Set in the rough and tumble Victorian Goldfields of the 1850s, SBS’s new four-part drama series New Gold Mountain takes a familiar slice of history and views it from an unusual angle: the perspective of the Chinese immigrants who worked their claims alongside European miners, dealing with prejudice and suspicion as well as the hardships of frontier life. The title comes from their name for the Goldfields; they called the Californian Goldfields ‘Gold Mountain’ for the richness of the strikes, and when that rush was played out, Victoria became ‘New Gold Mountain’.

Yoson An stars as Leung Wei Shing, a community leader or “headman” among the Chinese miners who must balance his own ambitions against both the needs of his people and the demands of the European majority. When a white woman with covert connections to the Chinese community is found murdered, Shing finds himself in the hotseat, trying to solve the killing and prevent racial tensions on the Goldfields from boiling over.

Leung Wei Shing is a fictional character, but he and his milieu are based on real people and actual historical occurrences; in Shing’s specific case, he’s derived from Fook Shing, a man who came to the Goldfields to find his fortune like so many others, but wound up becoming Australia’s first Chinese detective.

As series creator Peter Cox explains, the historical Fook Shing offered a unique position from which to tell his story. “What was interesting about him is he definitely rode this kind of morally ambiguous line in the way that he operated,” he tells us. “He just felt very human straight away; he wasn’t a mythologised character that was symbolic of something. He reacted the way a human being would react in a position that’s really difficult, where he’s kind of trying to survive. On one hand he’s employed by his European bosses, and he needs the money to live, but on the other hand he’s arresting Chinese people, so he’s kind of riding a line.”

Read more at SBS.

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