The Chinese migrant population in early Victoria had to make many adjustments to their ways of life.  The mostly male Chinese population led lonely, boring lives with initially few social and spiritual outlets.  Institutionalised support came in several forms.


The term “tong” has the English equivalent of “meeting place.”  Tongs were, and still are, collectives of individuals bound by a common geographical origin, ancestry, dialects or purpose.  While the term for westerners has criminal or underworld connotations—and it is true that early tongs in Victoria had to depend on the avails of prostitution, gambling and opium for cash flow—not all tongs were made up of “Chinese Mafiosi.”

While much of the activities of tongs still remain a mystery, save for the occasional newspaper article, some tantalising fragments emerge from the past.


Joss Houses (Temples)

There were many joss (pidgin English term for “god”) houses in early Victoria.  These spaces could be described as essentially shrines for Chinese patron saints or figureheads.  Two of these have survived into present day Victoria.    


There were two Chinese missions in Victoria in the late 1800s.  Both encountered their difficulties in getting established and maintaining a presence, due to conflicts within the Chinese community as well as the white settler population, not to mention internal problems within the churches themselves.  Despite these obstacles, their roles in building bridges between the Chinese and white communities was significant.    

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