Publication Details

Gibson, P. (2017). Voices of Sydney's Chinese furniture factory workers, 1890-1920. Labour History: a journal of labour and social history, (112), 99-117.


Chinese furniture factory workers were the focus of a heated debate that helped shape "White Australia." Often considered a threat to the "European," or "white," working class, they were vigorously campaigned against by labour activists and staunchly defended by Chinese merchant elites, the outcome of this contest being the institution of a range of anti-Chinese legislation from the 1880s. While labour activists' claims about Chinese furniture factory workers - and to a certain extent the counterclaims of Chinese elites - have been scrutinised in historical scholarship, workers' own reflections on their lives have not been examined. Drawing for the most part on New South Wales bankruptcy files, this paper explores the world of Sydney's Chinese furniture workers as they described it. It argues that their understandings of their activities were considerably more complex than the assertions made about them.



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