Emotion, Race and China Threat: Two Australians in China, 1894 – 1914

Ms Juan Juan Wu1

1University of Melbourne, Australia

This paper explores the ways in which emotions create the effect of racial boundaries in representations of Chinese subjects in narratives of travels by two Australians to China. In 1894, George Ernest Morrison (1862-1920) journeyed from Shanghai via the Yangtze to British Burma, blending exotic adventures with ethnographic depictions in An Australian in China (1895). Following Morrison’s footsteps, Mary Gaunt (1861-1942), another Australian from Victoria, published A Woman in China (1915) and A Broken Journey (1919), recounting her spontaneous and often contradictory responses to myriad sensations during her journeys in northern China. Morrison and Gaunt’s judgements and perceptions of the Chinese reflect a complex set of attitudes inflected by colonial racism, through which they negotiate their encounters with the Chinese other. Their experiences, however, could not be entirely subsumed within discourses of eugenicism or anti-Asian racism circulating in colonial Australia. Engaging with Sara Ahmed’s notion of ‘affective economy’, in which emotions play a crucial role in the ‘surfacing’ of individual and collective bodies, I examine different emotions evoked in the texts, focusing on their productive roles in reinforcing or dissolving racial boundaries between Chinese and Anglo-Australian. Caught between fascination and fear, as well as between affection and aversion, both Morrison and Gaunt show an apparent emotional ambivalence towards China and its people. This pattern of ambivalence reveals a sense of anxiety of being Australian, an identity that is neither British nor Asian. However, viewed from a different angle, it may also allow for an affective space for cross-cultural and transnational connections between Australia and China, or Asia in general.


Juan Juan Wu is a PhD candidate in the School of Culture and Communication at the University of Melbourne. She completed a Master of Arts at Fudan University, Shanghai, China in 2016. Her thesis looks at emotion, sociability and cosmopolitan subjectivity in female-authored travel narratives about China between 1878 and 1929.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.

Photo Credits: Visit Victoria

© 2019 Conference Design Pty Ltd