Story: Chinese

In the 1860s it was a strange new world for the pioneering young Chinese men who sailed from Guangdong province to the goldfields of Otago. Some struck gold, but they also found oppressive prejudice and hardship. However, with more liberal immigration rules since 1987, new waves of Chinese have brought diverse skills and languages, and revived traditions such as the lion dance and the lantern festival.

Full story by Manying Ip
Main image: Women making red bean dumplings for a Chinese bazaar, 1995

The Short Story

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Seeking a better life

In the 19th century people in south China faced famine and overpopulation, and many sought their fortunes overseas. But it soon became difficult for them to enter New Zealand because of anti-Chinese immigration restrictions.

The first immigrants

The first known settler was Appo Hocton, who jumped ship at Nelson in 1842. Starting out as a servant, he eventually became a businessman and prospered through hard work.

Twelve Chinese were brought to work the Otago goldfields in 1866. By 1869 over 2,000 had come to the ‘New Gold Mountain’, as they called New Zealand. But rather than striking it rich, most were confronted with poverty, racism and isolation.

The poll tax

Ignorance and prejudice meant that Chinese were seen as undesirable – a number of harsh laws limited their rights in New Zealand. To restrict immigration, in 1881 the government charged them a poll tax (entry fee) of £10, later raised to £100. This taxation continued until 1934. In 2002, the government apologised for the hardship it caused.

Life in the towns

After the gold rush some men found work in fruit shops and laundries, or as market gardeners. Few women could join them because of the poll tax. The men often sought comfort in opium and gambling, which only increased anti-Chinese prejudice.

Post-war changes

Attitudes softened when China fought Japan in the Second World War. As more women and children were allowed to come, families formed communities. But by the 1960s, they were losing their language and traditions.

A new policy in 1987 allowed many more Chinese to immigrate from China and elsewhere.

The community today

After Europeans and Polynesians, Chinese form New Zealand’s largest ethnic community. Generally they are well educated, and come for work or the lifestyle. Recent immigrants have revived their culture and languages.

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How to cite this page:

Manying Ip. 'Chinese', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, updated 9-Nov-12
URL: http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/chinese