Being Chinese in Aotearoa in the 1890sOctober 31st, 2018
In a previous blog we talked about Minnie Alloo, one of the thousands of women who signed the 1893 Women’s Suffrage Petition. Minnie Alloo and her sisters — who also signed the 1892 petition — were of Chinese and British ancestry: their father came from Guandong, and their mother from Scotland.
In this blog we take a brief look at what archival records can tell us about the position of Chinese people in New Zealand in the 1890s, and issues which may have affected Minnie Alloo and her family.
East Asia and Aotearoa connection
The connection between East Asia and Aotearoa stretches back to at least the mid 19th century, and possibly much further. There is a tradition among the indigenous people of Taiwan — who used to be recorded as 'Chinese' on the New Zealand census — that they share whakapapa links with Māori. Whatever the more ancient connections, Chinese people have lived in Aotearoa since at least 1842, when ship steward Ahpo Hock Ting ('Appo Hocton') settled in Nelson. After Te Tiriti o Waitangi, people living in New Zealand who were neither British nor Māori were considered 'aliens'. After 1844, aliens could apply for 'naturalisation' and become citizens. Appo Hocton was naturalised in 1852.
Chinese miners in New Zealand
In 1866 12 Chinese miners came to New Zealand at the invitation of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce. By 1871 there were 2,645 Chinese people living in New Zealand. These migrants, often from the Guandong region like Minnie’s father, sought to make money working in New Zealand to send back to their family, often hoping to eventually return to China. In other parts of the world, Chinese people had been exploited as indentured labour. This was not the case in New Zealand, but some New Zealanders continued to perpetuate the stereotype that Chinese labour was cheap and unfree.
Poll tax introduced in 1881
In the 1880s-1890s attitudes towards Chinese people became more explicitly racist as ideas of the superiority of the 'white race' and the desirability of a 'white New Zealand' were popularised. Many of the same politicians who argued for liberal reforms also propagated these ideas, suggesting that their vision for a more egalitarian society in New Zealand did not extend to everyone. In 1881 a poll tax was introduced, requiring Chinese immigrants to pay £10 in order to enter the country. In 1896 the tax was increased to £100.
Other anti-Chinese laws
A slew of anti-Chinese legislation followed. Between 1908 and 1952 Chinese were denied naturalisation, effectively excluding them from the franchise. Naturally Chinese people rallied together against this discrimination.
Chinese women in New Zealand
Unsurprisingly, the Chinese population remained very small in this period, peaking at 5,000 between 1874 and 1881. Anti-Chinese legislation, along with responsibilities to their families in China, meant that very few Chinese women came to Aotearoa in this period. The first woman from China arrived in 1869, and by 1886 there were only 15 Chinese women in Aotearoa.
Meanwhile, politicians such as Richard Seddon stoked fears about 'miscegenation' (the interbreeding of people from different 'races'). Seddon conducted a survey in 1886 which found 101 people in New Zealand who, like Minnie and her sisters, were of mixed Chinese and European ancestry. While officially such pairings were discouraged, the very existence of these children shows that attitudes on the ground were not always so stark.
The same was true of Māori relationships with Chinese: officially they were frowned upon, but in reality relationships and marriages between Māori and Chinese were not uncommon, particularly from the 1890s as Chinese began to migrate to the country and operate market gardens, often leasing land from Māori and working side by side with them.
Read our previous blog about Chinese in early New Zealand — The Alloo family and the Women's Suffrage Petition
This blog was originally published on the Archives New Zealand Facebook page as part of Suffrage125 and Chinese Language week.
Further reading about Chinese in Aotearoa
The Dragon and the Taniwha: Māori and Chinese in New Zealand edited by Manying Ip Jade
Taniwha:Māori-Chinese Identity and Schooling in Aotearoa by Jenny Lee
Being Māori-Chinese by Manying Ip