“The Fall of the Jade Sword” (2017) and the History of Asian Australians

by Lisa-Marie Richter, Adesua Atamah, Ben Königsfeld, Kathleen Reiswich

We have recently read the short story “The Fall of the Jade Sword” by Stephanie Lai and two of its central topics have caught our attention. The hero addressed in the short story is named Jade Sword and we were interested in the Jade Sword as a physical object rather than just as a superhero’s name. Furthermore we were wondering how Asian immigration is represented in the story and why as it is addressed several times. In fact, the author Stephanie Lai is Chinese Australian, which makes the inclusion of Asian immigration to Australia in her story an even more intriguing subject for analysis.

The Jade Sword

In ancient China, jade was considered the most precious stone due to its symbolism of purity and moral integrity. This stone was famous for its persistence and magical properties, and was engraved and polished into several objects from jewelry to desk ornaments. Jade was first used around 6000 BCE, and green was the preferred color for a long time. However, in the 5th and 4th centuries BCE, there was a fashion for white jade with a brown tinge, and again in the 1st century BCE, when a pure white jade became available from Central Asia as a result of the Han Dynasty’s expansion in 206 BCE – 220 CE.

We think that the name of the hero fits very well because the hero carries “children to safety, […] [stops] robbers in their tracks, [… ] [and rescues] the crew of an airship as it tangled on one of the new Skyscrapers in Melbourne” (“The Fall of the Jade Sword” 125) and those action fit the characteristics of a Jade Stone. The hero can be considered as persistent and pure and is always there when somebody is in need.

Asian Immigration

“We are in a different country,” she says,”and there are always new advances to make. What kind of warrior would you be if you were to stop here, where you are? There is no room for us here if we cannot adapt.“

(“The Fall of the Jade Sword” 133)

The characters in the story are constantly trying to adapt to the Australian culture and we can conclude that immigration is a main topic in Jade Sword. They think that if they cannot adapt properly, they are in the wrong place. Asian-born people currently make up roughly 12% of the population, however this varies greatly across the country. Queensland and Tasmania have the greatest shares of Australian-born people, whereas Sydney and Melbourne are Australia’s most cosmopolitan cities.

Depending on the migratory stream via which they came, Asia-origin migrants fell into two types, each with a very distinct settling experience.

They have primarily arrived from Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, and India. Humanitarian and family reunion migrants have generally been low-skilled and non-English speaking with the exception of nations such as the Philippines and Sri Lanka, and some have endured high and continuing rates of unemployment and welfare reliance. They have primarily migrated from Vietnam, the Philippines, and, in recent years, Mainland China.

The whole story is built around characters with Chinese roots. Starting with the names such as “Mok-Seung” or “Can Sin-Man”. What we considered very interesting were the different versions of the news. In the story there were two types of news addressed. On the one hand the Australian news and on the other hand the Chinese Broadsheet and they depicted the same topic but from different viewpoints. They show how differently the (early) Chinese Australian community is perceived by different groups.