This year the Chinese New Year starts on 10 February, with festivities culminating with the Lantern Festival on 24 February, signaling the year of the dragon. This event celebrates the beginning of a new year on the traditional lunisolar Chinese calendar and is one of the most important holidays in Chinese culture. 

It presents a fantastic opportunity to acknowledge a large collecting project the Library has conducted over the past two years. The National Library has worked closely with Australians with Chinese heritage to make sure their contributions to Australian life are appropriately represented in the collection.

Dancers wearing tradition lion costume performing for Chinese New Year. There are two lions, one red and one yellow, with two people in each costume. Behind them stand spectators and a drummer
Jiayuan Liang, Chung Yee Tong Lion Dance Team performing lion dances, Chinese New Year, Chinatown, Adelaide, 2022, nla.obj-3125334254 

Australians with Chinese heritage were chosen for a collection project for several reasons, including the Library’s ongoing priority of reflecting in the collection the strong shared relationship between Australia and China. This relationship extends beyond politics and proximity; Australia is home to more people of Chinese ancestry than any other country outside of Asia. Contemporary China is diverse and Chinese Australian communities are reflective of this diversity.

Older man of Chinese heritage in a brown jacket smiling and standing in front of a neat, colourful bookshelf
Anna Zhu, Kam Louie, Vaucluse, Sydney, 25 May 2022, nla.obj-3084233047 

The Library worked closely with Australians with Chinese heritage on the collecting project, working with community representatives to reflect their diverse experiences and perspectives in the Library’s collection. Significant contributions were made by expert oral historians such as Juanita Kwok and Christopher Cheng, alongside photographer and oral historian Anna Zhu. 

Photographs have been commissioned of oral history interviewees and at events that hold meaning to Chinese Australians. These include the 2022 Cabramatta Moon Festival in Fairfield City, the 2021 OzAsia Festival in Adelaide and 2022 Chinese New Year celebrations across Perth, Adelaide and Victoria.  

Young child in purple shirt smiles as she holds her lion costume for the Moon Festival above her head
Ken Leanfore, A child smiles underneath her Lion costume on Arthur Street, Fairfield City Council’s Cabramatta Moon Festival, 28 August 2022, nla.obj-3128830035 

As part of this project, the Library recorded ninety-nine oral history interviews. Interviewees include Australian Paralympian cyclist Lindy Hou, founder and director of Mandarin Stars Dawna Leung, Australian pianist Vian Zixin Lin, and social entrepreneur, writer and social activist Erin Chew. Douglas Lam, who supports descendants of Zhongshanese to search their ancestral roots in China, was also interviewed along with Australian writer Gabrielle Wang and circus industry professional Guang Rong Lu OAM.

Woman of Chinese heritage sitting on a couch in a nice house, wearing a colourful striped jumper and smiling
Anna Zhu, Dawna Leung, Thornleigh, Sydney, New South Wales, 31 May 2022, nla.obj-3084238106 

Significant archival acquisitions include the Papers of Tsebin Tchen, the first Asian migrant elected to the Federal Parliament of Australia, and the Papers of Mei-fen Kuo, which features photographic portraits of committee members of the first civil and political association for Chinese Australians.  

The Library also sought to digitise published material already in the Library’s collection as part of the project, providing the Chinese Australian community better access to valuable cultural resources. This includes monographs such as Wu Shi Zi Xiao (The Self-Educator), written in both Chinese and English by Sun Johnson, editor of the first Chinese-language newspaper in Sydney, the Chinese Australian Herald. Also digitised was Cooking the Chinese Way, the first cookery book published in Australia featuring Chinese cooking, which sought to increase the appreciation of Chinese cuisine and culture within Australia.  

The Library’s ongoing commitment to recording Australian life in all its diversity will ensure that the experiences of Australians with Chinese heritage – and all those who contribute to Australia’s rich cultural life – will be available for future generations to enjoy.