Becoming Kiwi Chinese: A 140 Year History of the Overseas Chinese in Otago
Edward W. Tennant University of Florida July, 2005 – Under Review
The story of the overseas Chinese in Otago1 begins 140 years ago. Their story embraces sorrow and joy, success and failure, acceptance and rejection. Since the Chinese reached Otago in the 1860s, they have remained a vital part of the region.
The first Chinese arrived in the region with large numbers of Europeans, in search of gold. However, the establishment of small settlements by British immigrants in the region two decades earlier was used to legitimize the arrival of Europeans on the goldfields. The Chinese who arrived were considered nomadic workers imported to the area because of labor shortages, and immigrants in the region two decades earlier was used to legitimize the arrival of Europeans on the goldfields and most Europeans believed that the Chinese would eventually return to China (Ip 2003:4).
While the numbers of overseas Chinese dwindled by the early twentieth century, the
connections established during the gold-mining era remain strong even today. For instance, Chinese business men, such as Choie Sew Hoy, left a lasting impression on both the economy and history of Otago. Intermarriages, occurring as early as the 1870s, created linkages between Pakeha2 and Chinese settlers in Otago that exist today. Throughout the twentieth century increasing numbers of Chinese arrived and joined the growing communities established during the gold-mining era.
A large amount of literature has surfaced chronicling the Chinese during the initial goldmining period, approximately 1865 – 1900 (see Butler 1977; Ng 1993 & 1995; Ritchie 1986).The gold-mining era encompasses only a quarter of the time overseas Chinese have lived in Otago.
Separate literature has grown that explore the twentieth century (see Ip 1996 & 2003). Indeed, most literature that examines the New Zealand Chinese deals with either the gold-mining era or the mid- to late-twentieth century, rarely combining the two. A recent exception is Dr. James Ng’s three volume history of the overseas Chinese in New Zealand, which successfully presents a continuous picture of the Chinese in New Zealand from 1860s until today. Numerous themes have developed to culturally explore the Chinese in Otago; these include assimilation,
acculturation, adaptation, integration, and racialization by Otago’s white majority.
Terminology related to the Chinese outside the geographical domain of China can