Understanding the 'New Chinese' who're changing Australia

Book Review: 'The New Chinese' by Barry Li

It goes without saying that the Australia those of us who are older than 60 grew up in, is a vastly different place to the Australia we are now living in.

The New Chinese, subtitled How They Are Changing Australia, was written by Chinese-born Australian accountant Barry Li. It is a guide to understanding the role of the Chinese in Australia, and to doing business with China. His personal story is an interesting one, although it is not the main focus and it is only gradually revealed.

Barry was born in China during the period of the ‘one child policy’. He hardly saw his parents and lived with other relatives. He studied in China, then came to Australia for further higher education. He married, and he and his wife returned to China, where there was no room for them despite their qualifications in the booming Chinese economy. They returned to Australia, and are now citizens, along with their Australian-born sons. Barry gives hours of mentoring work to accountants with CPA.

For the purposes of this book, ‘New Chinese’ are those who were born after 1949 in mainland China and grew up there. This excludes a lot of the Chinese people Australians would meet, such as those from Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan, Australian-born Chinese and those who were born in China but grew up elsewhere. Their attitudes are quite different.

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Within The New Chinese, there are different experiences with the older group having experienced greater hardship and poverty. Chinese born in the 1990s have experienced an affluent China. What they do have in common, though, is a lack of interest in politics. Li gives an excellent analysis of the differences among Chinese people, particularly Mandarin and Cantonese speakers, and between rich and poor, which is a growing divide in China. Of course, most of the Chinese Australians meet in Australia are comparatively rich.

Li examines political beliefs and practices. Centuries of Confucian principles of duty and obedience make democratic theory inconceivable and a strong, centralised government was key to the rapid growth and prosperity from the 80s on. The average Chinese, says Li, is a realist and values economic growth over theories of politics, although, he points out, many Chinese are highly superstitious.

China has experienced mammoth economic growth through exporting to the rest of the world.  This has come at a cost to family life, to the environment, the state of which is driving wealthy Chinese to migrate, and to the social fabric with 1 percent owning a third of China’s wealth. Chinese business dealings are also deeply affected by the culture of alcohol.

Li also comments on Chinese employment in Australia, pleading the case of Chinese-born graduates with little life experience but highly qualified, and often with poor English.

To the vexed question of property prices in Australia, Li explains how the Chinese are future orientated with the two big areas of investment being property and education. Property is cheaper in Australia than China for those with money to invest. He also explains the importance of ‘face’ in spending.

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In conclusion, Li reflects on Chinese who live in Australia who feel the migrants tug of loving their adopted country and of continuing ties with their culture.

This book is easy to read, written in a simple style with chapter summaries and many examples that show the human side, not dry statistics.

Whether you are in business or a profession where you have contact with much Chinese, or whether you are just an observer of Australian life, I can recommend this book.

The New Chinese by Barry Li is available in select bookstores and online at www.thenewchinese.com.