Research literature on contemporary entrepreneurship among overseas Chinese tends to focus on how individual Chinese migrants adjust to their host societies. Far less attention is paid to how Chinese diaspora networks are mobilized to take advantage of China’s economic development and to stimulate the economies of their host societies. Taking the case of Chinese Australian businesses in the early twentieth century, this paper will show how community organizations produced and reproduced the dynamic processes of Chinese enterprises in order to enhance group mobility, social creativity, and commercial strategies. It will argue that the Sydney branches of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT), Chinese Chamber of Commerce, and Chinese Masonic Society functioned as agencies that promoted different economic interests among Chinese in Australasia.
These three organisations mobilised the community in the name of ethnic identity and, in turn, this ethnic identity was also important in shaping Chinese diaspora business culture.
Yet the diversity of business interests, practices, and mobilisation of these community organisations urges against any claim that Chinese Australians share a uniform business culture.
Dr Mei-fen Kuo is an ARC DECRA Research Fellow at School of Historical and Philosophical Inquiry, University of Queensland. Her current project examines the important but under-acknowledged role of Chinese Australian businesses and merchants in bilateral trade and investment from the late nineteenth century to World War II. Her publications include Making Chinese Australia: Urban Elites, Newspapers and the Formation of Chinese Australian Identity, 1892–1912 (Monash University Publishing) and, with Judith Brett, Unlocking the History of the Australasian Kuo Min Tang, 1911–2013 (Australian Scholarly Publishing).
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The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the China Institute and the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University’s College of Asia & the Pacific.