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Book & Print in New Zealand : A Guide to Print Culture in Aotearoa



The 19th century

The 19th century was the era of the Chinese goldseekers in Otago and on the West Coast. They were rural male Cantonese who first came over from Victoria, Australia, and later direct from China. Initially, in 1865, they were responding to invitations to rework the Otago goldfields; from there they spilled over to the West Coast. Their numbers reached a peak of over 5,000 between 1874-81. Despite their peasant background they were intrepid and determined adventurers. Sojourners by choice, their competitiveness, different racial origin and culture generated opposition. Their aim was to save about 100 pounds to take home to China; their strategy to adapt only as much as necessary until they left. They survived by their cooperative groupings of kinsfolk, clan and counties of origin.

The next wave, who came from the late 1880s, also established themselves throughout New Zealand in small businesses, capable of supporting families. From the turn of the century this led to the growing wish, despite the 'white New Zealand' policy, to bring their families here out of danger.

Although generally illiterate, they valued learning and even printed paper itself. Alexander Don described, for instance, how his Chinese teacher collected scraps of lettered paper to be burned later with ceremony (New Zealand Presbyterian, 1 July 1884, p.3). However, taking into account their illiteracy, their relatively small, scattered number and their temporary outlook here, it is not surprising that the Chinese print culture in 19th-century New Zealand was limited. They wrote no books and founded no newspapers. What local print culture existed was mostly hand-executed and little has survived. In fact, what is known about Chinese life in New Zealand in those days derives largely from the writings and photography of Don, who was Presbyterian missionary to them from 1879 to 1913. Don's papers are chiefly to be found in Dunedin, in the Hocken and Knox College libraries, and in private hands. Other important collections include those of G.H. McNeur (Hocken Library), and of James Ng. For comprehensive bibliographies of sources and authorities, see James Ng, Windows on a Chinese Past (vols.1 and 4 1993, vol.2 1995).

Their only commercial printing in this country was by means of lithography. The one example that has survived (in the Otago Settlers Museum) is the lithographed minutes of the meeting of the Cheong Shing Tong (Poon Fah Association), held after the sinking of S.S. Ventnor in 1902, which resulted in the loss of 499 exhumed bodies being returned to China.

Of handwritten Chinese, rather more survives. However, it should be understood that unless otherwise stated, the examples given in the course of this brief survey represent a small selection from a more comprehensive documentation compiled by James Ng. James Shum, a miner, wrote autobiographical accounts for both Don and G.H. McNeur. Fragments remain among Don's writings, and are reproduced in Jean McNeur's thesis 'The Chinese in New Zealand' (1930). The papers of Benjamin Wong Tape OBE, JP, were deposited in the Hocken Library, Dunedin, by his son in 1969.

Correspondence in Chinese must have been plentiful enough. The Statistics of New Zealand (1866) record a total of 534 letters from Hong Kong in the Otago mail. The texts of a few family letters have survived and been printed: for example, Don printed translations of four family letters, including one from the leper Kong Lye to his mother (New Zealand Presbyterian, 1 October 1884). A boxful of envelopes, some containing letters regarding the Cheong Shing Tong's first exhumation (completed in 1884) was found in a shed in Sew Hoy's store, Dunedin, in 1992. The envelopes had fascinating chop imprints, in various artistic forms enclosing the name. In his diary Don has described other Chinese letters; he also collected 'queer addresses' from mail sent to him by the Post Office to decipher (see his Diary 1899-1907, items 334, 408 and 442, etc.).

Legal or quasi-legal documents had their mixture of English and Chinese. Among these were petitions, such as that addressed in 1878 to the Otago Provincial Council concerning goldfield Warden R. Beetham's alleged unfairness. The petition was written in English, but the subscription list of names was in Chinese (National Archives, Wellington).

Notices, official and business, are another class of document. Don translated notices in Chinese, including rules of the anti-opium Cherishing Virtue Union (New Zealand Presbyterian, 1 December 1888). A bilingual official notice on the Mines Act of 1877 is referred to in the Dunstan Times of 27 January 1882. Reward posters were printed in 1880 in both English and Chinese for information leading to the arrest of the murderer of Mrs Mary Young (a European)—copies are in the Naseby Museum and National Archives, Wellington.

Pakapoo lottery tickets are plentiful in Otago museums, as are Chinese coins, but appear to have been printed in China—illustrated in Windows on a Chinese Past (vol.1 1993).

Handwritten and stamped calling cards in red were presented at the time of the Chinese New Year (New Zealand Presbyterian, 2 April 1883, p.184). None of the cards seem to have survived, and the New Year custom of leaving visiting cards has ceased in New Zealand.

The Chinese goldseekers attached red paper inscriptions bearing felicitous phrases and poetical couplets on walls, doors, shrines, meat safes, and in any auspicious place in a house. They may be seen in Don's photographs. Again, none have survived. Gambling dens had white paper inscriptions. See for instance, Don's Annual Inland Tour 1896-97 (1897).

Wood provided a common alternative writing surface to paper, in the shape of wooden signs, commemorative plaques and presentation pairs of vertical boards bearing poetical couplets, often with the donors' names carved in smaller characters. For example, living memory recalls the walls of the Poon Fah Association's Lawrence Joss House hung with flags and wooden plaques. Don similarly described the Round Hill Joss House interior in the New Zealand Presbyterian, 1 August 1890. John Ah Tong carved for the Queenstown Anglican Church in 1874, and the presence of other Chinese carvers in the goldfields is confirmed by Don and in census records. Probable examples of their work include two large yellow on red and two small yellow on black vertical Chinese boards, each pair bearing poetical couplets from the Poon Fah Association's Lawrence Joss House, and now in the Otago Settlers Museum; also the Chinese Church sign, originally hung outside the Dunedin Chinese Mission Church in Walker, now Carroll Street, 1897, and since transferred to the outside of the Dunedin Chinese Presbyterian Church in Howe St.

The Chinese goldseekers also used cloth banners with embroidered or stitched-on characters, ordered from China. One such work is the long horizontal banner in Hanover St Baptist Church in Dunedin, presented by its Chinese class at the turn of the century.

The only known 'Chinese' newspaper produced in New Zealand last century was Don's weekly Kam lei Tong I Po. Kam lei Tong was the rented premises in which Don preached at Riverton, and 'I Po' means newspaper. The first issue appeared on 12 May 1883; it seems to have been a handwritten sheet which he pasted up on the Round Hill Mission Church. Don must have had the help of his Chinese teacher. The latest mention of it is in October 1883, when Chinese condemned its information on the Sino-French War as contrary to their own, derived from overseas newspapers and letters, which they also pasted up (New Zealand Presbyterian, 1 September 1883).

Other overseas Chinese newspapers and magazines circulated in New Zealand in the 1880s and 1890s, including the daily China Mail; the weekly Chinese Australian Herald; the monthlies Review of the Times, Missionary Review; and the Chinese Illustrated News, the Chinese Globe Magazine—these two printed in Shanghai; the dailies Kwang Pao and the Wa Tz Yat Pao. These titles are mentioned in contemporary issues of the Christian Outlook and the New Zealand Presbyterian, and in Don's diaries. Copies of some of the above magazines are among that part of the Chinese library of the Dunedin Chinese Presbyterian Church which was deposited c.1984 in the Hocken Library.

Surviving books in Chinese, printed in China, from the period include two almanacs in the Graham Sinclair collection. The Sinclair farm was next to the Adams Flat Chinese Camp. A book on acupuncture was found in Sue Him's orchard shed in Alexandra (now in the Alexandra Museum). The literate used to read to the illiterate, and their books were read 'till they fall to pieces' (New Zealand Presbyterian, 1 January 1885). Novels read at Round Hill, according to Don, included: Koo sz king lam (Ancient matter—a forest of gems); and 'Vast, vast is the mist on the ocean, while the concubine is buried in sadness'. Classics at Round Hill and elsewhere, according to Don (New Zealand Presbyterian, 1 October 1884), included the Saam tsz king (Three character classic), Saam Kwok, Lit Kwok, History of the feudal states, and Mencius with commentary. The Chinese pharmacopoeia was used at Round Hill, according to the same source.

In 1881 Walter Paterson was distributing the New Testament in Wanli or conventional Chinese script or in English, matched line for line by colloquial Cantonese, transcribed into roman script by Paterson and a Dunedin Chinese named Mattai. No doubt such copies were more for the use of Europeans reading to the Cantonese goldseekers. No copies are known to have survived, though Don noted the wide distribution of these bibles. Paterson also published bilingual religious tracts, two of which are preserved in Knox College Library.

Don himself printed three bilingual booklets of hymns (Knox College Library). His most important legacy, however, was his handwritten notebook 'Roll of the Chinese in New Zealand 1883-1913'. It records in Chinese and English the 3628 Chinese Don met from 1896-1913 and, in English only, some others he knew from 1883. Because Don entered names and villages of origin in Chinese, and brief individual histories in English, most of those named can be identified. For example, Ng confirmed from the Roll much of the movements of the Ngs from Taishan county in this period. The notebook is reproduced in Ng, Windows on a Chinese Past (vol.4 1993).

New Zealand has probably the finest cache of photographs on the Chinese goldseekers and their origins, thanks to Don, whose hobby was photography. Some are bilingually labelled. His collection was dispersed, but is now largely reassembled in the Hocken and Knox College libraries, Dunedin.

Gravestones may also be included as print culture. Chinese examples were usually inscribed in Chinese, bearing the name, county and village of origin, and the time and date of death. The earlier gravestones dated the year by the emperor's reign. Sometimes the name and date of death were added in roman script. The Chinese also used wooden grave markers, but none remain, and many gravestones have been vandalised or illegally removed. The last Chinese to die on the goldfields were probably buried in paupers' unmarked graves, but many others are unaccounted for. The Dunedin Genealogical Society has drawn and recorded in a booklet the Chinese gravestones in the Southern Cemetery, Dunedin. Mrs B. Hayes has photographed the Cromwell Chinese graves (private collection), and Len Smith likewise those at Naseby (Hocken Library).

All the Otago museums have items relating to their local Chinese, including items bearing print or script. The West Coast museums are poor by comparison. The most comprehensive collection of Chinese goldseekers' memorabilia is that built by Graham Sinclair. The bulk of this collection, which includes musical instruments, mining rights documents, photographs, two almanacs, newspaper articles, all to do with the Adams Flat goldfield, has been donated to the Museum of New Zealand, Wellington.

The 20th century

Over the last 100 years the Chinese in New Zealand have undergone a remarkable change in fortune. Starting the century as a besieged underclass, Chinese are now ending the century as a group of diverse and healthy communities. Their story, and the aspirations of successive generations of Chinese New Zealanders, can be traced through the surprisingly active print culture maintained throughout this century.

Historically, 20th century Chinese New Zealand print culture can be divided into three periods, 1900-49, 1949-87 and post-1987.

Given the hardship faced by Chinese in that first period, it is remarkable anything was published at all. A small and transient community, labour-intensive occupations, and the need to support families back in China were all obstacles to the time-consuming and expensive process of publishing. The other obstacle was the physical difficulty of printing Chinese characters. A characteristic of pre-1949 publications was that they were almost all hand-written and cyclostyled.

What also particularly marks this period is the total focus on mainland Chinese politics. At this time the community mostly comprised urban-dwelling males (3,374 at its peak in 1926) who, marginalised and beset by racism, dreamed of returning to their families in China with enough money to secure a comfortable living. To this end, politics in the troubled homeland was at the forefront of community concerns with political groups in New Zealand echoing those in China itself.

From 1900 to 1915, five Chinese New Zealand political organisations were set up. One was the Chinese Association founded in 1909 by the official Chinese consul to New Zealand to undermine the anti-government activities of the other community organisations. During this time it was common for political factions in China to court overseas Chinese communities for the funds they could generate. The Chinese Association's annual report published in 1911 became this century's first publication in Chinese. Printed in China, it contained the Association's aims, activities and names of founding members. Its purpose was to gain support for the Chinese government.

How successful it was is academic as the government was overthrown that same year by the republican revolution. China quickly fell into a long period of civil disorder with the new government in Beijing and the rival Nationalists in Guangdong vying for control of the country. The community here mirrored these rivalries, with active organisations representing both sides.

The Nationalist Koumintang (KMT) enjoyed less New Zealand support but was more sophisticated in its activities. In 1915 it recruited a full-time branch organiser and in 1921 the KMT newspaper, the Man Sing Times, became New Zealand's first Chinese-language newspaper. Published in Wellington every ten days, the paper advocated support for the KMT cause in China. It was handwritten and cyclostyled with a separately printed full-colour cover. Lack of funds caused its demise after only one year. The Auckland KMT branch also tried its hand at publishing in 1930, issuing the Min Hok Times of which only one issue is known to have been published.

The community's political differences were set aside at the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937 with all flocking to the common cause. The same year a new New Zealand Chinese Association (NZCA) started its Wellington-based New Zealand Chinese Weekly News. It contained war news and reports of NZCA war effort activities. It also exercised social control on the community. During the war years the NZCA instituted a compulsory percentage of income levy on all able-bodied male workers. Money from the levy went to the Chinese Relief Fund and lists of defaulters were printed in the paper. Advertising revenue also went to the Chinese Relief Fund. A similar paper, the Q Sing Times, was set up in 1938 by the NZCA Auckland branch. Like the Man Sing Times, both NZCA papers were handwritten and cyclo-styled, produced by full-time professional journalists and continued to the end of the war in 1946.

The postwar period brought dramatic changes to New Zealand's Chinese community. Discrimination eased and in 1947 Fraser's Labour Government allowed the wives and families of long-time residents to join them in New Zealand. Many had been separated for 20 years or more. In addition, the dream of returning to China to live was marred by the Chinese Communist revolution in 1949. For better or worse New Zealand was now considered home. These changes, and those wrought by the needs of the next two generations of local-born Chinese, were again reflected in the community's print culture from 1949 to 1987.

The early part of this period was marked by a number of ephemeral publications usually serving very specific purposes. County groups (welfare and support groups set up by migrants from particular geographic areas in rural Guangdong) had been active since the 1920s. After the war, however, they began publishing their aims, constitutions and histories (Poon Yu and Seyip Associations, 1945, 1947). For the first time the NZCA published the proceedings of its AGM (1947), possibly to assert its continued post-war relevance. Other community issues were also reflected in print. Now that it was no longer possible to send young people back to China for their education, Chinese language and culture maintenance became a priority. Schools were set up to teach language and culture to locally-born children. One , the Wellington Chinese Free School, founded in 1957, published its own magazine in 1958 with material written by parents, teachers and students.

The political situation overseas, however, continued to haunt the community. Communists on the mainland and the Nationalists in Taiwan vied for overseas Chinese support. Rivalry was most intense in the decade following the 1949 Communist victory. Pro-Nationalist groups, supported by the majority in the community, issued publications such as the New Zealand Chinese Monthly Special of 1950 and the Kui Pao/Chinese News Weekly of 1951 which actively supported the Taiwan position. The mainland Communist cause was championed by the New Zealand Chinese Cultural Society which published a monthly newsletter as well as several one-off publications such as a 1958 May Day special. The Cultural Society's one-off papers were unusual in that, unlike other cyclostyled publications of the period, these publications were typed on a Chinese typewriter and printed by photolithography.

As Chinese came to identify as New Zealanders, overseas issues gradually receded. One publication that spanned this entire transition period (from 1949-1972) was the New Zealand Chinese Growers' Monthly Journal. Published by the Dominion Federation of New Zealand Chinese Commercial Growers (originally set up at the request of Fraser's Labour Government to ensure New Zealand could maintain its supply of produce to American Forces in the Pacific), the journal also had a full-time editor who used a Chinese offset printing press which cost the Federation £4,000. Although supposedly restricting itself to agricultural topics, it soon became the de facto voice of the community, focusing for the first time on local issues and stories. This was especially so after 1960 when the government, as part of its general assimilation policy, insisted all foreign news be dropped from the journal. The issue dated 30 June 1960 carries an account of the forceful ministerial letter which suggested the journal drop its overseas news.

Apart from the Growers' Journal, activity during the 1960s and 1970s was limited to small-scale newsletters mostly written in English, by then the main language of Chinese New Zealanders. Amongst them were church newsletters like the bilingual Wellington-based Chinese Anglican (196?- ), community newsletters like Auckland Chinese Hall (1961- ) and sporting publications like the Wellington Chinese Sports and Cultural Centre Newsletter (1974- ).

A real revolution in print culture came in 1987 when, in line with economic internationalism, the Labour Government opened the door to a fresh wave of Chinese immigrants. Between 1987 and 1996, when public outcry forced the door shut again, the Chinese population rose from 19,506 to around 82,000. The majority of the new migrants, who settled mostly in Auckland, were urbanised, sophisticated Taiwanese and Hong Kong Chinese. Within three years of their arrival three Auckland Chinese language papers were being published. By 1996 there were eight other Auckland papers. Included in these are the Sing Tao Daily, (formerly Weekly, 1989- ), a subsidiary of Hong Kong-based media empire Sing Tao Holdings, and New Zealand Chinese Weekly (1994- ), initiated by the New Zealand Herald but sold in March 1997. Such big-business involvement demonstrates the economic power the new migrants are seen to have. At present all but one paper (Hwa Hsia, the magazine of Taiwanese immigrants) are being published by Hong Kong new migrants. Published weekly, the papers are typeset using standard Chinese computer software and contain local and overseas news along with useful information on New Zealand customs and processes. The papers vary in quality but the majority tend to be lightweight in content and carry a large amount of advertising.

More specialist publications include the annual Chinese Handbook and Chinese-English Business Directory (both begun 1992), providing goods and services information, New Zealand Chinese Magazine (1992- ), containing stories on Hong Kong pop and movie culture, and the New Zealand Federation of Chinese Medical Science Journal (1995- ), catering to the growing number of traditional Chinese medical practitioners.

The Christchurch Chinese Monthly News (1993- ) and the Dunedin Asian Monthly News (1996- ) are the only new migrant magazines not based in Auckland. A small number of publications aimed at new migrants have been produced by the host community, including publications on crime prevention and Customs and arrival procedures. Most, if not all, were produced at the request of the migrants themselves.

Of course, the new wave of migrants did more than cause a revolution in print culture. Public outcry over Asian immigration and a rise in anti-Asian feeling in the wider community forced a response from the English-language publications of the established Chinese community. Although small in number, publications like the Wellington Chinese Association Newsletter (1989- ), began seriously addressing issues of racism and identity. In 1994 a publication aimed at the wider community was initiated. Chinese Voice (1994- ), a six-weekly supplement in Wellington's community paper City Voice, carries news, entertainment and commentary aimed at improving the wider community's understanding of Chinese New Zealanders.

The commentary related above shows how each generation of Chinese New Zealanders has used the printed word to fulfil its needs and articulate its aspirations. Supplied free to a tiny readership, the publications maintained a precarious existence. Their very existence, however, particularly in the early period, shows how passionately the community felt about the issues its publications addressed. Primarily, all arose out of a need to convey vital information and, with several exceptions in the modern period, they were not meant to provide leisure or entertainment. The utilitarian nature of Chinese New Zealand print culture, even today, may be seen as a reflection of the struggle the community has undergone to survive in this country.

Further research and access

Research into Chinese New Zealand print culture in the 20th century is still in its infancy. Charles Sedgwick made passing reference to several publications in his 1982 PhD thesis on the social history of the Chinese community, and an article on the Man Sing Times by Manying Ip was published in the 10 May 1990 issue of Sing Tao Weekly. A thesis on the subject is currently being researched by an MA student at Victoria University. Besides this, little or nothing has been written. A major difficulty for researchers in this field is that few of the original publications survive in public institutions. Even the Chinese language newspapers currently published in Auckland and Christchurch are not being comprehensively collected. Many of the older publications are incomplete or only known through references. Much of the material from the 1950s mentioned in this essay only came to light in the collection of material donated to the Alexander Turnbull Library in 1996 by Chan Lai-hung. Included in the collection is an almost complete set of the New Zealand Chinese Weekly News, which ran from 1937 to 1946. Prior to this only one issue was publicly available. While other institutions have small holdings of Chinese New Zealand publications, the major source of 20th century Chinese New Zealand publications is the Alexander Turnbull Library, which holds complete and almost complete runs of every serial publication mentioned in this essay as well as monographs and supporting manuscript material. It is hoped that further research into this area will be undertaken in the near future.