I have a piece in Liminal’s second anthology and it’s my very first collage, a sort of annotated time capsule from Chinatown, Melbourne in the 1880s, 1930s and 1980s. Pre-order here to get 200+ pages of Asian Australian excellence including art, poems, essays, fiction, comics, conversations & more.
For Liminal magazine, I spoke to Hyphenated Biennial artist Jenna Lee about art versus craft, what’s behind a book cover, and the history of the pearling industry.
Jinghua: Part of what we wanted to do was to find the stories missing from the narrative, but I’m really resistant to the idea of heroes… I don’t want to topple one statue and put up another.
Liz: But it’s much harder to find out much about the lives of people who don’t get a statue… We had to go into our research without a predetermined idea of what the final story would be. And it’s this, I think, that’s more useful for those of us on the Left than mining the past for forebears, or new heroes: seeing its radical unfamiliarity.
Liz and I wrote a feature for Overland on Underfoot (our Footscray history multimedia project) and how everyone can make and write history. Read it here.
For The Guardian, I reviewed Monica Zanetti’s teen romcom, Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt), a pretty charming story of queer love – romantic, familial, and intergenerational.
‘Zanetti cleverly plays with the idea that our queer predecessors paved the way for how we live now, but as individuals can be just as bumbling and out of touch as anyone else when it comes to dealing with teenagers. We might idolise OWLs (“older wiser lesbians”) but they’re only flightless, bug-eyed humans after all.’
I’m in the Spring 2020 edition of Meanjin with a review of Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone Sky Gold Mountain. Grab a print copy or subscribe online to read.
My Meanjin piece from the Summer 2019 issue is now online if you’re interested. It’s a review of The Chinawoman, a book about a white woman sex worker who was murdered in 1856 Melbourne, and it’s also a reflection on Chinese-Australian history, Aboriginal deaths in custody today, who is worthy of protection, who is disposable, and how that’s shifted.
‘Between Australia’s hunger to spin its immigrant communities into a simple, palatable narrative, and the PRC government’s mission to absorb the accomplishments of overseas Chinese into its own national history, the richness and complexity of Chinese Australian life can get lost.’
Read my feature on Chinatown and Melbourne’s Chinese communities in Culture Trip.
Finally it’s launch day!
Underfoot presents four virtual audio tours through Footscray’s past. Liz and I bring an intimate lens to local history as we wander the streets and the archives looking for people like us: queers, migrants, radicals and artists. There are some big conversations about capitalism, nationalism and settler nativism, as well as some finely aged gossip.
Each track comes with a map, transcript, photos and notes so you can either explore these places in real life (observing social distancing!) or just enjoy the stories while staying home. You can even dive into some historical research yourself if you’re so inclined.
Jinghua Qian, ‘Border violence as settler nativism’, The Platform, 26 July 2014.
Asked to contemplate what a cross-border politics in Australia could look like today, I want to stress that for me, a movement beyond borders is not a movement of no nations or against nationhood. In fact one of the earliest interactions I had with the Beyond Borders Collective when it first formed was to question a photo on the group’s Facebook page at the time which showed a banner stating ‘no borders, no nations’.
I believe supporting Indigenous sovereignty is essential to cross-border politics, and indeed no contradiction, if a cross-border politics understands that all people have the right to determine their law and the future of their land, though no nation has the right to refuse entry to vulnerable peoples. This is no contradiction unless the only way you can conceive of a country is as private property – which unfortunately seems to be not only a popular metaphor but the dominant interpretation driving government policy.
As Lorenzo Veracini wrote recently in Arena magazine (No. 125, Aug/Sep 2013):
global condemnation of Australia’s stance in 2001 was met with ‘No one can tell me what to do’, ‘Nobody understands us’, and ‘I didn’t do it’ responses (that is, they threw the children overboard), and a Prime Minister who was extraordinarily in touch with public sentiment was speaking about entry to the country as if he was sixteen and talking about his room: ‘We will determine who comes to this country and under what circumstances’.
We shouldn’t accept this metaphor, this myth that a nation is dependent on border policing, and that a country is analogous to private property.
Another question this panel was asked was how can we break from the language that defines the discussion around borders now? This is imperative because a lot of pro-refugee rhetoric doesn’t challenge the problematic ways the discussion has been framed by the right. We need to resist phrases like ‘genuine refugees’ or ‘economic migrants’ or ‘the lucky country’ when it’s only ever been lucky for some, or language that feeds the lie of terra nullius by suggesting Australia is ‘young’, ‘free’ and full of empty space. We need to refuse to make these constant ongoing reassurances that only a small, manageable number of refugees will arrive, that they will be harmless and grateful and assimilate, that they will contribute labour and consumable diversity but nothing disconcerting or transformative. We need to reject this rhetoric not only because it legitimates a claims process that is traumatising, invasive and victimising, but also because it legitimates the Australian government’s right to decide.
The perceived threat of people crossing borders is only part of what motivates Australian policy, so assuaging this anxiety is only part of challenging border violence. Operation Sovereign Borders is very explicitly and obviously about the colonial state performing sovereignty, as are earlier iterations of border control. This tactic has been part of Australian history since the start of colonial occupation. The Colony of Victoria passed the Chinese Act limiting the number of Chinese immigrants on 11 June 1855, before even the first Constitution Bill passed the Victorian House of Commons. And of course, the Immigration Restriction Act was quite famously one of the first major pieces of legislation passed after Federation in 1901. Aboriginal people have been subject to numerous controls on movement in their own countries throughout Australia’s history as well as forced eviction from their lands. This includes an exemption certificate system through which one could access rights otherwise denied to Aboriginal people at the time, such as the right to own land or open a bank account, but in exchange had to seek state permission before visiting family on reserves.
Border violence is central to colonial governments in Australia establishing and legitimating themselves, not least by promoting the notion of Australia as a single country and presenting the border as a natural geographic feature, formed by oceans and waters as Suvendrini Perera discusses. And in fact Australia’s colonial past is brought up quite often in relation to border violence, for example in images of the First Fleet as ‘boat people’. This imagery is important because the fear of invasion as retribution is a powerful motif in white Australian imagination, a motif that Meaghan Morris calls ‘the chain of displacement’. Border violence is part of projecting the invader as outside and other, and functions as a concealment of European invasion.
But bringing up the colonial past can also normalise or nativise settler colonization, and erase Indigenous subjectivity and sovereignty in slogans like ‘we are all boat people’. A focus on the moment of invasion or on the colonial past positions colonisation as history, as a done deal, to which the only sensible responses are regret and apology, or pride and forgetfulness. But Australia has a colonial present. The border is not a natural or inevitable thing and neither is colonisation.
Understanding colonisation as an ongoing and always incomplete process suggests a future that’s open to change. It shifts the onus of explanation to those who want to create and maintain borders rather than those who want to question them. It challenges the myth that refugees are a breach in an otherwise secure border. And it reaches through to a space where white Australia is and can only ever be a fiction that is made material through violence.
This article, published in Anarchist Affinity’s print magazine The Platform in 2014, is adapted from Jinghua’s speech for the Movement Beyond Borders public forum held on Wurundjeri land at the Victorian Trades Hall on Saturday 30 November 2013. The forum was organised by the Beyond Borders Collective, with speakers Kaneez Raza, Angela Mitropoulos, Dawood, Ruben Blake and Jinghua Qian sharing their perspectives, followed by questions and discussion with the audience. You can watch the video of the forum here (1 hour 54 minutes).