Story: Chiu Kwok-chun

Page 1 - Chiu Kwok-chun

Chiu Kwok-chun

1884–1957

Journalist, political reformer, newspaper editor, Baptist missioner, community leader

This biography was written by Nigel Murphy and was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand BiographyVolume 4, 1998

Chiu Kwok-chun was born in 1884 at Leen Tong (Lian Tang), Gaoyao county, in the Chinese province of Guangdong. The third of four sons and a daughter of Chiu Pan-sing, a meat merchant, and his wife, Shen See, he received a traditional Chinese education. An outstanding student, he was chosen to go on to higher studies in the provincial capital, Canton (Guangzhou), then became a teacher at the Piu Ching Baptist high school. By this time Chiu had converted to Christianity, which was to become one of the driving forces in his life. In 1902 he married Leong Moo-kwong, who was from a neighbouring village; they were to have two daughters and two sons. Around this time Chiu discovered his second cause – Chinese nationalism – and in 1913 he joined Sun Yat-sen's illegal Chinese Revolutionary League.

Recognising Chiu's outstanding writing skills and devotion to the republican cause, the Chinese nationalist party, the Kuomintang, recruited him to edit its Sydney newspaper, the Chinese Republic News. With help from the Kuomintang, he arrived in Sydney in September 1913, having been exempted from Australia's immigration restrictions against Chinese. Leong Moo-kwong remained in China. A provocative and effective writer, Chiu used the paper to attack the authoritarian regime of President Yüan Shih-kai and called for a new revolution in China. However, opposition from a powerful pro-Yüan faction in the Sydney Chinese community eventually led to Chiu's expulsion by the Australian immigration authorities. Again assisted by the Kuomintang, he arrived in Wellington in August 1915 on the Ulimaroa. He was once again exempted from anti-Chinese immigration restrictions, entering without having to pay the £100 poll tax.

In Wellington Chiu set about the task of reorganising and expanding the small local branch of the Kuomintang. His main occupation, however, was as a missioner to the Chinese Baptist community in the Wellington region. Although not formally trained, Chiu conducted the mission with his characteristic dedication and organisational skill. In his first term, from around 1916 to 1918, he baptised 14 Chinese, a considerable achievement considering the small size of the community. In 1917 he sought a position at the Auckland Presbyterian Chinese mission. Although he was an excellent speaker, able to draw large audiences, and was recommended by prominent European and Chinese Christians, Chiu was rejected because of his strong ties to the Kuomintang.

In 1919 Chiu returned to China for an extended visit to his wife and children. He arrived back in New Zealand in February 1921, on this occasion paying the poll tax. Using the pseudonym Ping Ming, from the Chinese proverb 'Bu ping ze ming' (on witnessing injustice one should cry out), Chiu founded and edited a New Zealand Kuomintang newspaper, the Man Sing Times. The first issue appeared in July 1921, but because of the divided political sympathies of the local Chinese community and a small financial base, the paper lasted less than a year, the final issue being published in June 1922. By this time, however, Chiu had established himself as a major leader in the New Zealand Chinese community.

Throughout the 1920s Chiu continued his work with the Baptist mission. With the onset of the depression the Anglican and Baptist Chinese missions decided to amalgamate. Chiu was appointed the first missioner under this arrangement, holding the position from October 1932 until 1940. He was assisted by his fellow Christian and ally in the Chinese consulate, Yue Henry Jackson.

Both men were prominent leaders, not only of the Chinese mission, but also of the local Kuomintang and the New Zealand Chinese Association. Chiu also organised Chinese language training for younger members of the community, setting up a Baptist Chinese language school in 1933. He arranged for his elder son, Chiu Man-chung, to come from China to be the first teacher. In 1940 Chiu brought his wife to New Zealand.

In May that year Chiu relinquished his position as missioner to the Chinese in Wellington. He then took up a post with the Chinese consulate, again working with Yue Jackson. As part of the New Zealand Chinese Association's support for the allied war effort, Chiu wrote, edited and helped to publish its Wellington branch's newsletter, the New Zealand Chinese Weekly News, which appeared throughout the war. Around 1946 he suffered a severe accident which required a long and painful recovery. He retired from the consulate in 1948, but continued to take an active interest in the affairs of the Baptist church and the local Chinese community. Chiu Kwok-chun died in Wellington on 17 April 1957, survived by his wife, four children and seventeen grandchildren.