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Paul Macgregor

Abstract

Lowe Kong Meng (Liu Guangming 劉光眀, 1831-1888),1 pre-eminent merchant and community leader of gold-rush Melbourne, was active in Australian politics, self-regarded as a British subject yet engaged with the Qing dynasty and was likely the first overseas Chinese awarded rank in the Chinese imperial service. Victoria’s mid-1880 election was a watershed: the immediate aftermath was the re-introduction of regulations penalising Chinese, after over 15 years of free immigration and no official discrimination. After the election it was claimed that Lowe Kong Meng persuaded Victoria’s Chinese to vote for the government, but was it in his interests to do so? This article examines the nature of Lowe Kong Meng’s engagement in European and Chinese political activity in the colony, as well as the extent of his leadership in Chinese colonial and diasporic life and explores how much he could have used that leadership to influence electoral outcomes. The article also examines how Lowe Kong Meng and the wider Chinese population of the colony brought changing political agendas to Victoria and developed these agendas through their colonial experiences.