Chinese Community Associations (Part 1)
Melbourne Today (今日墨尔本)
06 October 2019

The following is a translation of an article by NSW upper house Labor MP Ernest Kwok Chung Wong (王国忠) on the role of Chinese community associations in Australia. He has previously been listed as an “adviser” to the Australian Council for the Promotion of Peaceful Reunification of China.

Ernest Wong’s Weekly Commentary: Another look at Chinese associations in Australia today (Part 1)

There is a long history of Chinese associations, and I have always thought their foundation and operation are important for society and for our ethnic group itself. I’ve learned a lot about associations in the past several decades, and as well as uniting the community, they also enable our ethnic group to exert its proper influence.

Joining social organisations since I was young

I have taken part in various organisations and activities since middle school, including student associations and different study groups. Later when I came to study in Australia I looked after various recreation activities for a culture club, and ran an English class, teaching seniors to cope with everyday English. I already had close relations with the community before I entered politics; and it was because of them that I finally did it.

I have had indelible relationships with different community groups in my political career. Over the years, I have been involved in and supported their activities. I have also assisted aspiring people to form groups, so that different groups can increase communication and even combine together to achieve greater success.

Sometimes, I would also assist groups to register and meet legal requirements. From city councils to the State Parliament, I have assisted different associations to apply, and to make reports regularly according to the rules. I remember some media once questioned why I assisted a group to get their registration done, but in fact, it’s something I’ve always done.

A new look for associations

There has always been a strong demand in society for associations and organisations, and there have been great changes in associations over the years. I wrote about the history of the rise and fall of Chinese associations in Australia, which was quite short due to space limitations. We can now see a new look for some new associations, compared with the past, but are they in fact beneficial to our Chinese community? And do they conform to the structure and spirit Chinese associations should have?

When we look back at Chinese associations, some of them have a long history and are more than 100 years old. Most of them are from twenty or thirty to forty or fifty years old.

Of course, more different types of groups have appeared in the past ten years.

The establishment of an association must have a clear purpose. For example, in history, various associations have mainly served fellow countrymen; therefore, the early ones were mostly people from the same villages, and later people in various professions and industry groups. The first to appear were agricultural help associations and food and drink industry unions (the industries in which Chinese were mainly engaged at that time). Later, there were more professional groups, such as doctors, Chinese medicine practitioners, dentists, lawyers, etc., to strengthen industry communications and be a voice on behalf of the industry.

A third type serves the community and provides different services for Chinese people, such as Chinese service agencies, special children’s service centres, rehabilitation clubs and senior citizens’ accommodation. In this category, there are also groups that focus on raising funds, such as the Chinese Community Chest, the Huijian Club and the Lions Clubs. As well as these, clubs with Chinese history and culture as their core, such as the Australian Chinese Historical Society, should not be overlooked.

The most common organisations in recent years include those which promote friendship between two countries, which are springing up like shoots after rain. In fact, organisations that aim at political or international relations have a definite value. Various countries also have similar organisations overseas.

Chinese associations have a history of merit

Groups based on village fellow-feeling have a long history, such as the Hung Men Society, the Yaoming Townsfolk Association, the Sze Yup Townsfolk Association, the Dongguan Townsfolk Association, the Zengcheng Townsfolk Association and the Zhongshan Association. When these associations were founded information and transportation were not as developed as today. The Chinese who came to Australia to make a living or settle down lacked channels to send money home, and there was no way to communicate with their families. Therefore, Chinese people had to combine their forces in township associations to deal with various matters, including weddings and funerals.

These groups established an Australian Chinese cultural history and an irreplaceable status for Chinese in Australian society. They built temples and accommodation, preserved festival traditions, and sent remittances to their hometowns (especially in the years when China was poor and weak), and were a foundation for multiculturalism in Australia.

These groups in turn pushed Australian governments to change their policy-making. For example, in those years the government intended to increase agricultural taxes. Consequently, Chinese farmers held a general strike to force the government to abandon the tax increase, in conjunction with the Yaoming and Sze Yup Associations and the Agricultural Association.

These groups have even affected the international situation. For example, when the Chinese Revolution of 1911 abolished thousands of years of empire, history shows that Australia’s Hung Men Society spared no effort in contributing money and forces.

I have a lot of admiration for the contributions these village associations have made to the Chinese community over the years.

As for professional associations and organisations that intend to serve society, they have only begun in recent times, because their organisers are mostly professional people, who are ethically, organisationally and financially rigorous, and serve those in need according to government requirements, for example the organisation of nursing homes is very worthy of our support and assistance.

Associations striving for official approval: a good or bad thing?

In fact, it is understandable that associations strive for recognition from all sectors. If they spend comprehensively for their members, use the results to gain recognition, and strive for more resources to serve a wider public, I support and encourage them 100%.

What I want to discuss in this article is the tendency of some communities to seek official recognition (including domestic and foreign), to promote their so-called “social status” and “influence” in the eyes of some people, and to attach themselves to official trends.

From the early Taiwan economic take-off, to the opening of China’s economy in recent years, both sides of the Taiwan Strait have competed to win over the associations. The “leaders” of various groups are often invited to go back for visits. Because they have government support, groups receive a lot of subsidies and are received at a high-level, which has made many associations rush after these benefits, making something good into something bad, with a lot of community infighting and strife within associations. This has had a far-reaching impact on their reputation.

In fact, this phenomenon also occurs in all ethnic descendant communities, but in the extent of proliferation and exaggeration, the Chinese community is definitely second to none. Whether getting local government dignitaries to attend events or getting the recognition of a foreign government (this situation is seen as a show of strength, completely ignoring the indicators that target service effectiveness), some associations spare no effort, try every means, fight openly and secretly and turn things upside down to get it.

Slowly, many organisers have been vying to form associations for impure purposes, intended to enhance the “social status” of individuals and promote their interests.

In fact there is an original intention for the establishment of all associations, and it’s hard for us to say critically that one is better than another, but objectively speaking this proliferation just greatly diminishes their status, influence and prestige, producing the strange phenomenon where although associations are many in number, yet their influence is gradually decreasing.

Between virtual and real

This is the difference between virtual and real.

It doesn’t really mean financial resources. Of course, I don’t deny that a society’s sound finances is a kind of strength, but more importantly, a lot of the meaningful activities and work of community organisations themselves are not built up by money alone. To really make a difference, there has to be long-term, untiring commitment from organisers and volunteers.

Lacking a stable foundation from harmony and resolution, then only virtual things remain: bluffing, bluster, singing praises and superficiality have had a very bad effect on society and politics.

To be continued in Part 2.


Translation by: Graeme Ford, NAATI No. 5046

Date of translation: 27 October 2018

Read More