳洲人
Total population
866,205 by ancestry
319,000 born in Mainland China (excludes Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan)
4.0% of the Australian population (by ancestry, 2011)[1][2]
Regions with significant populations
Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Wollongong
Christmas Island (About 65% are Chinese)[A]
Australian English
Mandarin, Cantonese, Hakka
various other Chinese dialects
Buddhism, Taoism, Chinese Folk Religions, Christianity, Atheism, Confucianism
Related ethnic groups
Chinese New Zealanders
Hong Kong Australians, Taiwanese Australians
Chinese Indonesian
Malaysian Australians, Singaporean Australians, Overseas Chinese

Chinese Australians (traditional Chinese: 華裔澳洲人; simplified Chinese: 华裔澳洲人; pinyin: Huáyì àozhōu rén; Cantonese Yale: wàyeuih oujāu yàn) are Australian citizens of Chinese ancestry. Chinese Australians are one of the largest groups of Overseas Chinese people, and is the largest Overseas Chinese community in Oceania. Many Chinese Australians are immigrants along with their descendants from Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan, as well other countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines who have immigrated from Southeast Asia that include large populations of the Chinese diaspora. Chinese Australians are also a subgroup of East Asian Australians and represent the single largest minority in the country constituting approximately forty-percent of the Asian Australian population.[4][5][6] As a whole, Australian residents identified themselves as having Chinese ancestry make up around four percent of Australia's population or approximately 865,000 people as of 2011.[1] The early history of Chinese Australians had involved significant immigration from villages of the Pearl River Delta in Southern China. Less well known are the kind of society Chinese Australians came from, the families they left behind and what their intentions were in coming. Many Chinese were lured to Australia by the gold rush. (Since the mid-19th century, Australia was dubbed the New Gold Mountain after the Gold Mountain of California in North America.) They sent money to their families in the villages, and regularly visited their families and retired to the village after many years, working as a market gardener, shopkeeper or cabinet maker. As with many overseas Chinese groups the world over, early Chinese immigrants to Australia established Chinatowns in several major cities, such as Sydney (Chinatown, Sydney), Brisbane (Chinatown, Brisbane) and Melbourne (Chinatown, Melbourne) as well as regional towns associated with the goldfields such as Cairns Chinatown.[7]

Chinese Australians record high levels of educational attainment that match and occasionally surpass the national average. With a high degree of upward academic and socioeconomic advancement and achievement, Chinese Australians are among the most well educated groups in Australia and comprise a large percentage of Australia's educated class, and hold higher educational records achievement among most demographic groups in the country.[8][9]


Chinese immigrants arriving in Chinatown, Melbourne, 1866

Chinese peoples have a long and continuing role in Australian history. There were early links between China and Australia when Macau and Canton were used as an important trading ports with the fledgling colony. Mak Sai Ying (also known as John Shying) was the first officially recorded Chinese migrant in 1818. After his arrival he spent some time farming before, in 1829, he became prominent as the publican of The Lion in Parramatta. Early 19th Century migration was in limited numbers and sporadic, primarily those who came in this period were free merchants or adventurers and, the more common, indentured labourers.

The Australian Gold Rushes are what first lured thousands of Chinese to the country. In 1855 in Melbourne there were 11,493 Chinese arrivals.[10] This was startling considering that barely five years previous, Melbourne's entire population had only been around 25,000 people. Due to the widespread racists sentiments in parliament and on the goldfields, the first of many immigration restrictions and Chinese targeting laws was passed in late 1855. However, due to the long, poorly regulated borders between the colonies of Australia the numbers of Chinese on the goldfields continued to swell. Upon the goldfields Chinese peoples faced many hardships. There were violent anti-Chinese riots; the Buckland Riot, the Lambing Flats Riots, as well as general discrimination and prejudice. However, there were many establishments in this period that would have a lasting effect on the history of Australia and the history of Chinese in Australia. One of these establishments were the Chinese camps, which most often, later, became Chinatowns in Australia. There was also the establishment and the consolidation of power for Chinese societies, many of these are still active in Australia today. These societies provided support and community for the Chinese in the colonies.

After the gold rushes the numbers of Chinese living in the cities swelled and their businesses and industries contributed much to growth of Melbourne and Sydney in the late 19th century. Mei Quong Tart was a prominent business figure in Sydney. However, there were very few Chinese women migrating to Australia. At one point in the 1860s the numbers of Chinese in Australia was around 40,000. Of these, it is believed only 12, were women.[11] This gender imbalance meant that some Chinese men married women of European descent but many had it in their hearts to return to China.

Published in 1888 this cartoon depicts the anti-Chinese sentiment that was one of the driving forces behind the push for federation.

Anti-Chinese sentiment also strongly contributed to the establishment of the Federation of Australia. Some of the first Acts of the new federation would establish the White Australia Policy. This policy made it almost impossible for anyone new to migrate from China to Australia. After federation the population of Chinese in Australia steadily declined. Despite the declining numbers people with Chinese heritage still played their part in Australian history. There were over 200 people with Chinese heritage who fought for Australia in World War I, including the decorated sniper Billy Sing. A similar number fought for Australia in World War II.

The final end of the White Australia Policy saw new arrivals from the Chinese diaspora and for the first time significant numbers from non-Cantonese speaking parts of China. The first wave of arrivals were ethnic Chinese refugees from Vietnam and Cambodia during the 1970s; this was followed by economic migrants from Hong Kong in the 1980s and 1990s, whose families often settled in Sydney while the breadwinner returned to Hong Kong to continue earning an income – a significant reversal of the traditional migration pattern.

After the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, the then Australian Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, allowed students from mainland China to settle in Australia permanently. Since then, immigrants from mainland China and Taiwan have arrived in increasing numbers. New institutions were established for these arrivals and old ones such as the Chinese Chamber of Commerce revived; Chinese language newspapers were once again published. The equality of citizenship laws and family reunion immigration after 1972 meant that an imbalance of the sexes, once a dominant feature of the Chinese communities in Australia, was not an issue in these later migrations.

Chinese immigration has increased continuously from the 1990s and today the Chinese are the third largest group among immigrants. Since the mid-1990s, migration has become less permanent than it used to be, and goes in more than direction, a trend that pertains also to the Chinese. Students and academics are examples of this pattern. In 1990, Chinese settlers rarely returned permanently, but by 2002, the number of Hong Kong settlers leaving Australia for good equalled those arriving during that year.[12]

In 2005-6 China (not including Hong Kong or Macau) was the third major source of permanent migrants to Australia behind the United Kingdom and New Zealand but with more migrants than from India. Between 2000–01 and 2005–06, the number of skilled migrants coming to Australia from China more than tripled, from 3,800 to 12,500 people.[13]

Chinese immigration[edit]

Chinese Australians taking part in the Australia Day parade in Melbourne (2014)

Mainland China continues to remain the biggest country from which immigrants come to Australia as it has overtaken the United Kingdom to become its largest source immigrants since 2011.[14] Some Chinese immigrants in Australia have established special schools where the education system is built to resemble that in China, with results more focused on exams. Some Chinese parents also choose to send their children to special training classes outside school, particularly Chinese schools.[15]

China is Australia's biggest two-way trading partner due to its proximity as migrants from China increased to nearly 30,000 out of Australia's total annual intake of 168,685 as skilled immigrants deliver significant benefits as the Chinese immigrants contribute to economic growth and their relative youth offsets some of the impacts of an ageing labour force in Australia.[16][17]


one dot denotes 100 Sydney residents born in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau)[18]
one dot denotes 100 Melbourne residents born in China (excluding Hong Kong and Macau)[18]

The White Australia Policy of the early 20th century severely curtailed the development of the Chinese communities in Australia. However, since the advent of multiculturalism as a government policy in the 1970s, many ethnic Chinese from Hong Kong, Mainland China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam, Cambodia) have immigrated to Australia.

According to the 2011 Australian Census, 318,969 Australians declared they were born in China (excludes SARs and Republic of China (Taiwan)).[19] A further 74,995 declared they were born in the Hong Kong SAR, 2,013 in the Macau SAR and 24,368 in Taiwan:[18] a total of 304,775 or 1.5% of those counted by the Census.[20] Chinese ancestry was claimed by 866,205, either alone or with another ancestry, and Taiwanese ancestry was claimed by 5,837 persons.[1] The 2011 Australian Census reported that Chinese was the seventh most common self-reported ancestry.[1] In the 2001 Census, just under 40% of those claiming Chinese ancestry were born in mainland China, Hong Kong or Taiwan; 26% were born in Australia with other notable birth places being Malaysia (10%) and Vietnam (8%).[21]

Chinese Australians have historically been of predominately Cantonese and Hakka descent from Hong Kong and Guangdong province.[22] Due to recent immigration from other regions of mainland China and Taiwan, Mandarin has surpassed Cantonese in number of speakers. Based on the 2011 census, the Australian Bureau of Statistics lists 336,410 speakers of Mandarin followed by Cantonese at 263,673, make them two of the languages with the most speakers in Australia.[23] A further 51,243 persons reported speaking at home another variety of Chinese ("Hakka", "Wu" and "Min Nan" were three specific options presented to respondents), or "Chinese" without specifying a variety. The total number of people speaking Chinese or a variety of Chinese at home was 651 328, which is 16.6% of people who speak a language other than English at home, and 3.0% of total respondents.[24] Second or higher generation Chinese Australians are often either monolingual in English or bilingual to varying degrees with Chinese.

According to the 2011 Census, Sydney was home to almost half (46.6%) of the Chinese population by birth. Melbourne had just over one-quarter of the Chinese born population (28.5%). The rest of Australia also had about one-quarter of the Chinese born population.[25] Of Australia's states, only New South Wales has Chinese as one of its five most-nominated ancestries.[26]

In Sydney there were 358,063 persons, or approximately 8.2% of the population, who identified themselves as having Chinese ancestry (either exclusively or with another ancestry).[27] Other Australian cities with large Chinese populations include Melbourne (244,649 or 6.1%),[28] Perth (72,273 or 4.2%)[29] and Brisbane (69,343 or 3.4%).[30] 53% of mainland China-born and 51% of Hong Kong born residents were enumerated in Sydney, while the largest portion of Taiwanese-born residents are in Brisbane (34%).

Chinese migrants are drawn from the Chinese diaspora. The 2001 Australian Census[citation needed] lists the main source countries and regions for overseas born ethnic Chinese as:

Country/Region Population Country/Region Population
Mainland China 132,020 East Timor 4,880
Hong Kong 59,810 Philippines 2,230
Malaysia 51,910 Thailand 2,210
Vietnam 41,230 Laos 1,450
Taiwan 21,520 Burma 1,030
Indonesia 19,620 Mauritius 820
Singapore 19,120 South Korea 190
Cambodia 9,500 Ghana 110

In a 2004 study on the intermarriage pattern in Australia, the proportion of second-generation Chinese Australians with spouses of Anglo-Celtic ancestry was approximately 21% and for third generation it was 68%.[31]

According to Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2012 Chinese immigrant mothers had a total fertility of 1.59 children per woman. Lower compared to the Australian average of 1.94.[32]


Internal courtyard of the Green Pine Taoist Temple in Deagon, Brisbane, belonging to the Evergreen Taoist Church.

According to the census data collected in the last ten years among the Chinese Australian population there has been a general decline of institutional religions (between 2001 and 2011, Buddhism fell from 18.9% to 15% and Christianity fell from 10.4% to 8.4%). In 2011 72.4% of the Chinese did not declare a religious affiliation, rising from 64.6% in 2001. These shiftings in religious demography may be due to the incoming of new immigrants from China who generally do not have a formal religious affiliation. It is worth noting, however, that a large part of the "non religious" population may be involved in the native Chinese religion which has been on the rise in the motherland over the last decades.

group[note 1]
% 2001[33]
% 2006[33][34]
% 2011[34]
Not religious / other 64.6% 69.8% 72.4%
Buddhism 18.9% 16.3% 15.0%
Christianity 10.4% 9.1% 8.4%
Catholicism 4.1% 3.1% 2.7%
Protestantism 6.3% 6.0% 5.7%
Other organisations 6.1% 4.8% 4.2%



In 2006, 55.0 percent for Chinese-born Australians aged 15 years and over had some form of higher non-school qualifications compared to 52.5 percent of the Australian population. Among Chinese-born Australians, 42.2 percent had Diploma level or higher* qualifications and 4.8 percent had Certificate level qualifications. For Chinese-born Australians, 88,440 had no higher non-school qualification, of which 35.3 percent were still attending an educational institution.[35] In 2006, 57.3 per cent of the Hong Kong-born Australians aged 15 years and over had some form of higher non-school qualifications compared to 52.5 percent of the Australian population. Among the Hong Kong-born Australians, 45.7 per cent had Diploma level or higher* qualifications and 6.1 percent had Certificate level qualifications. From the Hong Kong-born Australians, 28,720 had no higher non-school qualification, of which 44.7 per cent were still attending an educational institution.[36]

In 2006, 31.9% of Chinese Australians attained a bachelor's degree compared to just 14.8% for the general Australian population. 36.1% of Hong Kong Australians attained a bachelor's degree or higher. Chinese Australians born overseas reported high educational attainment with over 50% of them holding at least bachelor's degree.[37] When all these rates are melded, approximately 42 percent of (first and second generation) Chinese Australians have achieved a bachelor's degree, making it roughly three times the national average of 14 percent.[38]

The pathways Chinese-Australian families choose to motivate their children is partly based on their cultural values which emphasise scholastic excellence, and partly on their own experiences in their native as well as in the host country. Customarily, activities taking place in Chinese-Australian homes were related to the education of their children. Regular family discussions on educational matters and career paths had a modelling effect. The key feature of these families was that parental involvement in their children's school-related activities remained high throughout the high school time of their children. Chinese-Australian families indicated that diligence, a deep cultural respect for education and motivation to become educated was quite strong among first generation immigrants. Chinese-Australians have a significant influence and place considerable pressure on their children to academically.[38][39][40] In addition, mathematics achievement and participation of high school students have a strong correlation towards the success or achievement goals and sense of competence.[41] In addition, Chinese students from migrant backgrounds, in comparison to those from refugee backgrounds, are more academically successful.[42]

Chinese employment[edit]

Among Hong Kong-born Australians aged 15 years and over, the participation rate in the labour force was 63.3 percent and the unemployment rate was 6.6 percent. The corresponding rates in the total Australian population were 64.6 and 5.2 percent respectively. Of the 39,870 Hong Kong-born Australians who were employed, 42.2 percent were employed in a Skill Level 1 occupation, 12.3 percent in Skill Level 2 and 8.5 percent in Skill Level 3. The corresponding rates in the total Australian population were 28.7, 10.7 and 15.1 percent respectively.[36]

Many Chinese Australians work in white collar middle class jobs. But Chinese Australians are under-represented in occupations such as journalism, law and other professions that require language skills and face to face contact. First-generation Chinese Australians also experience problems in getting white collar jobs commensurate with their qualifications and work experience instead they go into business and operate convenience stores, car dealerships, grocery stores, coffee shops, news agencies and restaurants while sacrificing to pay for their children education as perceiving education as the only available channel of social mobility, substantial investment in their children's education at a disproportionate sacrifice to family finance and social well-being is an indication of parental concerns and expectations.[43][44]

33.8% of Chinese Australians and 46.6% Hong Kong Australians work as white collar professionals compared to 32% for the total Australian population. 63.3% of Hong Kong Australians and 56.3% of Chinese Australians participate in the Australian workforce which was below the national average of 67.1%. Chinese Australians and Hong Kong Australians also have an unemployment rate of 11.2% and 6.6% respectively. Both figures were higher than the national average of 4.9%.[45]


In 2006, the median individual weekly income for Chinese-born Australians aged 15 years and over was $242, compared with $431 for all overseas-born and $488 for all Australia-born. The total Australian population had a median individual weekly income of $466.[35] In 2006, the median individual weekly income for Hong Kong-born Australians aged 15 years and over was $425, compared with $431 for all overseas-born and $488 for all Australia-born. The total Australian population had a median individual weekly income of $466. Therefore, median weekly earnings for Chinese Australians are relatively lower than the population average.[36]

Notable individuals[edit]


  1. ^ The population of Chinese Australians on Christmas Island are the descendents of Malaysian Chinese who settled the island during colonial times.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The sample for either 2001 (36,782 people), 2006 (56,561) and 2011 (93,894) is the entire Chinese population of Victoria.


  1. ^ a b c d "Australia – Community Profile" (Microsoft Excel download). 2011 Census. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2012-06-24.  Total responses: 25,451,383 for total count of persons: 19,855,288.
  2. ^ "2071.0 – Reflecting a Nation: Stories from the 2011 Census, 2012–2013". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 30 December 2012. 
  3. ^ Simone Dennis (2008). Christmas Island: An Anthropological Study. Cambria Press. pp. 91–. ISBN 9781604975109. 
  4. ^ "Census Data". Australian Government. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  5. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics.
  6. ^ "2914.0 – 2006 Census of Population and Housing – Fact Sheets, 2006". 18 August 2009. Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  7. ^ "99 Grafton St (entry 602511)". Queensland Heritage Register. Queensland Heritage Council. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  8. ^ Dronkers, Jaap. "The higher educational achievement of Chinese pupils, inside and outside of Asia: the higher transparency of Chinese numbers or a higher value of learning within Chinese culture" (PDF). Maastricht University, Netherlands; University of Stockholm, Sweden. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  9. ^ Multicultural Education: Issues, Policies, and Practices – Farideh Salili – Google Books. Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  10. ^ Jean Gittins.(1981). The Diggers From China: The Story of Chinese on the Goldfields. Quartet Books Australia. Melbourne. ISBN 0-908128-16-9. pg 128
  11. ^
  12. ^ Abstracts Hugo Graeme: "Recent trends in Chinese migration to Australia", Paul Jones (University of Melbourne): "New Pathways or Old Trajectories? The Chinese Diaspora in Australia, 1985 to 2005". Papers presented at workshop on Chinese in the Pacific: Where to Now? The Australian National University, Canberra, 2007.
  13. ^ "Migration: permanent additions to Australia's population". 4102.0 – Australian Social Trends, 2007. Australian Bureau of Statistics. 7 August 2007. Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  14. ^ "smith2011"Smith, Peter (10 August 2011). "China biggest source of migrants to Australia". Finance Times Australia. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  15. ^ Ya, Wen (13 April 2012). "Australia – still a nation of immigrants?". Global Times. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  16. ^ Smith, Peter (10 August 2011). "China biggest source of migrants to Australia". Finance Times Australia. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  17. ^ Phil Mercer (16 August 2011). "Chinese Top List of Australia's New Settlers". Retrieved 2012-05-06. 
  18. ^ a b c The Australian Bureau of Statistics publishes this data as being a count of people born in "China (excludes SARs and Republic of China (Taiwan))"
  19. ^ 2011 Census – Australian Community Profile data
  20. ^ "20680-Country of Birth of Person (full classification list) by Sex – Australia" (Microsoft Excel download). 2006 Census. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2008-05-27.  Total count of persons: 19,855,288.
  21. ^ "4102.0 – Australian Social Trends, 2003 : Population characteristics: Ancestry of Australia's population". Australian Bureau of Statistics. Retrieved 2008-05-19. The 2001 census found that: Due to the historic migrations of people from China, especially to Southeast Asia, Chinese ancestry was associated not only with Australia (26%), China (25%) and Hong Kong (11%) but with several other birthplaces, such as Malaysia (10%) and Viet Nam (8%).  The ABS states in relation to the ancestry question for the 2001 census the purpose of an ancestry question is to capture current ethnic or cultural affiliations, which are by nature self-perceived, rather than to attempt to document actual historic family origins.
  22. ^ "What's the 'ethnic vote' going to do in Australia's top-ten ethnic marginal seats?". 
  23. ^ 2011 Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011 Census "Quickstat" "Languages other than English spoken at home"
  24. ^ Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011 Census Longitudinal Data Set "B13 Language Spoken at Home by Sex"
  25. ^ 2011 Census: Sydney Community Profile, Melbourne Community Profile
  26. ^ 2011 Census QuickStats: New South Wales
  27. ^$File/
  28. ^$File/
  29. ^$File/
  30. ^$File/
  31. ^ Lucille Lok-Sun Ngan, Chan Kwok-bun, The Chinese Face in Australia Multi-generational Ethnicity among Australian-born Chinese, 2012, p. 155
  32. ^
  33. ^ a b 2006 Australia Census: Fact Sheet Number A–10: The China-born Community in Victoria
  34. ^ a b 2011 Australia Census: Fact Sheet Number A–3: The China-born Community in Victoria.
  35. ^ a b Government, Australia. "China-born" (PDF). Australian Government. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  36. ^ a b c Government, Australian. "Hong Kong-born" (PDF). Australian Government. Retrieved 2012-05-05. 
  37. ^ The Chinese Diaspora: Space, Place, Mobility, and Identity – Laurence J. C. Ma, Carolyn L. Cartier – Google Books. Retrieved 2012-05-05. 
  38. ^ a b Leung, Kwok. "Parenting Styles and Academic Achievement: A Cross-Cultural Study". Merrill-Palmer. 
  39. ^ "The Dragon Children". The Dragon Children. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  40. ^ Stevenson, Andrew. "Chinese parents taught to prize all-rounders". September 13th 2010. 
  41. ^ OTSUKA, SETSUO. "CULTURAL INFLUENCES ON ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT IN FIJI" (PDF). University of Sydney. Retrieved 2012-05-05. 
  43. ^ Ranbir, Malik. "The Shirk-work Ethic in High School: Vegefication of Anglo-Australian Students" (PDF). Edith Cowan University. 
  44. ^ "3416.0 – Perspectives on Migrants, 2008". Retrieved 2012-05-05. 
  45. ^ "The People of Australia 2006 Census" (PDF). Commonwealth of Australia. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Brawley, Sean, The White Peril – Foreign Relations and Asian Immigration to Australasia and North America 1919–1978, UNSW Press, Sydney, 1995. 9780868402789
  • Cushman, J.W., "A 'Colonial Casualty': The Chinese community in Australian Historiography", Asian Studies Association of Australia, vol.7, no 3, April 1984.
  • Fitzgerald, Shirley, Red Tape, Gold Scissors, State Library of NSW Press, Sydney, 1997.
  • Macgregor, Paul (ed.), Histories of the Chinese in Australasia and the South Pacific, Museum of Chinese Australian History, Melbourne,1995.
  • May, Cathie, Topsawyers: the Chinese in Cairns 1870 to 1920, James Cook University, Townsville, 1984.
  • Richards, D. Manning. Destiny in Sydney: An epic novel of convicts, Aborigines, and Chinese embroiled in the birth of Sydney, Australia. First book in Sydney series. Washington DC: Aries Books, 2012. ISBN 978-0-9845410-0-3
  • Taylor, Antony. "Chinese Emigration to Australia around 1900: A Re-examination of Australia’s ‘Great White Walls’" History Compass (Feb. 2013) 11#2 pp 104–116, DOI:10.1111/hic3.12032
  • Williams, Michael, Chinese Settlement in NSW – A thematic history (Sydney: Heritage Office of NSW, 1999)

External links[edit]