Claire Lowrie
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White masters and their Chinese ‘houseboys’
Masculinity, sexuality and racial anxiety in the home, 1880s–1930s
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This chapter focuses on the relationships between British and white Australian masters and their Chinese male servants. It does this by analysing British and white Australian men’s representations of their servants in novels, travel stories, memoirs, newspaper articles and photographs, unpacking the intended and unintended messages contained within them. The chapter explores how white men’s sense of manly authority over Chinese ‘boys’ was connected to their conception of themselves as successful colonisers. Rather than an unquestioned relationship of servitude and mastery, however, white men’s reliance on Chinese servants for their daily survival, as well as anxieties stemming from their intimacy with these servants and the fear of being violently assaulted by them rattled their belief in the superiority of white manhood. The chapter argues that while the British and white Australian masters of Singapore and Darwin were equally anxious, the ways in which their colonial anxieties played out were different and reflected the contrasting concerns of exploitation and settler colonialism.

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Masters and servants

Cultures of empire in the tropics


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