This chapter examines multiculturalism through the discrepancy between advocacy for Chinese language instruction as key to Australia’s economic future, and the discourses that position Chinese as linguistically, culturally and geographically distant to Australia’s white and Anglophone identity. The chapter focuses on the language ideologies around the teaching and learning of Mandarin Chinese that frame everyday discussions about Chinese language programs, pedagogy and practice in Australian schools.

Our research interrogates data from two research projects: one that examined recent Australian media articles on Chinese language education, and another involving qualitative interviews with teachers of languages. Our argument is that Chinese language education is positioned within contentious debates about the “broken promises” of multiculturalism and their complex relationship to Chinese language and multilingual education in Australia.

These perspectives sit in tense relation with debates around the promotion of Mandarin Chinese as a global language, and the ideological and geopolitical discourses that shape representations of Chinese language education in Australian policy debates. They construct language learning as bound to national and geopolitical imaginaries, and divide speakers of different languages rather than foster multilingualism. It is this “elephant in the room” that ought to be more deeply interrogated in discussions about multiculturalism and educating future global citizens in the “Asian Century”.