31 Jan 2017

The Chinese who made NZ home

From Nine To Noon, 11:21 am on 31 January 2017

A photographic exhibition celebrating 175 years of Chinese life in New Zealand opens in Auckland on 10 February.

The work of a researcher, Phoebe Li, into Chinese migrants to New Zealand brought the exhibition about.

Li says that the idea for the exhibition came to her while at a conference on international Chinese migration in China in 2014.

“When people got to know I was from New Zealand, they asked me so many questions about the Chinese in this country. They said ‘Why don’t you put an exhibition on?’ and I thought ‘Yes, I can’.”

The exhibition marks “crucial developments” for the Chinese-New Zealand community, such as the gold rush of the mid to late 19th century, and it highlights important figures such as one of the first Chinese settlers, Appo Hocton, who arrived in Nelson in 1842 .

Hocton became a very well-respected and successful businessman, she says, and now has around 1,600 descendants.

Otago merchant and miner Choie Sew Hoy, Taranaki dairy pioneer Chew Chong and Mangere market gardeners the Gock family also feature.

But most of the 100 or so photographs show ordinary unidentified people, she says.

Chinese settlers have worked hard and faced a lot of difficulty to set up their roots in New Zealand and they are still often ‘quiet achievers’, Lin says.

“Many of these people came as young children during wartime, as refugees. They were educated here and became well established.”

So what is New Zealand like for Chinese people arriving today?

“The newcomers, I know there is a lot of… backlash.  People discuss Chinese speculators in the Auckland property market… There’s a lot of stereotypes of new Chinese migrants.”

Integration after migration sometimes take time, Lin says.

“In the end those people will eventually settle in this country and they will be received. If they’re not, their children will. It will just take time. They will become part of New Zealand in the future.”