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Marilyn Lake

Abstract

In 1887 Qing Imperial Commissioners General Wong Yung Ho and U Tsing visited Melbourne as part of an investigative mission to enquire into the treatment of Chinese imperial subjects in Southeast Asia and the Australian colonies. In this article I suggest that the political ramifications of their visit should be understood in the context of the larger imperial and national contestations occurring in the colony of Victoria in the 1880s. White colonial assertions of the rights of self-government — argued in defiance of imperial power both British and Chinese — and Chinese appeals to international law were antagonistic, but mutually constitutive claims. The more Chinese community leaders and the Imperial Commissioners appealed to the primacy of international law, the more strident were white colonial invocations of a newly defined national interest couched in a republican discourse on national sovereignty defined as border protection.