Saturday, February 10, 2007

Obituary: Eric Wong Ming

Saturday January 20, 2007 By Nigel Murphy and staff reporter
Eric Wong Ming, greengrocer, poll tax immigrant. Died aged 102.
Eric Wong Ming arrived in New Zealand in 1920, a time when Chinese immigrants were required to pay £100 as a poll tax or entry tax, the equivalent of about 10 years' wages.
They were also required to pass an education test that consisted of reading 100 words in English.
Eric raised the money by using land inherited from his father as collateral. He also took a three-month intensive English language course.
On his arrival he paid over the money and then prepared to sit his test. As he remembered it when he was 99, the Customs officer chose page one of the Fourth Pacific Reader, the standard fourth-form text in New Zealand. Eric had just begun, "Long ago, men wandered from place to place ... " when the officer stopped him, saying, "That's enough, you've passed."
Eric eventually found work in a Wellington fruit shop with a family from Jung Seng county in Guangdong, near his birthplace.

The intense racism of New Zealanders caught him so much by surprise that he considered returning home. But he realised New Zealand offered the chance of a better life so he accepted the challenge and stayed.
In 1930 Eric returned to China to get married. A number of women were paraded for his choice, but his eye fell on Wong Low She.
They married and Eric stayed in his home village of Gwa Liang for two years, but because there was no work, and because the immigration of Chinese women to New Zealand had been stopped in 1925, he returned here alone.
In 1937 he set up his own fruit shop in Blenheim and in 1940 his wife was finally able to join him, as a refugee from the Japanese war in China.
This respite was for two years only, as the law then stated that after that time the women and children, including any born in New Zealand during the two years, had to return home.
In 1947 the Government reluctantly decided to allow the refugees to stay.
Eric and his wife had four sons between 1940 and 1948. They moved to Auckland when Eric retired in 1964. He is survived by three sons.

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