Political leaders ran campaigns based on these immigration issues which shed light on popular public opinion of that time. Future Prime Minister Edmund Barton stated “equality of man was not meant to extend to equality of the races” whilst another future Prime Minister John Watson expressed his reason for rejecting Chinese immigration was the “probability of racial contamination.”

However, amid the examples of discrimination there were also inspiring examples of goodwill and advocacy on the part of Chinese advocates as told by this panel.

The pamphlet presented to the Victorian Parliament, entitled ‘The Chinese Question 1878-79’, was written by prominent local figures Lowe Kong MengCheong Cheok Hong and Louis Ah Moy.

As well as then misguided commentary demonising the Chinese in public debates, the decision to write the pamphlet was propelled by the 1878 seamen’s strike against the introduction of coloured labour by the Australasian Steam Navigation Company. Trade unions saw the increasing number of Chinese as a direct threat to the economic well-being of local workers.

The pamphlet served to educate the public about the often-misunderstood Chinese culture, highlighting the similarities to the West in the value that is placed on hard work and justice. With humour, it also boldly addressed the hypocrisy of Western governments in not upholding treaty obligations and the unfairness in their treatment of Chinese nationals. The high-quality argument and themes dealt with did not appear to shape the subsequent years, which instead brought about the White Australia Policy and the seemingly perpetual question of migrant identity in Australia.

However, the pamphlet does stand as an encouraging historical piece with extreme relevance to today’s debates surrounding Chinese immigration, business, and influence in Australia. It may help ensure mistakes are not repeated and admirable elements are taken forward.

Here are some striking quotes from the Chinese Question Pamphlet-

“your missionaries came among us and read from your Scriptures beautiful precepts like those of Confucius. They spoke to us of the brotherhood of man, and told us that the foundation principle of the social religion of Englishman is this –Ye shall do unto other as ye would they should unto you.: And this also, is the sentiment of our own Great Teacher. … Chinese immigrants set out for this land of promise… they came to work, not to beg or steal

“In Buckland, the Chinese were “…set upon by other diggers, chased from their claims, cruelly beaten and maltreated, their tents plundered and burnt down. We do not think this was doing as you would be done by”

"The ignorance thus complained of continues to this very hour; and the vilest epithets are bestowed upon our countrymen by speakers on platforms, who know nothing whatever about China or its people; and who condemn a whole nation on account of the vices and crimes of a small minority. Can any language be too strong to employ in protesting against such an outrageous act of injustice?"

Book cover of "The Chinese Question in Australia" written in 1879 by L. Kong Meng, Cheok Hong Cheong, and Louis Ah Mouy.