AN AUSTRALIAN VIEW OF THE APOLOGY
After my initial great and excited euphoria over Helen
Clark's apology on behalf of the NZ Government and people, I became very
worried as I began to receive messages, first indicating prominent NZ commentators calling
for the "next step" by way of compensation, and secondly,
from the various huaren sites around the world praising the apology as a
great achievement of Chinese nationalistic and ethnic spirit. I am Chinese
and very proud of it, but I do not necessarily need to boast about my
cultural and ethnic identity in a manner of racial and ethnic superiority. I
am in fact rather worried about the new rampant Chinese nationalism and
culturalism which at an international conference in Singapore in 2000 I
warned would bring problems to the younger generation of overseas Chinese,
who will be torn by the demand they be loyal New Zealanders or Australians,
and by the strident demand they be patriotic Chinese!
Money, especially for descendents, can not compensate for the humiliation
and suffering of our fore bearers in New Zealand, nor any where else. Money
will not help our grandfathers or our fathers. The demand for compensation
will simply damage the achievements and reputation of the Chinese community
that our generation have managed to achieve in Australia and New Zealand. I
would caution you and my fellow New Zealand Chinese to be careful about what
the "next step" actually should be.
The present Howard Government will never apologize to the Indigenous peoples
in Australia and they explain why - they fear that a government apology will
lead to massive claims for monetary compensation, in many cases very
justified (more so than in the case of NZ Chinese!). The majority of White
Australians think that the Aboriginal peoples already receive too many
benefits from the public purse in Australia and so they support the
Australian government stand.
It is already being asked when will the Canadian and Australian governments
now apologize to the Chinese in Canada and Australia for their poll taxes.
In the Australian case I think I can safely say not in my life time and
If the NZ Chinese now pursue a claim for monetary compensation then I think
it will make apologies from the Canadian and Australian government even more
Further, though the present NZ Government is a very socially conscious one
that appears favorably inclined towards Chinese and other ethnic and migrant
groups, and I am much prouder to be a New Zealander than an Australian at
the moment, from my observations the racial situation in New Zealand has not
really improved. I can well imagine the backlash from the Pakeha and
especially Maori communities if the Chinese in New Zealand appeared to be
receiving special treatment and extra monetary benefit. I would think the
Chinese community in New Zealand is regarded as a very rich and well-to-do
one by many Pakehas and Maoris. The reality is of course very different but
it is perceptions that matter most to the general public!!!!
I think you must ensure that the Chinese people who are consulted and
represented are the descendants of the early Chinese migrants who suffered
the poll tax. My father must have paid it, and probably my mother and I did
when we arrived as war refugees in 1940? You must see that the more recent
migrants do not have all the say and influence. From my
understanding, organisations such as the Tung Jung, Seyip, and older Chinese
groups are much more representative than the NZ Chinese Association which I
gather has been taken over by more aggressive recent Chinese arrivals?
Yes, I gather the NZ Government wishes some advice concerning some thing
more tangible. Support for Chinese language and studies in schools and
universities is worth considering. However, I would caution against specific
Chinese schools that I have heard has been suggested. The ethnic specific
schools that now proliferate in Australia are a great source of division and
will eventually weaken multiculturalism in Australia. You would not wish
that to occur in NZ?
I would suggest the establishment in New Zealand of a government body such
as the Australia-China Council which encourages and funds academic,
cultural, and people to people exchange between Australia, the PRC, and
Taiwan. The ACC also supports research and cultural projects that promote
mutual understanding of Australian and Chinese cultures and societies. It is
very well funded by the Australian government and is at present chaired by
the most distinguished Chinese Australia, Dr John Yu, AC.
John Yu is descended from one of the early Chinese settler families in
Australia but like me was born in China! The AC, Commander of Order of
Australia, is the highest honour awarded in Australia. It is closed order,
in that there is a permanent set number of AC, and an AC has to die before
another is appointed!
18 February 2002
Henry Chan is a retired professor of Chinese in Australia