eCite Digital Repository

Across the threshold: white women and Chinese hawkers in the white colonial imaginary


Bagnall, K, Across the threshold: white women and Chinese hawkers in the white colonial imaginary, Hecate, 28, (2) pp. 9-32. ISSN 0311-4198 (2002) [Refereed Article]

Restricted - Request a copy

Copyright Statement

Copyright 2002 Hecate Press

Official URL:


One of the best-known images of the Chinese in colonial Australia was created by Livingstone Hopkins (Hop), the Bulletin's chief cartoonist from 1883 to 1913, and it captured White Australia's image of the life of the Chinese man in the colonies. The drawing, from 1886, shows a lone Chinese hawker walking through the Rocks in Sydney. Dressed in typical Australian workingman's clothes, balancing baskets laden with goods on a pole over his shoulder, he was representative of the `typical' Chinese man in Australia. We cannot see his face, but we know he is Chinese from his baskets and his isolation -- he is alone, plying his trade without companion or friend.(1)

The Chinese population in colonial Australia was primarily male. Few Chinese women accompanied their men to the `New Gold Mountain' in their pursuit of gold and work, and typically it was thought that Chinese men lived an isolated and lonely life, like Hop's hawker in the Rocks, or that they `stuck together' and had only limited interaction with White colonists. If we look deeper, however, we see that Chinese men were interacting and mixing with the wider population in their work and social lives. Hop's lonely hawker went into the White community every day, selling his wares door-to-door, meeting and communicating with his White customers, many of them women. He might even have gone home at night to a wife, an Australian woman perhaps, and their children.

This paper explores representations of the relationships between Chinese hawkers and their White female customers in colonial Australia. It has emerged from a wider study examining mixed Chinese-White families in New South Wales in the colonial period,(2) and in particular the question of how White women met and formed relationships -- business, platonic or sexual -- with Chinese men. A significant number of accounts and representations of interactions between Chinese men and White women that I found in the colonial papers were of hawkers and their customers, suggesting that this was one of the primary ways Chinese men and White women encountered each other. The representations also provide a window on how interactions across racial and gender boundaries were perceived by White male colonists.

Item Details

Item Type:Refereed Article
Keywords:Chinese-Australian history, women's history, history of the family
Research Division:History, Heritage and Archaeology
Research Group:Historical studies
Research Field:Australian history
Objective Division:Culture and Society
Objective Group:Understanding past societies
Objective Field:Understanding Australia's past
UTAS Author:Bagnall, K (Dr Kate Bagnall)
ID Code:139692
Year Published:2002
Deposited By:Office of the School of Humanities
Deposited On:2020-06-26
Last Modified:2020-07-28

Repository Staff Only: item control page