Chinese Rush to Gold
Parade costume jacket (detail), silk, cotton, gold thread. China, c. 1880. Image by Jary Nemo.Contributors
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Copyright in this image resides with Jary Nemo.
In 1850s Southern China the ‘New Golden Mountain’ of Victoria was rumoured to be even richer than the ‘Golden Mountain’ of California.
News of the discovery of gold in Victoria in 1851 spread around the world, drawing fortune seekers and entrepreneurs from many nations. In China, news travelled quickly via the international shipping ports, most particularly into the small but densely populated region surrounding the trading cities of Guangzhou (then known to westerners as Canton), Hong Kong and Macau in Southern China.
China at this time was in turmoil. Overpopulation was putting the food supply at risk and waves of natural disasters were causing great loss of life, threatening crops, bringing famine and impoverishing the country. The Opium Wars between China and Britain shattered old certainties. The ruling Qing Dynasty incurred massive debt and was forced to accept not only the undesirable and addictive drug opium onto the open market but a new set of unwanted trading relationships with European powers. A series of bloody political insurrections, prime amongst them the Taiping Rebellion, raged across the country. In their wake, rebels, banditry, looting and ethnic strife proliferated. Fighting was particularly fierce in southern China which had long been a hot spot for anti-Imperial sentiment. Altogether the period 1850-1870 in China was one of the most disastrous and deadly in human history.
For many families it seemed an acceptable risk to pool their money, go into debt, and send their best sons away to find fortune overseas.
This picture is a close up of an embroidered section of a theatrical costume which was made in China and imported by the Bendigo Chinese community in the 1880s. It was used in parade festivities, for theatrical performances, for fundraising events and for entertainment until the 1930s.