The promised land
Chinese immigrants are remaking entire suburbs of Australia's biggest city
Dinkum incomes in China Town
NANCY LIU arrived in Sydney from China as a “skilled immigrant” with an economics degree 14 years ago. With her husband, she set up a business consultancy in the suburb of Hurstville, once an Anglo-Celtic working-class stronghold. Since then, Chinese investment has transformed it: most of its shop signs are now in Chinese. Last year, Ms Liu was elected Hurstville's deputy mayor.
Ms Liu was a forerunner of a new wave of Chinese immigrants to Australia's oldest and biggest city. Hong Kong once supplied most of Australia's Chinese settlers, but over the past few years the pattern has shifted. Now it is the rising middle classes from mainland China who go there, looking for a cleaner, more relaxed lifestyle. About 4% of Sydney's 4.6m people were born in China. Hurstville's China-born population is about a third of its total and almost half its residents claim Chinese ancestry.
But China's emergence as Australia's biggest trading partner, and its largest source of foreign university students, has revolutionised the relationship. In the fiscal year 2011-12, more than 25,000 Chinese people obtained permanent residence in Australia. Most of them were from the new middle classes. Then in late 2012 Australia launched a “significant investor” visa, aimed at China's super-rich. To get one, people need A5m to sink in “qualifying” investments. After investing for four years, successful applicants can apply for permanent residence.Sydney's first Chinese immigrants arrived as farm workers in the 1840s. The gold rush a decade later drew more. “Celestial City: Sydney's Chinese story”, an exhibition at the Museum of Sydney, shows what happened next. By the 1880s, political fears of a “Chinese invasion” sparked anti-Asian immigration laws known as the White Australia policy, which lasted well into the 20th century.
The visas are called “subclass 188” and “subclass 888”. As the number eight represents luck and prosperity in Chinese culture, the visa's main target is obvious. More than 90% of 702 applicants so far have been Chinese.
Many of the emigres are media-shy. But their influence is visible in Chatswood, another formerly Anglo-Australian suburb. Towers of apartments, many owned by Chinese immigrants, now overlook the Edwardian-era stone and timber bungalows. Shops on the main street are crammed with Chinese noodles and vegetables, and Mandarin is the chief language among shoppers. Stacks of Chinese newspapers outnumber English ones.
Yan Zhang, who settled in Sydney after studying at Macquarie University, orders a lunch of pork dumplings at the New Shanghai restaurant. He reckons the new wave of middle-class Chinese immigrants, who arrive with residence already granted, come to Australia for the same reasons he did. “They want to make life more enjoyable and more secure,” he says. “If I'd returned to China, I'd have had to be more selfish to survive.”