Writing the Empire: Scribblings from Below
An international & interdisciplinary conference
Phillipe de Vigors, ‘Convicts letter writing at Cockatoo Island, New South Wales, 1849’
Reproduced by kind permission of the State Library of New South Wales, Sydney
Event Dates: June 24-26th 2010
Marilyn Lake – Chinese colonists writing their rights
I propose to present a paper on the ways in which Chinese colonists responded to racial discrimination and persecution in nineteenth century Victoria by writing in a range of political genres: papers, petitions, remonstrances, books and letters. Too often Chinese colonists are treated historiographically as silent and inarticulate victims. In fact, they drew upon a range of available discursive resources – Christianity, Confucianism, Jefferson and Vattel – to construct a novel case for imperial recognition of racial equality as a ‘human right’ and they were among the first in the world to make this claim. In presenting this paper, I suggest that we move in analytical terms beyond the binaries that often inform imperial history – between colonized and colonizer, metropole and periphery, between Indigenous and settler and beyond a conception of the British empire as autonomous and self-contained. By adopting a more cosmopolitan historical practice I suggest we are able to see empires in the plural – British and Chinese in this case – engaged in discursive interaction through writings that produce texts that might be understood, in Antoinette Burton’s words, as imperial co-productions.
Marilyn Lake, La Trobe University, email.
Marilyn Lake is Professor in History and Associate Dean Research in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at La Trobe University, Melbourne. Her most recent book is Drawing the Global Colour Line: White Men’s Countries and the International Challenge to Racial Equality, co-authored with Henry Reynolds and co-published in 2008 by Cambridge University Press and Melbourne University Press. It won the Queensland Premier’s Prize for History and the Ernest Scott Prize for the best book in Australian, New Zealand and Colonization history. She is currently working on new histories of human rights, cosmopolitanism and transnational politics.