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In the introductory essay to this collection, Wenche Ommundsen offers an account of the recent emergence of Asian Australian writing as a category within Australian literature and Australian literary studies: its relation to other critical categories such as diasporic writing or transnational writing; its debates and theoretical underpinnings; its capacity to redefine the national literature as a whole. The essay concludes with some reflections on the trajectory of Australian literature in the 'Asian century' and the transformative power of transnational and transcultural interaction.
When did ‘Asian Australian writing’ come into existence? Answering this question is almost as difficult as deciding when people from the regions now known as Asia first arrived in Australia. We know, for example, that Chinese settlers filed petitions protesting their treatment by colonial governments as early as 1855 (Broinowski 11), and that autobiographical writing appeared in the 1920s (Shen 2001). Creative writers started publishing in the 1950s (Mena Abdullah), 60s (Chitra Fernando) and 70s (Ee Tiang Hong, Brian Castro) – and when we know more about publications in languages other than English, these dates are likely to be pushed back further.1 However, as a category of writing, Asian Australian writing did not emerge until the 1990s, and its currency within literary scholarship dates back not much more than a decade2, following in the footsteps of ‘Asian American writing’, which had developed as a successful and influential field of literary and critical production since the 1980s (see articles by Dorothy Wang and Mridula Chakraborty in this volume).