Octopus Man and Tiger Woman - Why the Chinese Are Bad for Australian Nationhood

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 4:30 PM
Room: F201
Oral Presentation
Georgina TSOLIDIS , University of Ballarat, Ballarat, Australia
Historically Australia has considered itself a white, Christian and British bastion in the South Pacific region. The main threat to this status was conceived of as coming from the east, particularly from the ‘hordes’ of Chinese who would sweep down and over run the nation. These discourses were prominent during the Gold Rushes when Chinese men were constructed as a threat and represented as an octopus of evil. Immigration policies were instigated to stop the ‘yellow peril’. While the so-called White Australia Policy was formally rescinded in the 1970s those from Asian are still constructed as a threat.

Most recently it is Chinese students who are ‘taking over’ the most desirable government schools. Because of their hard work and diligence they are excelling at entry exams and providing little incentive for mainstream Australian students to compete or be schooled in environments dominated by Asian students. Tiger mothers are represented as standing over their children, ensuring they work hard enough to achieve well. The work ethic associated with the Chinese is a form of racism. In contemporary discourses this is associated with rote learning for exams rather than independent thought.

In this paper historical depictions of Chinese men represented as an octopus ready to seduce Australian women, including through the provision of heroin, will be contrasted to depictions of Chinese women as Tiger mothers who stand behind their children ready to wield ‘tough love’ towards success. What does the promulgation of such representations in the media tell us about Australian nationhood and its reliance on gendered forms of racism for meaning?