The Chinese Question: The Gold Rushes and Global Politics

Norton. Aug. 2021. 480p. ISBN 9780393634167. $30. HIST
In the 19th century, gold rushes in California, Australia, and South Africa enticed thousands from around the world to leave their homes in search of riches, including many Chinese nationals. Ngai (history, Asian American studies, Columbia Univ.; The Lucky Ones) writes a detailed comparison of these three gold rushes; it touches on the impact on Indigenous peoples, but it focuses on the interaction between Chinese migrants and dominant white settler populations. Ngai identifies many similarities between the three gold rushes; for instance, the American, Australian, and South African governments all eventually put strict limits on Chinese immigration. Readers will also learn how Chinese miners brought their own knowledge and techniques to the gold rushes, and how they navigated survival in the foreign cultures they found themselves in. The book relies on primary sources and includes maps and archival photographs that provide fuller historical context.
VERDICT Ngai’s thoroughly researched work is essential for anyone studying the Chinese diaspora in the Anglo American world, or gold rushes generally. Readers interested in Chinese immigrants in the 19th-century United States should also consider Gordon H. Chang’s Ghosts of Gold Mountain.
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