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Friday, 11th September 2015

Learning about the past: Treatment of the Chinese Settlers

Tuesday, 25th March 2014

Learning about the past: Treatment of the Chinese Settlers

Today the Chinese settlement in Arrowtown is a popular place to explore thanks to a recent restoration project  

  • Learning about the past: Treatment of the Chinese SettlersToday the Chinese settlement in Arrowtown is a popular place to explore thanks to a recent restoration project
  • Learning about the past: Treatment of the Chinese SettlersMany students who visit the Lakes District Museum benefit from a tour of the Chinese Settlement

Here in Arrowtown, a key tourist spot is our Chinese village. After gold was discovered in the Arrow river in 1862, the central Otago region experienced a gold rush, which brought a lot of settlers into the Wakatipu region. The issue with gold rushes is that people RUSH IN and then people RUSH OUT. When miners in central Otago heard about gold discoveries on the West Coast, a lot of people vacated the region to keep up the pursuit of striking it rich. This meant businesses and townships which had been established during the gold rush were now at a risk of financially collapsing as the majority relied on income from servicing the gold miners.

To solve this issue the Otago Provincial Government invited the Chinese to come to New Zealand to search for gold. A lot of the Chinese settlers were eager to make the big move to New Zealand as China was suffering from famine, and poor working conditions, and low wages. Any money found on the goldfields by the Chinese settlers could be sent back to China to help their families back home.

On arriving into New Zealand, a lot of the Chinese settlers soon discovered that even though they had been invited into New Zealand, they weren't welcome. A lot of unfounded resentment was geared towards the Chinese. A fear of economic competition was one reason why Europeans struggled to accept the Chinese settlers into their community. The European settlers also struggled with accepting Chinese culture, which was strikingly different from their own. Religion, leisure activities, traditional holidays, and smoking opium were some of the differences that the Europeans struggled to accept.   This was due to a strong belief in the superiority of white people and a desire to make New Zealand a ‘Britain of the South’.

This resentment led to the Chinese settlers in Arrowtown building their township away from the Europeans, most likely to avoid racial tensions. As more Chinese settlers immigrated to New Zealand over the years, European settlers felt even more threatened. This led to the The Chinese Immigrants Act of 1881. This act was created specifically to limit the amount of Chinese settlers arriving into New Zealand. The number of Chinese who could arrive on one ship was limited to one for every 10 tons of the vessel’s weight. A poll tax of £10 was also imposed on each Chinese person entering the country. In 1888 the ratio of immigrants to ship tonnage was cut to one Chinese person per 100 tons. In 1896, it was halved to one per 200, and the poll tax increased to £100.

This shocking example of racist treatment towards the Chinese settlers, was formally acknowledged and apologised for in 2002. At a Chinese New Year celebration on the 12th February, Prime Minister Helen Clark made this statement:

"I wish to announce today that the government has decided to make a formal apology to those Chinese people who paid the poll tax and suffered other discrimination imposed by statute and to their descendants. With respect to the poll tax we recognise the considerable hardship it imposed and that the cost of it and the impact of other discriminatory immigration practices split families apart. Today we also express our sorrow and regret that such practices were once considered appropriate."

If you are interested in learning more about our Chinese Settler History check out the Te Ara website.

Do you think a formal apology by the New Zealand Government was the right move?

How else could New Zealand formally apologize and amend what has happened between the two countries?

Answer my questions and comment about this blog post below!