A Photographic Exhibition

Recently I had the pleasure of visiting a small but very interesting exhibition on in Wellington at the New Zealand Portrait Gallery housed in Shed 11 on the waterfront called ‘Being Chinese in New Zealand: A Photographic Journey’.

Using images from public and private archives, it offered a window into the history of Chinese settlement in New Zealand. It ranged from the days of the male dominated goldfields, to family run small businesses, to the modern day when the younger generations moved beyond what was considered the ‘traditional’ spheres of work. 

It told the tale of the many Chinese who came to the country in an attempt to make a fortune that they could take back to their homeland, for China was still considered the home of many even though they lived, loved and worked in New Zealand for a large number of years. This view gradually changed with the passing of time but other major events, such as the Communist revolution, reinforced the new belief of New Zealand as home.

The changing social traditions and customs were also highlighted including one family in which several daughters married europeans against the strong wishes of their parents and the difficult cultural identity experienced by those with Maori and Chinese ancestry. 

It also cast a spotlight on the anti-Chinese policies, one of which demanded a 100 pound fee or bond to be paid for a Chinese person to enter the country. This was an enormous sum for the time and was meant to try and limit the incoming numbers but not be an outright ban. Anti-Chinese propaganda in the form of cartoons were also on display, some not as old as you might think.

The photos were really interesting as were the little stories that accompanied them. You learnt about Appo Hocton (believed to be the first Chinese person in New Zealand), Aheong Lo Keong (generally regarded as the first Chinese woman in the country – she came with her husband and is pictured above), Ean King (George) How Chow (one of the few people of Chinese descent that enlisted in WW1 – there were barriers put in place to restrict their enlistment) and many more.

All in all was a fascinating morning spent traversing through New Zealand’s history. I am so pleased that I had the chance to join in the journey and see it’s past from another perspective.

(Image: Matilda Lo Keong, circa 1910. Dunedin Chinese Church Collection, Presbyterian Research Centre (Archives): P-A52_6-008)

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