World War I: Chinese Anzacs

More than 200 Australians of Chinese heritage enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force during World War I.

More than 200 Australians of Chinese heritage enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force during World War I. Most of these servicemen were born in Australia – descendants of Chinese people who had migrated to Australia during the 1850s gold rush.

There were racial tensions on the goldfields and fears that incoming Chinese workers could undercut the wages and (in some places) outnumber the ‘adult male population’. This led the government to pass legislation that discriminated against Chinese people wanting to migrate and those already living in Australia. One example was the Defence Act 1909, which declared that people ‘not substantially of European origin or descent’ were unable to enlist in the armed forces.

Despite the racial discrimination that prevailed, Chinese-Australians still enlisted and 19 of those who served won medals for bravery.

Curriculum areas

  • Year 9 History

Questions

  • What do government records tell us about the discrimination that people of Chinese heritage faced in early 20th century Australia? 
  • What may have motivated Chinese-Australians to serve in World War I? 
  • How were the families of Chinese-Australian servicemen treated after the war?