Made in Chinatown

Chinese Australian Furniture Factories, 1880-1930

Peter Charles Gibson

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Format: paperback
226 pages
ISBN: 9781743327852

Publication: 01 Apr 2022
Series: China and the West in the Modern World
Publisher: Sydney University Press

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Made in Chinatown delves into a little-known aspect of Australia’s past: its hundreds of Chinese furniture factories. These businesses thrived in the post-goldrush era, becoming an important economic activity for Chinese immigrants and their descendants and a vital part of Australia’s furniture industry. Yet, owing to an exclusionary vision for Australia as a bastion of ‘white’ industry and labour, these factories were targeted by anti-Chinese political campaigns and legislative restrictions. Guided by Chinese manufacturers’ and workers’ own reflections and records, this book examines how these factories operated under the exclusionary vision of White Australia.

Historian Peter Gibson uses previously untapped archival sources to investigate the local and international factors that boosted the industry, and the business and labour practices associated with factory operation. He explores the strategies employed in efforts to resist injustice, and the place of Chinese furniture factories within the contexts of Australian enterprise, work and consumerism more broadly. Made in Chinatown argues that Chinese Australian furniture manufacturers and their employees were far more adaptable, and the White Australia vision less pervasive, than most histories would suggest.

Peter Charles Gibson is a research fellow in the School of History at Nanjing University, Jiangsu, China. He has published on Chinese Australian business and labour in the journals ‘Australian Economic History Review’, ‘Labour History’ and ‘Twentieth-Century China’. His PhD thesis at the University of Wollongong, on which the book is based, won the 2021 S. J. Butlin Prize for the best MA or PhD thesis in Australian and New Zealand economic history, awarded triennially.

List of Figures
Chinese Language
1. Industry Beginnings
2. Setting Up Shop
3. Workers
4. In the Marketplace
5. Restriction and Resistance

“allows the reader to see how early Chinese migrants lived, worked and interacted with others in the decades surrounding Australia’s federation.” Nathan Daniel Gardner, Australian Historical Studies


“provides timely historical insights into how Chinese workers and enterprises in Australia innovated their practices to meet challenges in a society that discriminated against them.” Mei-fen Kuo, History Australia


"There is a wealth of valuable detail in this book, synthesising a great deal of archival research. Gibson takes us inside Chinese furniture factories – their business practices, workers, machines, products and advertisements."
Catherine Bishop   Australian Economic History Review

Format: paperback
Size: 210 × 148 mm
226 pages
Copyright: © 2022
ISBN: 9781743327852
Publication: 01 Apr 2022
Series: China and the West in the Modern World