Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Poll tax kept out Chinese

Poll tax kept out Chinese
By JUDITH LACY - Tribune | Sunday, 14 September 2008

WIDE AWAKE: Jessica Wong, 11, plays with lion Hoi Gong at its awakening ceremony at Te Manawa on Monday. Inside the lion are Teh Gyu Kim (head) and Qi-Wern Lim (tail). Aluminium-framed, Hoi Gong is a lot lighter than its bamboo and rattan predecessor, which has been retired.

Hoi Gong waits patiently, sparkling in the gloom.

Manawatu is spelt out in yellow letters around its neck.

Palmerston North Deputy Mayor John Hornblow, clad in a burgundy jacket he was presented with during a visit to Palmerston North's friendship city Kunshan, approaches.

Ceremonial brush in hand, he begins dotting a red liquid on the golden lion in a series of specified steps, starting with the eyes, moving to the toes, and ending with the forehead.

So begins the awakening ceremony of the Manawatu Chinese Association's new lion, an event which last happened 18 years ago.

Monday's ceremony in Te Manawa's courtyard marked the opening of two exhibitions at the Palmerston North museum, A Barbarous Measure: The Poll Tax and Chinese New Zealanders, and one celebrating the association's 70th anniversary.

A Barbarous Measure includes photos, newspaper clippings, cartoons and poll tax associated items.

The [PndStlg]10 tax on every Chinese migrant was introduced in 1881 to make it difficult for Chinese to settle in New Zealand.

Anti-Chinese feeling is evident in a poem published in the Press in 1899, which begins:

"Heap up the Chow Man's burden

Don't let his misery cease".

A White NZ League cartoon from 1931 exhorts consumers to buy from their own race and keep New Zealand white, loosening the "Asiatic stronghold" on market gardening.

Exhibition curator Nigel Murphy told the opening crowd the aim of the poll tax was not to harm Chinese, but to exclude them from New Zealand and being New Zealanders. Unlike Britain, class was not important here; instead race was everything.

In 1896, the tax was increased to [PndStlg]100, roughly equivalent to 10 years' earnings.

In 1934 payment of the tax was waived and the legislation behind it repealed in 1944.

About 4500 Chinese paid a total of [PndStlg]308,080 between 1882 and 1934.

Mr Murphy asked, in 2008, who is a New Zealander? Does white still mean New Zealander? What is our national identity? How much of the attitude behind the poll tax still exists?

New Zealand Chinese Association president Steven Young said it was the fifth time the poll tax exhibition had been mounted in New Zealand.

Sixteen years ago the association commissioned Mr Murphy to research the tax. Until then, little was known about it and the legislative framework that gave rise to it, Mr Young said.

The tax virtually stopped the migration of Chinese women, for 40 years shaping the New Zealand Chinese community into one of "married bachelors". This had a huge negative social and cultural impact, he said.

In 2002 Prime Minister Helen Clark apologised to Chinese who'd paid the poll tax and suffered other discrimination, and to their descendants. Palmerston North MP Steve Maharey said the apology wasn't about dragging up painful memories. Instead it was so people could move on.

Mr Hornblow announced Palmerston North was the first New Zealand local authority to join the China and New Zealand Business Council, formed in 2006.

Palmerston North City Council is also working towards creating a bonsai garden at Victoria Esplanade.

* A Barbarous Measure runs until October 12. Free admission.

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