NEW ZEALAND CHINESE - ( EARLY HISTORY ( A ) ( 333 ) :: Genealogy
<< Previous - Next >>


Journal by edmondsallan

source - chinese voice. nz by steven young

edmondsallan - Hello - we have a long way to go on this journey to improve our knowledge & understanding of our " Kiwi Chinese ". by the way we have an " Edmonds " married to a nz chinese - OK lets move along on our journey

The Chinese - the first non-Maori, non-European people to migrate in numbers to New Zealand - did so because of two Otago invitations to Cantonese goldseekers in 1865. Nevertheless, they retained a sojourner outlook for a long time and suffered discrimination on account of that, their competition to Europeans and their race. At the turn of the 20th century the racial issue became dominant and led to the White New Zealand policy of exclusion. Yet a significant remnant of Chinese hung on. Eventually, a number of their wives and children were permitted to come as refugees at the start of World War 2, and at its end, they were allowed to stay. More Chinese families were reunited here before communist China stopped emigration, and their settlement took hold and prospered. Then between 1986-96, a fundamental change in New Zealands immigration policy led to a big influx of middle-class Chinese from other origins, who much outnumbered the long-standing Kiwi Chinese families. The newcomers social integration has yet to run its full course. Even so, New Zealand has gained a larger, permanent Chinese population with diverse origins, good education and resources, and more recent links to Asia.


Chinese have been in New Zealand for over 130 years. Originally, they were twice invited from Victoria, Australia to the province of Otago in 1865 to rework its goldfields,(1) and their first mining party arrived at the end of that year. From the beginning it was apparent that the Chinese would be a distinctive, significant and controversial ethnic minority.

Indeed, they have always been a distinctive minority which endeavoured to keep a place in this country. As the first non-Maori and non-European people to arrive their interactions with other New Zealand groups were bound to be significant. But why controversial? After all, the preceding Chinese migration to the Australian goldfields was regarded as a safe influx, having a low crime rate and other good qualities such as industriousness(2) which should have been welcomed in a developing country like young New Zealand. The basic reason for dissension was their considerable difference in race and culture from the European, whereas New Zealand was suitable for European colonisation and was governed by Europeans. These differences fostered recurring controversy on the advisability of permitting Chinese immigration, out of which the belief grew that Chinese and other Asians should be kept out of New Zealand.

The Chinese bore the brunt of this belief because they were the earliest and most numerous Asian group to come. In the nineteenth century they reached a total of 4,364 persons or about 6% of Otagos population towards the end of 1871, and a peak population in New Zealand of 5,000 or more between 1874-81,(3) the equivalent of 1% of New Zealands non-Maori population in the 1881 census. Historians have long recognised that the European reaction to the Chinese presence in New Zealand tested the limits of British colonial rule in relation to this countrys immigration legislation - and thus in its progression towards independence. Perhaps it is just beginning to be recognised that the Chinese involvement in New Zealand was an integral part of this nations pathway towards more Asianisation. As more details of this Chinese involvement emerge, it has become apparent that their full contribution to New Zealand was long underestimated because of sojournism on the part of the Chinese and discrimination on the part of the European.

On the whole, though, New Zealand discrimination did not take on the anti-Chinese extremes seen in North America and Australia, where racial prejudice against Chinese had set a precedent. In this and other aspects, the early Chinese in New Zealand were a microcosm of the Chinese goldseekers throughout the Pacific rim. Further, New Zealands story of its Chinese goldseekers - and their descendants - is the most complete because of the smallness of the country and its detailed documentation and photographic records of the Chinese population. In due course, New Zealand public attitudes positively changed, many Chinese families arrived and successful settlement ensued. They remained a small minority nonetheless, only 0.5% of the total population in 1986.

That said, a big new wave of Chinese and other Asian immigrants came recently. Thus in the 1996 census, the Chinese in New Zealand numbered 81,309 and were still the most numerous Asian group (40.8%). The Indian ethnic group was second, a few individuals arriving at the turn of the 20th century and numbering 181 in 1916. They were over 42,000 in 1996. The South Koreans, an entirely recent immigrant group, were third with over 13,000. They numbered 426 in the 1986 census and 903 in 1991. Of the total 1996 New Zealand population, the Chinese comprised 2.25% and all Asians, 5.5%.(4) The Chinese numbers alone would predispose them to figure prominently in the new feelings and barriers against Asian immigrants in the mid-1990s.

This article describes the Chinese progress in settlement in New Zealand. However, the story of the Chinese can have different emphases or angles; for example, their part in the increasing specialisation sought in immigrants in relation to the skills, investment and business acumen needed in this country. Thus the intakes of the past required mass to fill New Zealands open spaces, and a main question was merely which peoples? Then in 1986, immigration was opened equally to all peoples, which would enlarge the incoming numbers of quality migrants. In 1986-96, overly broad immigration categories were introduced for skills and business categories and since the influxes of those years, the immigration lessons learnt are being assessed. Another line of thought might focus more on the successes and limitations of the three sojourner generations of New Zealand-Chinese, both in New Zealand and in their homeland. There are other aspects which may be further explored, including the European and Maori sides of the story. Nevertheless, the writers purpose in this article is to present an overview of Chinese settlement.

The history of the Chinese in New Zealand can be divided into four periods:

1. (1865-1900). The era of sojournism by choice.

Between 1865 and 1900 the majority of Chinese immigrants were goldseekers in Otago and on the West Coast of the South Island. Nearly all were males of Cantonese rural origin, from small farmer and country artisan stock in the counties of Panyu (especially), Taishan, Zengcheng and a few others.(5) Although at first the Chinese goldseekers came from Victoria, by 1869 they were coming direct from China as well and this inflow became the mainstream of Chinese arrivals. Virtually all were sojourners who wished to make a pile and return to China. They were not interested in settlement here, but remained as aliens, and lacked the vote. The already worked-over goldfields reinforced their sojourner outlook, because few Chinese could support a family by mining. Instead, most sent remittances home and aimed to return to China on visits every five years or so with around 100 in savings,(6) to stay for about two years or longer if they could and then come back to New Zealand for another working spell.(7)

In Otago-Southland, they had come to the farthest southern goldfields in the world. Some of them spread to the West Coast goldfields. Leaving from China, they paid voyage expenses of around 12 (in 1870) (8) from family funds, loans or the credit-ticket system of Chinese employers in New Zealand, similar to the contract passages of European workers with other New Zealand employers. But indentured labour recruited by Europeans played no part in their migration to New Zealand. They often emigrated in kinship groups and extended camaraderie to those from the same county or group of counties in Guangdong province. They stuck together and stuck to their ways. They had to, because of language problems and the lack of personal assets. In doing so they formed the strongest cooperative groups in the goldfields(9) and this reinforced their separateness from the Europeans. It was their capability combined with group effort and aid which made them competitors to be reckoned with. Although most were small claim miners, in due course members of their ethnic group took on every branch of alluvial goldmining and pioneered the gold dredging of river flats. So far they are known to have been involved in only a few quartz mines, although the tradition that they did not undertake extensive tunnelling is now proven to be untrue.(10)

The Chinese goldseekers saved half or more of their earnings(11), and their savings were enhanced by a foreign exchange rate which rose from three taels (1870) to ten taels (1904) to one New Zealand pound.(12) Besides, the cost of living in China was cheaper. Thus an ounce of gold in savings was worth several times more to a Chinese sojourner than to a European miner. The Chinese could also enter other employment in the goldfields - from agricultural pursuits like farm labouring, rabbitting and market gardening to railroad and road building - and as the gold was worked out, they sought employment outside the goldfields.

Understandably, the Chinese aroused jealous antagonism among many European miners, and as the Chinese spread outside the goldfields, this antagonism spread to other European workers. At the start, the resentment emphasised their competition and sojournism as much as race. Then the issue of race was emphasised by Sir George Grey (1879),(13) and politicians from the West Coast joined in, as did the rising trade union movement. A West Coast politician early involved was the formidable R.J. Seddon, who continued his bias when premier (1893-1906) and is remembered as the chief anti-Chinese opponent in New Zealand history. For many years the principal political objective regarding Chinese was to limit their immigration, and two main parliamentary acts were passed; the Chinese Immigrants Act, 1881, and the Chinese Immigrants Act Amendment Act, 1896. Both imposed a polltax on the entry of new Chinese immigrants, the latter act raising the polltax from 10 to 100, or thousands of dollars in todays money.(14) As for the Chinese already here, initially there was little legalised discrimination against them. Examples slowly appeared, including the more difficult process of naturalisation for Chinese and the Old Age Pensions Act, 1898, which excluded Chinese and other Asiatics, thereby relegating to penury the ageing Chinese miners remaining in the exhausted goldfields.

Till we meet again - Regards - edmondsallan

Surnames: SEDDON
Viewed: 1665 times
by edmondsallan Profile | Research | Contact | Subscribe | Block this user
on 2011-01-14 14:32:16

edmondsallan , from auckland .nz , has been a Family Tree Circles member since Aug 2010. is researching the following names: CLAYTON, EDMONDS.

Do you know someone who can help? Share this:


Register or Sign in to comment on this journal.