Events in the Department of History

Events from 30 August, 2015

  • Date
  • 17th September, 2015 to 18th September, 2015

    Thinking Labour Rights through the 'Coolie Question'

    Symposium to be held as part of the Laureate Research Program in International History, University of Sydney, Australia

    This symposium sets out to re-think histories of labour rights within the context of economic internationalism.  It suggests that there is now a need to broaden and re-think the field of labour rights history and that one way to do this is by focusing on the global response to the problem of coolie trade, what became known as the 'coolie question,’ in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The period of the coolie trade extends from approximately the early 1840s – one consequence of the ending of slavery in the British empire - to the 1920s. The idea behind the coolie trade was a simple one. It sought to extract labour from China, India and the Pacific Islands and transport it to locations across the world, where it was in short supply, through systems of indenture. However the system that developed was widely condemned as inefficient, exploitative and often as akin to slavery.
    The workshop will feature three keynote speakers:

    Associate Professor Moon Ho-Jung (University of Washington)
    Professor Mae Ngai (Colombia University)
    Professor Leon Fink (University of Illinois) 
    We welcome papers on the following themes:
    · Free and unfree labour
    · Labour and Empire
    · Economic internationalism and free trade liberalism
    · The ‘coolie question’ as a methodological category
    · Slavery and imperial migration schemes
    · Comparative labour history
    · Asian migration and labour rights
    · Gender and labour rights
    Abstracts should be sent to Sophie Loy-Wilson by April 30th 2015.
    This workshop will be co-conveyed by Prof Marilyn Lake (University of Melbourne) and Dr Sophie Loy-Wilson (University of Sydney)
  • 8th October, 2015

    Mobility, Intimacy and Decolonisation: The 'Chinese Australian problem' after 1949

    In the first half of the twentieth century, a significant number of mixed-race Chinese Australian families made use of imperial networks to establish families and businesses in both Australia and China, settling mostly in the treaty-port city of Shanghai. There they formed a unique community that traveled frequently between Australia and China up until the 1950s when 'frontiers slammed shut' after the Chinese Communist Party banned emigration and imposed strict entry/exit controls on the movement of people and capital; some husbands and wives would not be reunited until the relaxation of these restrictions in the 1970s. This moment of rapture caused a flurry of correspondence between families, Australian and British government officials and international agencies such as the Red Cross on the topic of Chinese Australian mobility. Correspondence written at this time, and reflecting back on decades of movement and inter-racial marriage, shows how Chinese Australian families shaped imperial networks and laid the foundations for Australia's economic engagement with China in the twenty-first century. This correspondence also reveals that thinking through the ‘Chinese Australian problem’ in the 1950s influenced Australian government policies towards decolonizing Asia at the tail-end of the British Empire.

    Sophie Loy-Wilson is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Laureate Research Centre for International History at the University of Sydney, currently writing a book entitled Australia and the China Trade: a Cultural History from 1850 (forthcoming with Routledge in 2015).

    After the Seminar
    To allow for informal discussion, the seminar will be followed by a dinner with the guest speaker at 6:15pm. The location of the restaurant will be announced at the seminar. All are welcome, though those who attend will need to pay for their own food and drinks. As reservations must be made at the restaurant, please RSVP by noon of the day before the seminar to

    The ANU China Seminar Series is supported by the China Institute, the Research School of Asia and the Pacific, and the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University.