Views of ‘89ers’ and of Home: How Chinese Australian Communities Responded to ‘June 4’ and the Students who Sought Asylum in Australia

Mr Nathan Gardner1

1The University Of Melbourne, , Australia

Four years after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, some 40,000 Chinese students, familiarly termed ‘89ers’, were granted permanent residency by the Keating Government after a protracted political and legal campaign—resulting in Australia’s largest single intake of individuals seeking asylum ever. As Jia Gao’s research into the 89ers’ organisation and campaigning suggested, established Chinese Australian community organisations played an important role; but not all groups and not at all times. This paper draws upon archival ephemera, Chinese and English language media and various interview materials to delve into the ways established Chinese Australian communities responded to both the 89ers’ campaign to stay in Australia, as well as to their responses to ‘June 4’ itself. While some community organisations played an important role in the students’ political campaign to stay in Australia and their incorporation into Australian society, others showed indifference or even opposition. The responses of many community organisations to the events culminating on June 4 were also at times surprising. In this paper, I explore the histories, compositions and objectives of different communities as drivers of the different responses undertaken by these organisations before offering some interpretations of these responses vis-à-vis Chinese, Australian and Chinese Australian identities and belongings.


Nathan is currently completing his PhD at the University of Melbourne as the inaugural recipient of the Hansen Trust PhD Scholarship in History. His current research into Chinese Australian community organisations and their responses to issues in Australia’s recent history reflects his broader research interests in migration, mobility and multiculturalism.


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.

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