Abstract: This essay explores the notion of ambivalence in colonial modes of representation of Asian subjects in An Australian in China (1895) by G.E. Morrison (1862-1920). Morrison’s attitudes and judgements about the Chinese reflect a complex set of attitudes that reflect a British Imperial stance inflected by pre-Federation bias toward Western values and toward a dominant Australian tendency to use Western standards of democracy and egalitarianism to judge the shortcomings of its Asian neighbours, as argued by D’Cruz and Steele (2003 33-4). Morrison’s ambivalence has an origin in the fear that the Chinese would perhaps become more successful economic colonisers than white people. But if Morrison was ambivalent about Asians, caught between admiration for, and an anxiety about the Chinese especially, was he one of those Australians cited as those unable to “engage with constructive and continuous relations with Asia” (D’Cruz and Steel 34)? I argue that Morrison is not simply a eugenicist or anti-Asian racist, but re-iterates a British imperialist grand narrative on best-practice colonial governance and an example of how knowledge of the orient may be acquired so as to serve Imperial interests. Within this narrative all races have strengths and weaknesses, and this “melange” must be managed by enlightened white British administrators in order to ensure cultural harmony throughout the empire, and especially where British geo-political interests are at stake. This multiculturalism is segregationist but may also allow room for hybrid or cross-cultural cultures to take root through intermarriage of chosen white elites and selected subalterns (much as plant breeders select seed stock). While Morrison may praise far-flung edges of empire and those regions that the British engages with for reasons of trade, he argues that predominantly white colonies like those in Australia should remain white. Like a benign object suddenly appearing as the anamorphic skull in a Holbein portrait (Reading 26), viewed from a certain angle, what seems like Morrison’s affection for China can just as easily appear as a form of aversion and suspicion.

Keywords: Imperialism; whiteness; ambivalence

Copyright © Adam Aitken 2015. This text may be archived and redistributed both in electronic form and in hard copy, provided that the author and journal are properly cited and no fee is charged.