ACIAC Seminar: Chinese Australia’s First Novel - "The Poison of Polygamy" 《社會小說多妻毒》


Date: Thursday, 10 October, 2019

Time: 3.30 - 4.30 pm

Venue: EA.G.03, Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture, Western Sydney University Parramatta South campus

FREE. RSVP Essential. Please RSVP HERE (opens in a new window) before 9 October, 2019.


Few people know that the first Chinese Australian novel was published in the Melbourne newspaper The Chinese Times from 1909 to 1910.

The Poison of Polygamy is Australia’s earliest Chinese-language novel and possibly the very first Chinese-language novel written in the Western world. It is a semi-historical novel by the Chinese Australian author Wong Shee Ping (黃樹屏). Wong drew heavily on his own family story, with the hero of the story being based on his own father, a prominent Victorian businessman. The story follows the life of an antihero, who spends many years in Australia, as well as the life of his wife, who remains in China. It is the first novel of the Chinese Australian experience, and a roller-coaster tale of everything from blackmail, murder and betrayal to opium smoking and banditry. It also deals with a variety of intellectual and historical subjects, such as the gold rush and the fabled walk to the goldfields from Robe in South Australia, and touches on feminism, religion, interracial relations, modernisation, social change, politics, everyday life in colonial Australian and imperial China, and of course what the author viewed as the social evil of polygamy. Written by an author familiar with everyday life in China and in Australia’s Chinese community, the novel presents a long-forgotten Chinese perspective on the Chinese-diaspora experience in the Western world. It is the only novel of its kind, and especially valuable because there is so little in the historical record that concerns the emotional and everyday lives of Chinese people and especially Chinese women.

This long-lost Australian Chinese-language novel has unique significance in Australia’s literary and social history. It has now been translated into English for the first time by Ely Finch, and is published by Sydney University Press in a bilingual parallel edition.

This seminar will be opened by Professor Jocelyn Chey who will give an historical overview and her review of the book, followed by a presentation by Ely Finch, who will discuss the work’s social, literary and linguistic dimensions and will also speak about his translation and how it came about.


Professor Jocelyn Chey AM FAIIA

Professor Jocelyn Chey was Cultural Counsellor in the Australia Embassy in Beijing (1975–1978); Senior Trade Commissioner in the Australian Embassy in Beijing (1985–1988) and Consul-General for Australia in Hong Kong (1992–1995). She was Foundation Director and is Adjunct Professor of the Australia-China Institute for Arts and Culture (ACIAC).

Ely Finch

Ely Finch is an independent scholar and consultant translator of Literary Chinese and Cantonese. His translation of The Poison of Polygamy was published by Sydney University Press in July 2019.