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Law as Politics: Chinese Litigants in Australian Colonial Courts

In: Journal of Chinese Overseas
Author: Mark Finnane
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Abstract

The recent historiography of Chinese in Australia has emphasised their vigorous formation of a local identity and community even in the face of recurrent and expanding threats of exclusion from colonial life. In their ready embrace of legal remedies to redress what they saw as discrimination or other harms, the Chinese were exemplar colonial settlers who looked to the law to protect them. In colonial appeal courts, Chinese litigants challenged migration controls, contested convictions under opium restriction and gambling laws, sought equitable outcomes in property inheritance and challenged exclusionary regulation under the Factory Acts. In contrast to another kind of history of the Chinese in Australian law, as defendants in criminal prosecution, this article draws attention to the Chinese engagement in legal remedies as an assertion of their entitlement to recognition and fair play.

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