According to one of the promos, the SBS series, New Gold Mountain, is the “untold true story” involving a Chinese headman, Fook Shing, and the murder of a European woman in the Victorian colony during 1857.
The story rang quite a few bells for me.
The book about the real 1857 crime, The Chinawoman, was written by my husband, Ken Oldis, a criminal barrister who died in 2016. He spent a decade in the archives to unravel a perversion of colonial justice against two Chinese men. Blood was on many hands: English, Irish and Chinese. Corrupt police, a Chinese police agent and headman, Fook Shing, each played their part. The Chinawoman won a Victorian history award in 2009. It was commended for its unflinching account of this racially-charged miscarriage of justice. It delivered this grim chapter in Chinese-Australian history in the vehicle of a murder mystery.
A few years ago, a TV content developer contacted me, referred by an historian, on the basis that if the TV crowd wanted to adapt Shing’s story, it would be appropriate to discuss the project with me.
I heard from them only briefly. The reason they did not revert to me is now apparent. Somebody involved with this show has obviously decided to invent a better story. …
Woke version of history:
The central problem is the ideological use of historical fiction. Egregious colonial misdeeds and racism are being presented in the form of entertainment and we are being invited to draw contemporary parallels. …
The risk with historical fiction has always been that … we may never know the difference between fact and fiction. We may be seduced into feelings for the creature that we misconstrue as historical insight. …
White men bad, everyone else good:
Rather than the gritty truth, or the intriguing Chinese men of flesh and blood involved in the real murder case, the producers have served up revisionist-western tropes and characters filled from central casting. A woke agenda has shifted the storytelling goals from truth-telling to wishful thinking — with glib prescriptions about who the villains and heroes need to be.
In a narrative reorganised along tribal lines, the Chinese characters are innocent of murder, merely victims of a terrible misunderstanding — the whodunnit turns upon a woman’s accidental death. The role of white colonisers is to be brutes — to wear their racism loudly and proudly.
There is no liminal space where the personal politics of assimilation were actually being played out. No criminal defence barristers agitating about the evils of racial prejudice, no Sophia Lewis, enamoured of Chinese men and culture, no English brides thumbing their noses at colonial society by choosing Chinese husbands, no Chinese Christians, anglicising their clothes and their priorities. Shing and his brotherhood’s bad behaviour is confined to internal ranks, so as to eliminate any doubt that this is a one-directional contest between good guys and bad colonisers. …
There are protagonists in period costume expressing 21st century ideas, alternately slicing or shooting each other up and talking about their feelings. …
There is a line between balancing the historical ledger by bringing the Chinese perspective to the screen and delivering retributive justice through historical fiction. When that line is crossed, we get something more like science-fiction than history. History has never lent itself to retro-fitting; as the novelist L.P Hartley tells us in The Go Between, “the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”.
This fictional mash-up aims not to teach, but to preach about 21st century preoccupations while masquerading with the authority of history.
But watchers of Australian TV instinctively knew this, from the moment they saw the first promos for this tv series. More woke preachiness and falsehood. Yawn.
No way am I going to waste my time watching this garbage.