The Chinese community and the Australian multicultural ideal
The idea of multiculturalism has been under attack this year in some Western countries, especially Britain, Germany and France. Some leaders have advocated the winding back of a multicultural society where people of different national and ethnic backgrounds integrate together, or at least have tolerance of each other. David Cameron, British PM, has spoken of the need for a more 'muscular liberalism' to ensure compliance with 'our' values'.
The Australian experience with multiculturalism has generally been much more positive, having emerged after the collapse of the White Australia Policy in the late 1960s and the 1970s. Non-discriminatory immigration policies have continued to bring a reasonably planned flow of migrants to Australia from Europe, Asia, Africa, the South Pacific and North and South America. In other words from all over the world. In 2009-2010 the total number of migrants arriving in Australia was a little less than 140,000.
The first official expressions of an Australian multicultural ideal started to emerge in the early 1970s. The hope was that Australia would become a land where sharing and mutual respect between Australians of all cultural heritages would thrive. Forty years on the ideal has put down quite deep roots. The hope to a certain extent has been met. Continued celebration and effort will always be needed to keep the ideal healthy.
The Chinese community is amongst the oldest Australian community with a distinct cultural heritage. It is a very vibrant community with at least half a million Australians identifying themselves as part of it. It has many community and cultural organisations in all States. There is a year-round calendar of Chinese cultural events. There are many Chinese daily newspapers and Chinese-language programmes on radio and television. There are Chinese temples and churches. Many people of Chinese background are in business and the public service. Some are turning up in the Parliaments and Local Government councils. They are in the professions, such as accountancy, business and finance, banking, medicine, law and teaching.
There is much to be proud of and much to remember about the trials and tribulations of Chinese in an earlier Australian society with a highly discriminatory immigration policy, racial intolerance, overwhelming Britishness and a rigid class structure. Multicultural Australia has been a good thing for the Chinese over the past forty years. As we have been the recipients of its benefits, we must be givers to the ideal too. One thing it means is being careful about becoming too self-absorbed, self-satisfied about our own cultural heritage and being ready to learn more about other communities' cultures.
As Chinese we often proudly talk of the “fine tradition of Chinese Culture”. Due to this love and pride, we see that Chinese community organisations and individuals are keen to maintain, develop and promote our Culture in the new lands outside China. We hope to spread our “fine tradition of Chinese Culture” through community and social activities, the celebration of festivals, the staging of many cultural performances, promotion of Chinese art and literature, the running of a diverse Chinese-language media and, for many of our people, the continued involvement in religious activities. We seek to maintain use of the Chinese language, especially amongst younger people, by establishing and running Saturday and Sunday schools. The Chinese community is also expanding its work into social welfare, housing, aged care, child care and kindergarten.
There are many Chinese in Australia who migrated from Southeast Asia. They too have gone through many struggles and much hard work over many decades to protect and develop the Chinese education and language. This is due to fear of their governments restricting the development of Chinese language teaching. Understandably, the Chinese are defensive and protective in their mentality. Their first thoughts are about cultural survival. They have given little time to think of integration and cross cultural exchanges. Nevertheless, the Chinese in Southeast Asia have played a vital role in preserving and developing their language, education and culture. This is part of the proud history of overseas Chinese in Southeast Asia.
We hope that other ethnic communities in Australia will understand and appreciate our “fine Chinese culture”. So far the Chinese community in Australia has done a good job, but this is not enough in the context of a multicultural Australia. We see that all levels of government, Federal, State and Local are promoting cross cultural activities. We see joint functions of community groups are being organised to promote cross-cultural activities. Municipal libraries take part in it too.
The Chinese community needs to participate in these areas of activity. Not only do we want other people to appreciate our “fine Chinese culture and tradition”, we should also learn to appreciate and respect the different cultures and traditions of other peoples, and especially learn from their “fine cultures and traditions”.
We must acknowledge that younger generations are going even further through inter-racial marriage. This will definitely have a significant impact on the social and cultural life of the new generation of Chinese in Australia. Parents will have to adapt to a tide of new freedoms, choices and opportunities for the younger generation.
We have to be a complete part of cross-cultural life, taking in new social experiences and experiments. The Chinese community needs to jump out of our closed cultural circle, participating more in the wider social environment. Especially those in leadership roles in Chinese community organisations will need to expand their horizons a little so as to make a greater contribution to building Australia's multicultural ideal.