Saturday, December 31, 2011

Robert Ting

New Zealand honors pillar of Chinese community

WELLINGTON, Dec. 31 (Xinhua) -- The New Zealand government has honored a stalwart of the country's ethnic Chinese community in its annual New Year honors list for his services to maintaining a strong Chinese culture.

Robert Ting, 71, received the Queen's Service Medal on Saturday for his 50 years of work with many of the country's leading Chinese organizations.

Ting, whose grandparents emigrated from south China's Guangdong province in the early 1900s, told Xinhua the award symbolized the growing recognition of the contributions the Chinese community had made to New Zealand.

The Wellington resident was for 17 years treasurer of the Wellington Chinese Sports and Cultural Centre and for three years treasurer of the New Zealand Chinese Association, and for the last 10 years has been treasurer of the Tung Jung Association, which was founded in 1926 by Chinese who emigrated from the Tung Qwoon ( Dongguan) and Jungsen (Zengcheng) districts of Guangdong.

"I come from a family that was quite heavily involved in the Chinese community from the early 1900s. My grandfather was the founding president of the Tung Jung Association," Ting said in a phone interview.

Originally set up to maintain kinship ties and to help fellow Chinese in trying times, the association became a focus for many of New Zealand's early Chinese immigrants and has since evolved into an education and research institution to support Chinese language and culture and to help with research into family histories.

"The Tung Jung Association maintains all the Chinese cultural occasions and we always hold dinners to celebrate Qingming and the Chinese New Year as well as other traditional festivals," said the retired accountant.

"Unfortunately I don't speak Chinese myself my mother spoke English to us all the time at home, so I never learned."

Recent immigration from China had seen a growth in the use of the Mandarin dialect in New Zealand's burgeoning Chinese community and distinctions between the established Chinese and new arrivals, he said.

"My heritage is Cantonese and it has become increasingly difficult to keep the prevalence of Cantonese."

However, interest in New Zealand's early Chinese immigrants has grown since the previous Labour Party-led government under Prime Minister Helen Clark apologized in 2002 for historic injustices against the Chinese population, in particular the infamous poll tax.

The Chinese Immigrants Act of 1881 imposed a poll tax of 10 pounds a sizeable sum at the time -- on every Chinese entering the country, and this was raised to 100 pounds in 1896.

The discriminatory levy meant many Chinese men could not afford to bring their wives and families with them to New Zealand and it left many in long-term debt.

After petitions to the government, the poll tax was waived from 1934, but it was only officially repealed 10 years after that.

In a gesture of reconciliation in 2005, the New Zealand government established the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust with a grant of 5 million NZ dollars (3.88 million U.S. dollars) to promote the preservation of Chinese New Zealand history and to support Chinese New Zealand history, language and culture, particularly that of the early Chinese community.

The establishment of the fund marked a long awaited formal acknowledgement of the Chinese community's contribution to New Zealand, said Ting.

"The interest from the trust fund has been distributed to many worthy Chinese projects, such as books and other research."

Asked whether he considers himself predominantly a Chinese or a New Zealander, Ting replied: "A mixture of both I still like to keep my ties to the Chinese."

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