I was a good-time Charlie: social dance and Chinese community life in Sydney and Melbourne, 1850s-1970s
AuthorGassin, Grace Sarah Lee
AffiliationSchool of Historical and Philosophical Studies
Document TypePhD thesis
Access StatusThis item is currently not available from this repository
© 2016 Dr. Grace Sarah Lee Gassin
A vibrant calendar of balls and dances has long been at the heart of Chinese-Australian community life. It was at these dances that community members most powerfully experimented with and articulated what it meant to be a Chinese Australian across dimensions of race, gender and class. This thesis traces the history of Chinese community life through various social events in Sydney and Melbourne over a period spanning roughly 120 years, using dance as a prism through which to offer new insights into the interplay of the material and the emotional in the lives of young Chinese Australians. It will do so first by examining the historical contexts which shaped the early motivations of Chinese Australians who participated in dance, determined the avenues through which they socialised collectively, influenced outsiders’ perceptions of Chinese community life, and lent social and political meanings to Chinese community activities. Subsequently, this thesis turns its focus to selected dances and Chinese community events which took place in Sydney and Melbourne, restoring to the centre of study events which have often been dismissed as peripheral to main theatres of historical action. In doing so, it illuminates the social, political and emotional ends which these events served and which in turn fuelled the strength of Chinese community social life in the period under study. It also provides insight into the experiences of Chinese-Australian youth, particularly Australian-born Chinese adolescent women, who were often vital participants, organisers and ambassadors within their communities. By demonstrating the varying and complex investments Chinese Australians made in their communities through their participation in these dances, this thesis challenges earlier scholarly assumptions that Chinese community life ebbed in vitality in the first half of the twentieth century. Towards these aims, this thesis draws upon a wide range of archived documentary and oral history sources, as well as numerous private documents, photographs, memoirs and correspondence to recover otherwise inaccessible aspects of Chinese-Australian social history.
KeywordsChinese Australian history; oral history; dance; social dance; community history; fundraising; community life; social dancing; Australian history; Chinese migration; debutante balls; Chinese Australian youth; migrant youth; Chinese women; Dragon Ball; Melbourne; Sydney
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