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Written by Lachlan   
Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Section Five: Earlier Chinese

5.1 Dispersing Obscurity: The Alloo Family From Australia to New Zealand from 1868. 172

Author: Jenny Alloo

5.2 How the Family of Pan Thomas Ah Shin Became Settlers Rather than Sojourners

Author: Jocelyn Groom

5.3 A new generation: 'Modern' young Chinese in the 1920s.

Author: Julia Martinez

5.4 Legal Restrictions on Chinese New Zealanders 1871-1997

Author: Nigel Murphy

5.1 Dispersing Obscurity: The Alloo Family From Australia to New Zealand from 1868.
Author: Jenny Alloo

From Ballarat Australia to the Otago Goldfields and settling in New Zealand

The Alloo family began 142 years ago with the blending of Chinese and Scottish cultures on September 11, 1856 when John Alloo born Canton China married Margaret Peacock born 1840 Millerhill Dalkeith Scotland, "according to the rites and ceremonies of the Presbyterian Church" by the Reverend James Baird.1.

According to the marriage certificate John's father was En Khan farmer and his mother was Ahoy. Margaret's father was John Peacock, collier, who later became a Victorian Government Interpreter to the goldfields and her mother was Agnes Peacock, formerly Adams.

John Alloo, known as the "Christian missionary to the Chinese"2, was respected as one the of the "chief" men of Ballarat3 to whom both Chinese and Europeans could turn for help and information. He was one of the few who could appeal to the gold commissioners for protection against the bewildering savagery of the times4. When William Henry Foster was appointed the first Protector of the Chinese, Alloo was signed on as his interpreter and appointed on April 1, 1858 as the first Chinese detective with the Victorian Police Force. However when the promised salary from the government failed to materialize he resigned four months later.5

Alloo family "oral tradition" claims that John Alloo was adopted by an English sea captain. He arrived in Australia in 1846. The only ship to arrive from Hong Kong, China that year was the Brig Soundarpooy under Captain Espinese leaving Hong Kong April 10 and arriving June 14. However, amongst the three listed passengers was a Captain Thomas.7 Now according to Scottish tradition the first son was always named after the paternal grandfather8 and John and Margaret Alloo named their first son Thomas. Could this Captain Thomas be the English sea captain who adopted John, taught him a fluent command of the English language and influenced him towards Christianity?

In Ballarat John Alloo ran an eating house establishment on the Eureka Lead, Bakery Hill and when the city started to grow he moved to Main Road where he ran a large eating house named "John Alloo's Chinese Restaurant - Soups always ready - Booking office for Melbourne and Geelong Coaches". It was drawn by the goldfields artist S.T. Gill.

The restaurant was much favoured by diggers of that time, whether they were Chinese or not, with hot food available at any time.

When John Alloo sold his interest in the restaurant on June 7, 1856 the Ballarat Times advertisement states - "The table will be supplied with the best of fare including Plum puddings, Jam tarts, Roast and Boiled joints, all kinds of Vegetables and, in short, every other namable necessity and delicacy the season affords"10 and according to A. W. (Bert) Strange's grandfather "Chinese food was the only thing not sold there".11

Across the Tasman in the 1860's the Otago Goldfields Authority saw the necessity to employ12 an official ethnic Chinese interpreter to liaise between officials and Chinese miners. John Alloo was appointed to the Goldfields Department of the Otago Police Force and began February 19, 1868 as a constable-interpreter Reg No. 526,13 to be initially paid 250 pounds annually by the Otago Provincial Council. 14

John Alloo was posted to Lawrence15 May 5 where he was joined by Margaret and their six Australian born children, Thomas b. 1857, Elizabeth b. 1859, William b. 1861, Amelia b.1863, Annie (Agnes) b. 1865 and Helena b. 1867 having sailed from Melbourne in the Omeo May 13, 1865.16 Alloo was transferred to Naseby August 21, l868,17 (where Margaret Alloo owned the Ballarat Hotel),18 Clyde December 29 1870 and Queenstown September 13,187119. It was while stationed at Queenstown that Alfred b. 1871, Minnie Rose b. 1874 and Arthur Edwin b. 1876 joined the family.20 On July 23, 1877 John Alloo was back in Lawrence.21

In the administration of justice Alloo thundered on horseback around Otago on police mounts named Bumble, Rattler, Nugget, Fanny and Manuka with horse rations apportioned according to the anticipated mileage.22 On one occasion (21.11.1871) when living in Arrowtown John was summoned to proceed from Queenstown to St Bathans where a Chinese had been shot. He spent some thirty three and a half hours "in the saddle" not counting the time from Arrowtown to Queenstown to report in.23

John Alloo interpreted in the Wardens and Magistrates courts, helped Chinese procure goldmining licences, assisted with crimes, reported sudden deaths24 and actively discouraged gambling25 and the manufacture of spurious gold26 among the Chinese.

On July 1, 1877 John Alloo became the first ethnic Chinese to be sworn in as a Police District Constable,27 first class, Reg No.844, when the New Zealand Constabulary Force, formerly the Armed Constabulary, absorbed the Provincial Forces. The position as a full member of the Police wing was made possible only when T K Weldon, who was at that time Superintendent in charge of the South Island, personally approached the Premier [Sir Harry Albert Atkinson] for that special authority.28

It is not surprising that two of his grandchildren, two of his great grandchildren and two of his great great grandchildren have been or are barristers and solicitors of the Supreme Court of New Zealand.

Because of ill health John Alloo was discharged "on compensation" October 17, 1877. 29 He died August 30, 1889 and is buried in the Anglican section of the Dunedin Southern Cemetery alongside his wife Margaret (who had previously purchased the two plots, another Scottish custom) and two children, Thomas who had been dragged by a horse, and Elizabeth Henderson who died in child birth. Also buried in the Alloo plot is Edward Hargraves aged one month,30 (who is no relation). Could this tiny child be the grandson of Edward Hargraves who sparked the Australian Victorian goldrush in 1851?


  1. Copy of marriage certificate.
  2. Jennifer and Peter Alloo visited Bert Strange historian, writer and publisher, who told them about John Alloo. Bert Strange's grandfather had worked on the Victorian goldfields and passed this information to Bert. Bert remembers an AlIoo family living in the Main Road when he was a child; their goats wandered on the gold tailings. On April 1, 1886 the Rev. Alex Don was ordained in Lawrence as Chinese missionary of the Otago Presbyterian Church - three years prior to John Alloo's death 1889. Had John Alloo already influenced some of the Chinese towards Christianity?
  3. Eric Rolls, Sojourners, p 121.
  4. Ballarat Courier Sep 27, 1997.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Eric Rolls, Sojourners, p 57.
  7. Shipping records held in Melbourne Library.
  8. The Scottish traditional method for naming children.
  9. File on John Alloo held at Sovereign Museum Ballarat.
  10. Ibid.
  11. W Strange, Ballarat - The Formative Years, p 26.
  12. Miles Singe and David Thomson - Authority to Protect, p 53.
  13. National Archives Dunedin Regional Office - Otago Police Staff.
  14. James Ng - Windows on a Chinese Past, Vol 1 p 223.
  15. National Archives Dunedin Regional Office - Diaries of Duties and Occurrences Lawrence.
  16. Shipping records held by Shirley Hay Dunedin, There are some mistakes in ages and sexes.
  17. National Archives Dunedin Regional Office - Diaries of Duties and Occurrences Naseby.
  18. Sketch by Andrew Hamilton. Mrs John Alloo sold the Ballarat Hotel in Naseby for 185 pounds - Mt Ida Chronicle 8 July 1870.
  19. National Archives Dunedin Regional Office - Diaries of Duties and Occurrences Clyde and Queenstown
  20. New Zealand Births, Deaths and Marriages.
  21. National Archives Dunedin Regional Office - Diaries of Duties and Occurrences Lawrence.
  22. National Archives Dunedin Regional Office - Diaries of Duties and Occurrences Lawrence, Naseby, Clyde and Queenstown.
  23. Ibid.
  24. Tbid.
  25. Otago Witness, October 1, 1870 - copy attached.
  26. Mt Ida Chronicle October 8, 1869, James Ng, Windows on a Chinese Past, Vol 1 p213.
  27. Miles Singe and David Thomson , Authority to Protect p 53.
  28. Ibid.
  29. Richard S Hill, The History of Policing in New Zealand Vol 2. The Colonial Frontier Tamed p293.
  30. Anglican Records - Southern Cemetery Early Settlers Library Dunedin. Block 22, plots 32 and 33 purchased by Mrs J Alloo of Lees Street, Dunedin on August 14, 1882 and September21, 1887 size 8x8.

5.2 How the Family of Pan Thomas Ah Shin Became Settlers Rather than Sojourners
Author: Jocelyn Groom


CHAPTER ONE: The Beginning - Pan Ah Shin & Catherine Martin.

A young Chinese man arrived in Victoria in 1848. His name was Pan Ah Shin, he was sixteen years old and he came from Canton, the capital city of a southern province of China called Kwantung.

Gold was not discovered until 1851 in Ballarat, Victoria, so he did not embark on a strange journey to an unknown continent to search for gold. In 1854 there were 2341 Chinese arrived in Victoria;1 nothing like the numbers which would, in a couple of years, flood in hoping to make a fortune from the precious ore. Memories passed down through the family remember Pan Ah Shin as a handsome man, a " bit of a character" and very flamboyant. The sort of man who was given to large gestures, like lighting a cigar with a five pound note. This description fits a man who might have enjoyed an adventure so he could have been one of the two hundred Chinese men shanghaied and brought to Australia, as labourers in 1848, in the ship " Phillip Laing."

Most of the Chinese who came to Victoria in the mid nineteenth century were not altruistic. They saw no vision of Australia as their new home; they were sojourners, not settlers. A telling statistic confirms this fact because immigration from China was male dominated; of the 24,732 Chinese in Victoria in 1861 only eight were women.2

A Victorian Government report of the time explains: "Your Committee have ascertained that the immigrant Chinese are composed principally, if not exclusively, of natives of Quang Tung, (Kwantung) or that part of China of which Canton is the capital, with which the British is at present in open hostility. These immigrants are not of that class commonly known as coolies, but comprised of men from the country districts as well as from towns, cultivators, traders and mechanics." 3 Fighting in his native province could have been a good reason for this young man to seek a better life in a foreign country.

Catherine Martin, Pan's prospective wife, came from Kingston, (Din Laoghaire, the Irish name has a more romantic lilt to it), the seaport town near the city of Dublin. She and her sister, Anna, disembarked at Geelong in February, 1855, from the ship" Marchioness of Salisbury" which had left Plymouth on 22 November, 1854. The shipping disposal list tells that Catherine was to be engaged as a domestic servant to a Dr. Grace for three months, for which she was to be paid twenty pounds, and her sister, Anna would work for a Mr. Thomas Bramley for a similar time and rate of pay.

Catherine and Anna were no doubt part of the flock of people who deserted Ireland after the disastrous potato famine.

"In 1846 and 1847 disease ruined the whole Irish potato crop, which was their (the Irish) staple diet. At least 500 000 Irish people died from starvation and the

cholera epidemic which followed the famine. Some understanding of Ireland's plight can be gauged from the decline in her population: from 8,170,000 in 1841 to 4,700,000 in 1891."4

Catherine Martin married Pan Ah Shin on a June day in 1857 at St. John's Anglican Church in Melbourne.5 Statistics between 1855 and 1859 show that marriages between Chinese and Europeans were uncommon, because of the "pressures of social ostracism and racism, fear deterred all but the most headstrong from uniting with another of a different race and culture."6 There were only fifty marriages in Victoria in this time between European and Chinese and a sizable proportion of these were between Chinese men and Irish women. Pauline Rule, a Melbourne researcher, has studied this phenomenon and has concluded that the most likely reason is that both came from marginalised groups.

There are some anomalies about Pan Ah Shin's date of birth. His marriage certificate, dated 27 June, 1857, states his age as twenty five which makes his birth year 1832, and confirms that he was sixteen when he arrived in Victoria. The inscription on the headstone of his grave tells a different story: that he died on 12 December 1896 when he was seventy three, so his year of birth would have been 1823, if that information is correct. It is credible that the marriage certificate age is more likely to be accurate because that information would have been given by Pan himself. It is also consistent with the ages he has given for himself on the birth certificates of his different children.

The news of the discovery of gold in Ballarat caused a great rush of people to Victoria. The newly weds, Pan and Catherine, joined the throng and travelled to the Bendigo region, where gold had also been found, and settled at Iron Bark Gully. It was here that their first two children were born, Alice Anne in 1858, and Mary Elizabeth in 1859. Their third child, Emily Matilda was born at Emu Point so presumably they had moved on to a new digging. At this time Pan was, according to official documents a" storekeeper" not a miner. A family myth is that he owned a hotel while in Bendigo, but Margaret Ah Sam, whose husband, Tom, is a descendant of Alice Anne Ah Shin, has found no evidence of a licensed premise to support this. He may have had an unregistered" shanty" for selling liquor.

Between the years 1856 and 1858 16 500 Chinese landed at the seaport of Robe, in South Australia. Robe was a free port at this time and was used to avoid the poll taxes which other ports incurred. The Victorian Act 18 (Vic) No.39 of 1855 made it necessary for every Chinese person landing in Victoria to pay a tax of ten pounds sterling, quite a considerable amount at this time.

A report from August 5, 1856, tells of the arrival of a Chinese contingent in Beechworth: "Heads turned on the Beechworth goldfield to watch a strange procession through the bark and canvas town - five hundred Chinese, all dressed alike, their worldly possessions on their shoulders.

They had walked overland from South Australia, along the old cattle route, in a kind of bouncing, shuffling jog trot, escorted by a European who acted as a guide. It was a lucrative business for the guide at ten shillings per head and much easier than droving cattle. He would pick up a contingent of Chinese at Robe, in South Australia - the landing across the border being made to escape the Victorian Government's immigration tax on Chinese - shepherd them across the state to whichever goldfield they wished to go, and then return to South Australia for another consignment."7

"The primary goal which drew tens of thousands of Chinese to the Victorian goldfields was to secure economic freedom. After amassing a quick fortune on the goldfields, every Chinese immigrant desired to return home with wealth and respect. There he would demonstrate his filial piety by constructing magnificent lineage temples, establishing local schools and purchasing land for the family trust. After providing all bodily and and spiritual need for his kith and kin, both past and present, the returned immigrant could then confidently retire and be worthy to eat meat and wear silk."8

The Chinese made up more than three per cent of the population at this time and exaggerated fears arose, as in the late 20th century, that Asian people would overtake the white races.

There was evidence of official resentment also, as the Report of the Select Committee on the Subject of Chinese Immigration by the Legislative Council of Victoria, 1856-57, demonstrates: .... "That crimes of great magnitude have been committed by these people is evidenced in the records of the Supreme Court. Serious collisions between them and the European population are becoming more frequent and dangerous; they cannot ignore the fact that ninety-nine hundredths of their race are pagans, and addicted to vices of a greatly immoral character. They feel bound to state that the presence of such a large number of their class in the midst of our great centres of population must necessarily have a most pernicious effect..."9

The same discontent was to blame for the fierce riot which took place on the Buckland River on American Independence Day (4 July), 1857. In this valley, near Bright in North East Victoria, the Chinese miners outnumbered the Europeans by three to one. Although the Chinese at Buckland isolated themselves and worked only the diggings which the Europeans rejected, they were successful in finding plenty of alluvial gold. Antagonised by the large force of Asians, and their success, the angry band of Europeans planned to evict the Chinese from Buckland. They attacked with any weapons they could readily lay their hands on, such as pick handles and sluicing forks, and drove the Chinese away from the diggings. Because the riot occurred on American Independence Day, and one of the rioters was nicknamed "Yankee Tom", the American miners were blamed for the riot.

Robert O'Hara Burke lead the police contingent which restored order. A number of miners were charged and the Chinese compensated. Eventually the Chinese were persuaded by the authorities to return to the Buckland, but only on the assurance of more adequate police protection.10

The Ah Shins arrived in Buckland in 1862, the Buckland Riot a past event, and Pan continued his search for gold. What a wild, remote place this tiny settlement would have been in 1862, nestling in the Buckland River valley with the Great Dividing Range towering ominously over it.

In " A Woman on the Goldfields" Emily Skinner writes in her diary of her first impressions on her arrival at Buckland: "Beyond that, as far as the eye could see, rose an endless succession of mountain peaks glittering in the sun, some of the loftiest, white with snow on their summits, the hoary old Buffalo towering above them all. At last, about four in the afternoon, we entered the small straggling township of Buckland, or rather, a succession of tiny townships, each a few miles apart- extending along the bank of the river or creek for a distance of twelve or fourteen miles. Here were the principal stores, post office and police camp. Hotels, of course, were not wanting."11

Pan and Catherine established a home at Lower Flat, Buckland and went on searching for gold for about ten years. During this period five more children were born. Their first son, Henry Thomas in 1863, and Caroline Jane in 1865, were born at Lower Flat. William James in 1867, Frederick, in 1869 (died in infancy) and Agnes Louise in 1870 were born at the Chinese Camp at Buckland. Pan's official occupation had changed to "miner", he was no longer a "storekeeper".

But Catherine, her body wearied and exhausted by living under extreme conditions, constant child bearing and the effects of poor nutrition, died on the 9th. February, 1872, in the Beechworth Hospital. She was thirty six. Like so many pioneer women her early death was caused by degeneration of the liver and kidneys. Her body rests in the Anglican section of the Beechworth Cemetery. It is difficult to imagine the conditions under which these women of the goldfields lived, and bore their children, but they deserve admiration for their courage. There is no doubt that all the Ah Shin children were literate, and as the Buckland School burnt down early in its history, their mother and father must have had a tough battle to ensure that their children were better educated than they had been. The Chinese have a long history of family solidarity going back to Confucius' teachings in 400 B.C. He taught that the father owed the family his best effort in promoting their bodily welfare, the children owed their parents obedience and the sibling owed each other respect and support. 12

Alice Anne, the first born child, was fourteen when Catherine died and Agnes Louise, the youngest, a toddler. Alice, and Mary Elizabeth, now thirteen, would have been expected to take over the responsibilities of housekeeping and child care.

As alluvial gold became more difficult to find the miners drifted away from the Buckland, some to select land as an alternative means of making a living. Pan, now adopting the name of Thomas, applied for land at Edi, then known as Hedi, in the King River Valley. The year was 1879 and Thomas Ah Shin was beginning a new life as a land owner, adopting the life of a settler rather than a sojourner. Six years later, on 5 September 1885, his lease for this land was granted. In that time he had built a slabs and bark four roomed dwelling, 30 feet x 15 feet and Thomas, his son Henry and daughter, Caroline, lived in this house. Alice, Mary and Emily were all married by this time. Thomas grew oats, tobacco and hops in his first year, then added potatoes and wheat over the next five years. The tobacco shed was huge in comparison to the house - 112 feet x 15 feet.

Pan Thomas Ah Shin died at Edi, in the King Valley, on 16 December,1896. He had outlived Catherine by twenty four years. His body rests in the Whitefield Cemetery 13 and his grave is situated in the Anglican section of the cemetery. It is marked by a substantial headstone as a symbol of his status in the community. Henry Thomas Ah Shin, Pan and Catherine's first born son, is buried next to his father in the Whitefield Cemetery. Tom, as he was known, died in 1901 as a result of a kick from a horse. His thirty four year old widow, Helena Ah Shin ( nee Limson) was left with two young children and a third on the way. Helena's mother and father were early settlers in the King Valley. Her father, Henry Limson, was mining on the Buckland field in the 1860's at the same time as Pan Ah Shin. In 1874 Henry Limson established a market garden at Tea Garden Creek, between Milawa and Tarrawingee. Four years later he acquired fifty eight acres in the Upper King Valley, near Cheshunt, which he cleared and planted with maize, hops and tobacco. Within three years he had built a house and he, too, became a settler, not a sojourner. He acquired more land and planted tobacco, which was becoming a viable crop in the King Valley. He persisted through a few years of failure to become a successful farmer in the region. Descendants of Henry Limson ( now Lamson) have lived in the Valley since that time.

The Chinese played an extremely important part in North East Victoria in the development of the tobacco industry. Initially much of the tobacco was grown by them, and their success with the early crops led to the King Valley becoming a huge tobacco producing area after World War Two.

CHAPTER TWO: The Second Generation - Mary Elizabeth Ah Shin and John Mah Look.

Mary Elizabeth Ah Shin was the first of Pan and Catherine's children to many: she was their second eldest child.

Certainly Mary was a child of the goldfields. Born on the Bendigo diggings in 1859 she went with her mother, father and two sisters, Alice Anne and Emily Matilda to the Buckland goldfields in 1862 when she was three years old. Pan and Catherine Ah Shin had five more children in the ten years they remained searching for gold at Buckland.

Living a rough and tumble life in the primitive and remote conditions of the Buckland Valley would have taught the children, especially the three older girls, to have independence. Births, deaths and other incidents of daily life would have been closely observed and would hold no mystery for these young children.

Emily Skinner’s recollections of living on the goldfields are told thus: "In the matter of sobriety I believe they (Chinese) are superior. I don't remember having seen a drunken Chinaman and for patient, plodding industry they really are wonderful. They are splendid gardeners and nearly all the vegetables for the mining towns are supplied by them. I thought it dreadful to see European women married to them, but many of them keep their children very respectable and have the latter carefully educated. "1 A remnant of prejudice and of superiority remains in these comments, but they do express respect for the Chinese.

Alice Anne's and Mary Elizabeth's life changed when their mother died in 1872. Alice was fourteen and Mary thirteen so they would have been considered quite old enough to care for their younger siblings and their father. But Alice, accompanied by a friend of her own age , her brother William ( aged ten) and Agnes Louise ( aged two) left Buckland to make an epic horseback journey across the Victorian Alps. We can only assume that older adults would have accompanied them but have no positive evidence of this fact. They must have set off soon after Catherine's death in February, 1872, because such a trip would have been virtually impossible in the winter time. Alice was employed as a housekeeper to John Ah Sam who lived in Omeo, and she was permitted to keep the two children with her. This situation lasted for five years then Alice and John Ah Sam married in 1877, in Bright.

Ray Kompe, who lives in the Buckland Valley, has made a detailed study of the North-East of Victoria and has great knowledge of the spots where gold was mined. He says that all the diggings were interconnected by roughly cleared tracks through the bush which diggers constantly used in their search for gold or seeking arable land to farm. Even using these cleared paths through the bush Alice Anne's ride was an enormous feat.

In 1875, and now sixteen, Mary Elizabeth married Mah Look, who had adopted the English name of John. They were married at Buckland on 30 December.

John had arrived in Australia when he was twenty years old and there is strong anecdotal evidence that he was accompanied by a Jesuit priest and was already a convert to Catholicism. He had walked from Melbourne to Buckland following the wheel tracks of coaches to search for gold. After prospecting there for two years he moved on to New South Wales and searched for gold at Lambing Flat in South-West New South Wales. In 1862 there were about 4 000 miners in this region. He was thirty one when he returned to Buckland and married the young Mary Ah Shin. There is a strong possibility that this was an arranged marriage as it was quite a usual occurence at this time, especially as the Ah Shins had prior connections with Mah Look when he was first in Buckland in the 1860's.

Catherine Ann, the Mah Look's first child, was born at Buckland in 1876 and their second daughter, Agnes Mary, at Edi in 1879. John Mah Look made an application for a land licence on the 6 August, 1877, and on the form he explains that he was a "laborer part time at Buckland and part Hedi." (Hedi was the former name for Edi.) At this time he was share farming with a James Thompson growing tobacco. On 14 December 1881 his lease application for land was granted. In the years from l877 to 1881 he had built a house on his land made of slabs and brick, which cost twenty pounds and had a twelve by ten feet kitchen annex made of logs and bark which cost five pounds. The land was four kilometres from the township of Whitefield and his first crop was hops. His hop garden was considered to be one of the best in the district, and he was famous for the profusion of floweres and vegetables which grew in his house garden. Mary Elizabeth was a keen gardener so perhaps she should be given the credit for the production of flowers and vegetables, although written accounts always refer to "John Mahlook's garden." After John died there are still references to beautiful flowers and vegetables which were Mary's work. The family always ate food which was prepared in the Chinese manner and grew suitable vegetables for this. In those days one didn't eat a variety of fruit and vegetables unless they were home grown because their was no constant supply as there is now. Mah Look soon found that hop growing was not profitable because its returns were so low.

Also the damage caused by red spider mite was a serious problem as there were no chemical controls for insect pests. His next venture was growing broom millet and tobacco. His first three tobacco crops cost three pounds each to plant and yielded nine pounds, fifteen and twelve pounds respectively. His comment on the lease form regarding the tobacco crops is " failure", which must have disappointed him because he had outlayed thirty pounds for a ninety feet by fifteen feet tobacco shed made from poles and thatch. The millet was more successful and was becoming a popular crop in the area.

"At Whorouly, in 1872, the manufacture of broom began from locally grown broom millet, one of the earliest examples of value adding in the district. The products of Barker's broom factory were sold as far away as Melbourne, replacing the imported American brooms. Tobacco was also manufactured by the Barker Bros: plugs of dark potent mixtures which would fill the lungs and beguile the senses of a legion of pipe smokers on the diggings, on the sheep runs, wherever smokers puffed in town or country."2 Broom making remains a cottage industry in the area and millet brooms are often sold at craft shops and bush markets around the North East of Victoria. The Mah Look produce always commanded good prices so it was evident he had inherited the Chinese skills for growing many types of plants.

Mary Elizabeth and John Mah Look had twelve children between 1876 and 1902; ten girls and two boys. The family were strong supporters of the Catholic Church all their lives and John was always generous in his support for charitable appeals and community work.

John Mah Look died from kidney disease and pneumonia at his home, "Belford House" in the early hours of Sunday 17 December, 1924. His death claimed a long time pioneer resident of the King Valley. He is buried in the Whitefield Cemetery. Next to his grave is that of his first son's, John William ( Jack) who died on 17 December, 1920. Jack was thirty seven when he died of lung disease caused by dust from thrashing millet. He left a wife and seven children. Although his death was a tragedy he is remembered for building the King Valley Hall which was the social centre of the district for many years. It still stands in the Valley on a nearby farm where it was moved in the 1960's because it had fallen into disuse. Used as a tobacco baling shed at first and now as a general storage shed, its floor is as tight and even as it was when new and had the reputation of being one of the best surfaces for dancing for miles around. Jack was also a very comptetent violinist and played at all the dances and balls which were a popular form of entertainment in those days. Mary Elizabeth continued to live in "Belford House" and when her youngest daughter, Elsie Veronica, called Vera, married Frederick Honey, a year after John's death, they moved in with her to run the farm. Mary Elizabeth moved into a smaller house on the property, which was soon surrounded by gardens.

It is no wonder that Granny Mah Look, as she became known, lives in the folklore of her family ( and the King Valley) as a very singular woman. Memories of her not only recall her fearlessness in times of crisis and danger, because in her long life she saw sensational floods, fearsome bushfires and long periods of depressing drought in the Valley, but she is also remembered for her genial and kindly personality. Her door was always open to people in need of help and the kettle on the stove ready for cups of tea for all who called.

She was a good neighbour and although busy with her large family, and her garden, found plenty of time to be hospitable. One of her more notable house guests was Jim Kelly, Ned's youngest brother, who was a long time resident of the nearby Greta district.

Granny Mah Look was a tiny woman with the characteristic light frame frame of most Chinese women. She is remembered as an extremely skilful midwife in the King Valley.

It is well known that she delivered over one hundred babies and it was necessary for her to seek medical help on only two occasions. Her earlier experiences had taught her many skills and like all the Ah Shin girls she was a good horsewoman. Granny Mah Look's eighty eighth birthday celebrations were held in great style at her daughter Agnes Fosang's home. Sixty residents of the King Valley joined the family in wishing this remarkable, old lady their best wishes. Vera Honey had a very lovely singing voice and played the piano, and often entertained at family events. Granny Mah Look moved into a new home just before her eighty eighth birthday. Vera and Fred Honey bought another property, " The Willows" near the tiny township of King Valley in 1949. It was a few kilometres from "Belford House" and the old farm. Granny lived in a small cottage just over the road from Fred and Vera, and established yet another flower and vegetable garden, remnants of which survive today. Particular features of all her gardens were the shrubs Chaenomeles, known as Japonica, or flowering quince, and Daphne. These shrubs were originally natives of China. As well as keeping neighbours supplied with fresh produce she grew the vegetables for the traditional food she and the family preferred to eat. "Belford House" and the farm in Mah Look's Lane was sold in 1960 to an Italian tobacco grower.

The Confucian teachings of keeping strong filial ties continued, although the family was becoming more scattered as different members married and moved away. The preference for marrying a Chinese partner remained quite strong in this generation with only a couple of exceptions.

Although the Mah Look family became a strong part of community life in the King Valley they had to suffer the occasional racist comments, which must have made life unpleasant at times. The people in the community, who were close friends, speak of them with admiration and respect.

When Granny Mah Look was approaching her ninety fifth birthday she fell and broke her thigh bone. This injury kept her confined to bed for about eight months in Vera Honey's care until she died on February 1,1955. This amazing woman, a pioneer of the King Valley, left one hundred and sixty four descendants. Twenty of her grandchildren joined the Armed Services during World War Two, nineteen grandsons in the Army and Air Force and one grandaughter an Army nurse. Many of the family contributed voluntary work through Red Cross and were active in community affairs.

Following prayers at her home a huge crowd flocked to the Whitefield Cemetery for her burial which was conducted by Rev. Father Lacey.

CHAPTER THREE: The Third Generation - Agnes Mary Mah Look and William Fosang.

The Mahlook's second child, Agnes Mary, married William Fosang at her family home, "Belford House", on 27 April, 1897. Her older sister, Catherine Ann (Kitty), was married to Goon Sang on the same day and same place. The girls were nineteen and twenty years old, William Fosang was thirty five and Goon Sang was forty two. Bill Fosang, as he became known, and Goon Sang, were both Hakka. These were people who migrated to southern China during the Sung Dynasty (1126-1279) especially to the area between Kwantung and Kiangsi Provinces. They have the reputation for being extremely industrious and shrewd people. Their dialect has affinities with Mandarin, the language of much of North and Central China, and Cantonese, the language of the Kwantung people. Hakka have a rather scattered pattern of distribution as does their language. They are sometimes referred to as "gypsies".

After Mary Elizabeth Ah Shin and John Mah Look married the remainder of the six Ah Shin children married over the period between 1875 and 1889. Henry Thomas was the last of the children to marry ( he married Helena Philaria Limson, whose father Henry Limson was a pioneer in the King Valley.) The four remaining girls married men from the same Sun Hui region, south of Canton, as Pan Ah Shin, their father, came from. It is a reasonable assumption to make that, one way or another, the Canton connection was strongly maintained. Also a strong possibility that all these marriages were arranged because the husbands were quite a bit older than the Ah Shin girls.

Ada Elizabeth Mah Look, the fourth Mah Look daughter, married a man who came to Australia with a letter of introduction to the Mah Looks which he had been given in the Sun Hui area from which Ada's grandfather, Pan, came. This man, Shun Fook Yuen, known as Frank Sam Goon, became a wealthy herbalist in Australia and Ada and Frank's son, Roy Goon, became a very well known aviator who trained Australian pilots who fought in " The Battle for Britain." His services to the War effort were only recognised when the then Minister for Air, David Fairbairn, initiated action. It is interesting to note that Granny Mah Look's last three children were born between l896 and 1902 at the same time as her daughter, Agnes, was having her children. The Fosang children were Mary Gertrude, born in 1898, next Alfred Laurence, born in 1900, then Elvie in 1901. Because child bearing continued over a long period (1876-1902, twenty six years in Granny Mah Look's experience) it was quite common for the older daughters to start child bearing before their mother had finished.

Agnes and Bill Fosang acquired land near the township of King Valley, only a few kilometres north of the land owned by John Mah Look in Mah Look's Lane, and Goon and Kitty had land nearby. They were successful growers of millet and tobacco, and also had the family's knack of growing a profusion of flowers and vegetables. William and Goon Sang developed a market garden and had a vegetable run which supplied produce to the whole Valley which was of very high quality. The Fosang children, and grandchildren, remember how it was their job to wash carrots, parsnips and potatoes before they were sold. Because of their generosity and good nature the Fosangs were often taken advantage of as many of the vegetables were given away rather than sold.

Agnes's house, like her mother's, was always open to visitors. Regular guests were the Melbourne agents concerned with selling the millet and tobacco. It was their habit to always stay with the Fosangs and are particularly remembered because of the long association which developed into firm friendships. One of the agent's sons had the very white hair which some blonde children have, so he always stood out in old photos with his snowy hair in great contrast to the jet black hair of the Chinese children. This man is still in contact with some members of the family. People who visited the house remember a huge Daphne bush growing near the verandah, and two potted bird's nest ferns on the verandah, which were a favourite spot for tiny birds to nest and shelter.

Bill Fosang was a boundary rider in Queensland before his marriage to Agnes Mary. A story persists in the family of an extemely heavy, old Colt pistol which was kept on the top shelf of a store room. The children, and later grand children would reverently take it down and hold it with awe because Goong ( grandfather) had told them that he had used it to shoot Aborigines when he was boundary riding. Unfortunately it was claimed by a gun amnesty and the family have never been able to reclaim it. About 1929 Bill Fosang had a bumper tobacco harvest and to celebrate he threw a memorable party to which he invited the whole community. His tobacco cheque was enough to pay for the party and to make exensions to his house. In latter years the Fosangs held dances and card parties at their home to raise money for the war effort (W.W.2), and also for Red Cross.

The narrow gauge railway line between Wangararta and Whitefield opened on 14 March, 1899, and proved to be a great asset to the Valley for carrying passengers and produce. Over the years the train service declined in popularity as other forms of transport became more common so a postal motor ran to replace the train. In his history of this train Edward A. Downes makes some interesting comments: "The postal motor was a unique vehicle, a four-wheel "Casey Jones" track speeder, numbered NK- 1. It was semi enclosed to accommodate several passengers and hauled a small four-wheeled open trailer for parcels and very light goods. Formerly the motor was known as the " Chinese Express" but with the introduction of the "Spirit of Progress" on the main Sydney-Melbourne line the narrow-gauge postal motor became the" Spirit of Salts."1

Downes's comments about the " Chinese Express" are an indication of the number of Chinese people living in the King Valley in the early part of this century. Mah Look's twelve offspring alone produced fifly eight children, and there were other large Chinese families living in the Valley in that era. The rail motor was a popular form of transport for the Chinese children to pop up and down the Valley to visit different members of the family, especially Granny Mah Look, always a favourite and rememberd for" always being there."

Agnes and William Fosang were called "Nan" and" Goong" and their farm was always a popular place to visit. As children the young Fosangs, of two generations, worked on the millet and tobacco on jobs which were suitable for them, and probably seemed more like fun than work. They would walk through the millet, flattening it as they went. This was to prepare it for cutting, and thrashing the seeds, before the stalks were dried for making brooms. Little fingers were very adept at removing caterpillars from the tobacco plants before the use of insecticides and the children were expected to help as was every member of the family.

The Fosangs kept up the tradition of cooking Chinese food for their family and friends and grew the vegetables and herbs which were unique to Chinese cuisine. Members of the family who have visited China, and eaten authentic Chinese food there, remark that the food which is cooked by the Australian born family members, taught by their mothers or grandmothers, tastes remarkably like the real thing, and very unlike the food cooked in Chinese restaurants in Australia which has been adapted to suit Australian palates.

William Fosang died in 1943 when he was eighty one, and Agnes Mary lived until she was eighty six. She died in 1964 and both of them are buried in the Whitefield Cemetery. Agnes had survived her remarkable mother, Granny Mah Look, by just nine years.

CHAPTER FOUR: The Fourth Generation - Alfred Laurence Fosang and Myrtle Annie Ah Yee.

Agnes and Bill Fosang's second child, Alfred Laurence, always called Alf, was born in the King Valley in 1900 and lived there for most of his life. To get to school he had to cross the King River on a primitive swing bridge and walk several miles to the old Edi School just across the King River.

As Alf grew up he helped his father on the farm and his two sisters, Elvie and Gertrude, worked just as hard as Alf as did their children as they grew up. Mrs. Jean Sanders remembers how her husband, Bill, would take the Fosang's vegetables to Moyhu on his old truck each week to the market, which was held there. Moyhu is a small town in the lower King Valley. In the late part of last century and early this century it was a centre where cattle, some sheep, and milk were collected for sale. There was a thriving butter factory and the livestock were brought in from a large surrounding area. The legendary mountain cattlemen, still grazed their cattle in the alpine country, droving them down to the valleys in the spring time, as they have for more than a century. The mountain cattle sale is still an annual feature at the Myrtleford yards in the Ovens Valley, and a few of the old timers are still around. So the Moyhu livestock market became a social occasion for the area and produce of all sorts was sold on market day. The Moyhu pub had been known to serve up to two hundred meals on these days. Bill and Alf Fosang's vegetables would have been a sought after product.

Alf played football for the Valley and some cricket and is remembered for his prowess at these games. A newspaper report of the time, when he was in his late teens, tells of a farewell social held in his honour at the King Valley hall. He was going to Melbourne to learn the trade of carpentry, but the report reads as though he is leaving the area never to return. Alf was presented with" a handsome suitcase" and was "overcome with emotion at the many expressions of praise bestowed upon him." While he was in Melbourne Alf met Myrtle Annie Ah Yee at the Young Chinese League. Myrtle was in Melbourne doing her teacher training and studying music. She became a very accomplished musician.

Myrtle Annie Ah Yee was born at Ensay, near Omeo in South Eastern Victoria, on 18 November, 1899, and she and Alf were married at Carlton, a suburb of Melbourne, in 1927. They were a strikingly handsome couple, the wedding entourage was large, and as a result of these two factors the city traffic was held up.

When they returned to the King Valley they lived in a cottage next to the King Valley school and it was here that both of their children were born and reared. This cottage had a strange history. It was built for the first school master of the King Valley school, William Coulton Smith, but he only lived in it a few months before he died of tuberculosis.<Disputed by a descendant, editor>On the 7 October, 1920, Jack Mah Look bought the house and lived there for only three months before he was dead of lung disease caused by millet dust. It was occupied by Jack's widow, Jessie, and her seven children, until they, with financial help from their families, were able to move to Melbourne. Alf and Myrtle Fosang took up residence in "Moritfort" house after their marriage. Alf Fosang purchased this house in July, 1936.

Alf's father was now sixty five years old and Alf, with help from the rest of the family, continued to work with him growing millet, vegetables and running a small dairy herd.

Myrtle Fosang taught school at the nearby Edi school. She rode a horse at first and later took to riding a bicycle. Howard White, who has lived in the Valley all his life, remembers that Mrs. Fosang was late for school one day and the boys decided to go off down to the river. When Mrs. Fosang arrived she found half of her pupils missing. When they returned their usually gentle, quiet teacher surprised them by giving them all a caning. Being so out of character the punishment was very effective. Alf Fosang also worked for the Oxley Shire, which is now incorporated into the Rural City of Wangaratta Council, and became a foreman responsible for building many of the roads, and particularly bridges in the Shire. During the Second World War Shire resources and staff were in short reply and this story is told about Alf Fosang: "Yet conscientious employees, spurred by the urgency of the wartime atmosphere and aided by a reduction of traffic because of petrol rationing, managed to keep the road in good order. Coming home through Whorouly late one evening, the assistant-engineer, F.G. Cobham, heard the clank of a pile-driver through the twilight. Re discovered that along the Whorouly River Road two employees, Alf Fosang and Tom Fulton, were still working on a new bridge long after normal knock-off time. "You want to get it finished, don't you?" they asked. They did finish the bridge, and the upshot of their enthusiasm was that council got two bridges on the road for the price of one."1

The terrain in the King Valley is not ideal for road and bridge building as it is bordered on each side by hilly country and intersected by the King River and the many creeks which run into it. Most of the rain occurs in winter time and the Valley becomes prone to flooding. Another problem is caused by occasional snow falls in the higher sections and icy roads. Not the easiest conditions to work under, and in those days the men camped on the job under primitive conditions and worked on sites which were both steep and dangerous.

Myrtle Fosang continued to teach sometimes at the Cheshunt school, in the upper King Valley, and at Edi, but her career was cut short by illness. She died of cancer in November, 1951, and Alf and his family mourned the death of a wonderful wife and mother. She was teaching at Edi School until 1949 when bad health prevented her from continuing. She is buried in the Whitefield Cemetery in the Anglican section. Myrtle Fosang's sister, Bess, and her husband, Bill Chong lived in the Valley and owned a shop in Whitefield. Bessie Alexandra Ah Yee was born in Paynesville in the Gippsland area and Bill was born in Benalla, in North-East Victoria. Both were born in 1905. Bill's father had a well regarded cafe in Wangaratta for many years. The Chong's shop in Whitefield is remembered by local people for many reasons. Meat pies made by Bill Chong were eagerly sought after and their shop, on a Saturday, after a football match in the wintry Valley, would be crammed full of hungry, cold customers clamouring for one of Bill's pies. "They always seemed to be open," was another comment and a good reason for the shop's popularity, although some people say that it did close long enough on Christmas Day for the Chong's family to have Christmas dinner. They, like the rest of the Chinese families, are remembered for being hard working, kindly, good people.

Mrs. Elvie Hall, Alf Fosang's sister, is remembered also for her many acts of kindness to neighbours. Kath White, nee Sanders, recalls how angry she was when one of the Hall girls was being teased at school. She hit the offender and was in trouble with the teacher, but Kath explained that because Mrs. Hall had taken care of her like a daughter when her own mother was ill she regarded the Hall family not only as friends, more like family. As an adult Kath White visited China because she was fascinated by the stories she heard of it from different members of the family. Alf's work on his father's farm was limited by his job at the Oxley Shire which took him away from home for long periods.

Myrtle Fosang had to milk the cows before she went off on her bicycle to school and her own children, along with Alf's sisters and their families, were responsible for keeping the farm running. Once again, the amazing fortitude of the women in this family is remarkable.

Alf’s carpentry skills were not fogotten and can be seen in some of the items around the farm and its buildings.

Alf Fosang spent the last few years of his life in a nursing home in Wangaratta, the rural city fifty kilometres away. His physical condition needed special care, but mentally he was alert and lucid until his death. The KingValley remained a precious place in Alf’s memory and when he was able to make a short visit it was difficult for him to leave without shedding tears. Alf was so well known in the area because of his work around the Shire for many years that he will be remembered by his friends, and people he worked with, for a long time.

Alfred Laurence Fosang died in November, 1997 and is buried in the Whitefield Cemetery. He was ninety seven years old. His grave is next to his parents in the Catholic section of the cemetery.

Members of the Ah Shin family and its descendants, who are buried in the Whitefield Cemetery, are divided in death as they never were in life because of convention, and different families adopting new religions. Religion decided the section to which one was allotted by death and it is a pity that even husbands and wives are separated because irrelevant regulations have not allowed them to be together.

Pan Ah Shin's great, great granddaughter lives in the King Valley on the farm which belonged to her grand father, William Fosang, and her father, Alf Fosang. Her love of and loyalty to the King Valley is a continuation of the feelings which kept her family as settlers here for so long.

Her husband's recent death has been a severe trial for her to overcome after a long and happy marriage, but she has the same determination and independence shown by her forebears, and is gradually coming to terms with her loss.

In her retirement from a long and successful professional career she is continuing to run a

small business, which is physically demanding, and would daunt most women her age.

In a very severe flood in the Valley (September, 1998) she chose to stay in her house with the flood waters swirling around her verandah. Her calmness was astonishing. The decision to remain was made because she feared for the safety of the horses she was caring for and her own dogs and cat ( which had to be rescued from under her house at a very critical moment.)

She and her husband were extremely active members of the district pony club which made many happy and challenging experiences for young people learning to ride and care for their horses. Also their love of ballroom dancing encouraged them to teach many of the young people in the Valley the skills they had. The King Valley Hall, built by Jack Mah Look, was the venue they used.

Their contribution to this community has been huge in many ways, as the whole family's has been since Pan Thomas Ah Shin lived here over one hundred and twenty years ago.

There are now about eighteen hundred descendants of Pan Ah Shin and Catherine Martin scattered about Victoria, and further afield, and they keep alive their long history of family solidarity.



  1. McLaren, Ian: "The Chinese in Victoria: Official Reports & Documents," Red Rooster Press, 1985.
  2. Victorian Census, 1851-1860
  3. C.M.H. Clark, "Select Documents in Australian History 1851-1900," 1955, A & R, Sydney.
  4. Hagan, James (Ed), "Modern History and its Themes", Longrnans, Victoria, 1968
  5. St. John's was on the corner of Elizabeth and Latrobe Sts. in 1857. A large Bank building occupies the site now, and St. John's has merged with St. James's, West Melbourne to form the Mission of St. James & St. John.
  6. Morag Loh and Christine Ramsey, "Survival and Celebration", 1986. Victorian Year Book 1880-1881.
  7. Graham Jones: "On This Day in the North East."
  8. In Macgregor, P.(ed) Histories of the Chinese in Australia & the South Pacific, Museum of Aust. & Chinese History, Melbourne, (Bon-Wai Chou's thesis for Master of Arts, Melbourne Uni. "The Sojourning Attitude and the economic decline of the Chinese society in Victoria, 1860-1930's", 1992.)
  9. C.M.H.Clark," Select Documents in Australian History 1851-1900," 1955, A. & R. Sydney
  10. Jones, Graham: "Memories of Oxley," Charquin Hill Publishing, 1995.
  11. Duyker, Edward (ed) "AWoman on the Goldfields - Recollections of Emily Skinner, 1854-78," Melbourne University Press, 1995.
  12. Yutang, Lyn: "My Country and my People," Wm. Heinemann, London, 1938.
  13. The town now known as Whitfield was called Whitefield in the early days because of the white clover. It still flourishes in the Valley. Also the land for the cemetery was given to the community by the Evans family and was part of their property known as " Whitefield" originally, which was included in a huge land holding known as the "Myrrhee" run and stretching across two valleys.


  1. Duyker, Edward (ed) "A Woman on the Goldfields - Recollections of Emily Skinner, 1854-78," Melbourne University Press, 1995.
  2. Jones, Graham, "Memories of Oxley" Charquin Hill Publishing, 1995.


  1. 1 Downes, Edward A." Speed Limit 20- A History of Narrow Gauge Branch Lines in the Victorian Railways," W. & K. Purbrick, Melbourne, 1963.


  1. M. A. Moonie, "Bridge to the Future - The Story of Local Government", Oxley Shire 1862-1962.

5.3 A new generation: 'Modern' young Chinese in the 1920s.
Author: Julia Martinez

This paper examines the emergence of a 'modern' young generation of Chinese in the 1920s, focusing on the Chinese of Darwin, in Australia's Northern Territory. In this decade, the division between young and old in Darwin was evident in conflicts between the conservative Wah On society and the new Chinese Nationalist Party, the Kuomintang. The Wah On society was comprised of older merchants whose values and customs tended to be those of traditional China. The Kuomintang in contrast, stood for a modern China, as envisaged by the leader of the Nationalist Party, Sun Yat-sen. An examination of the values of these young Chinese suggests that in the 1920s the cultural characteristics of Australian Chinese changed quite dramatically as they became more modern and western. This paper considers the nature of these changes and questions whether in fact the Australian Chinese were becoming less 'Chinese'.

The young members of Darwin's Kuomintang in the 1920s were prominent in public debates over issues such as workers' and women's rights, rejecting 'traditional' Chinese views and taking up a 'modern' stance. These supposedly 'western' views have been attributed to the assimilation of the young Chinese into Australian society. This interpretation however, suggests that the younger generation had lost touch with China. I would argue, in contrast, that it was the older traditional Chinese who had lost touch with the fast changing character of modern China. The younger Chinese, on the other hand, who had returned to China and Hong Kong for education, had come away with a sense of the new nationalist China with its emphasis on modern western thought and practice.

In 1921 there were roughly 400 Chinese living in Darwin. Those not born in Australia, were originally from southern China or Hong Kong and were loosely referred to as Cantonese.1 There have been various studies of the Darwin Chinese, by Diana Giese, Suzi Hutchings, Eric Rolls and others. These have suggested that the dialects groups included Hakka, Sze Yap and Heung-san.2 Apart from different dialect groups, prior to the 1920s, the most obvious social division between the Darwin Chinese was based on wealth and status. There were the wealthy merchants and storekeepers who had sufficient money to travel to China and to pay for their children's education; and there were many poorer Chinese who struggled to survive, working in a variety of labouring jobs.

In the 1920s, however, a different kind of division appeared in the form of two opposing societies: the Wah On Society and the Chinese Nationalist Party, or Kuomintang. The Darwin Kuomintang was a branch of the Australasian Chinese Nationalist Party which was first established in Sydney in 1920.3 The conflict between these two organisations was not about class or wealth. Both associations were dominated by traders rather than labourers. Eric Rolls has emphasised that the new Kuomintang was regarded as snobbish. In fact, the executive members of the new organisation tended to be the children of members of the orginal Wah On Society, those being the ones with the education and time to engage in political activities.4

The popularity of the Kuomintang in Australia was clear. In Darwin, the president of the Wah On society, Ah Cheong, was replaced as leader of the Chinese community in the 1920s, and his role was taken over by the executive members of the Kuomintang.5 By 1930, the Kuomintang was responsible for almost all social, political and financial functions, including the provision of loans to the Chinese community.6 The Darwin situation was similar to that of Perth, where in 1921, the Chinese Nationalist Party effectively replaced the older Chung Wah Association.7 In Sydney, there was a similar conflict between the conservative Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Nationalists, while in Melbourne in 1920, the Nationalists successfully took control of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce.8 By 1927, the Adelaide Branch claimed that 80% of adult Chinese residents in Australia were financial members of the Kuomintang.9 And in 1929 there were 40 branches throughout Australia.10 This phenomenon therefore, was not unique to Darwin but by examining this small community in close detail it is possible to shed light on the wider movement.

Modern China

China's path to modernization began around the turn of the century. Eric Rolls quotes Sir John Forrest, the Australian Minister of Defence in 1902 as stating that:

China is at the present time passing through a period of transition, and its ancient Conservatism is rapidly giving way to modern civilisation, and the people are every day becoming more and more influenced by European customs and habits.11

In this period it was regarded as commonplace that European or western culture was synonymous with civilisation and modernity. According to Benedict Anderson, almost every example of post-colonial nationalism can be traced to the influences of European models and the acceptance of western modernity.12

In Australia, the first examples of this new nationalism came as the Republican movement gained strength under the leadership of Sun Yat Sen. As early as 1907 Australian Chinese began chopping off their queues as a symbol of their rejection of the Manchu dynasty. According to Rolls, despite the continued turmoil in China and the death of Sun Yat-sen in 1925, there was a whole generation of young Chinese who were committed to the 'modern' ideals he espoused.13

After the establishment of Sun Yat-sen's government in Canton in 1923, a bureau was set up to deal with Nanyang or overseas Chinese affairs. In 1928 when the Kuomintang united China, this became part of the new Nanking government. Wang Gungwu argues that the influence of the Kuomintang was strong amongst overseas Chinese because, from 1920 onwards, hundreds of teachers were imported from China to give a modern education to the young generation of overseas Chinese and to ensure that they remembered their duties to China.'14 He points out, however, that the emphasis on western teachings in nationalist China was paradoxical. Nanyang Chinese tended to regard the teachings of Sun Yat-sen as the products of a new China and they followed his

lead as Chinese nationalists. The fact that these ideas were adaptations of European models and therefore 'foreign' was underplayed.15 Wang Gungwu writes:

The same political and educational ideas which a Nanyang Chinese took himself from the Western model ... were regarded with suspicion but were readily taken and propagated if they were imported via China. After filtering through China, the ideas became something Chinese and therefore worthy of their loyalty.16

This contradiction demonstrates that the taking on of western values might once have been regarded as being disloyal to China, but in the 1920s, it became possible to be both western and Chinese. In fact loyalty to the new nationalist Chinese government could be demonstrated by an overt shift to western or rather modern cultural practices.

In the case of Darwin Chinese, the Kuomintang openly acknowledged their use of European models. Gee Ming Ket, one of the executive in Darwin, describes the leaders of the Kuomintang in China as 'patriotic men, educated in European Universities'. He argues that if the Chinese want 'prosperity and freedom they must have a unified stable government based on the best European models.'17 This reliance on European models, however, did not diminish their loyalty to China. Another Darwin member, Charlie Houng On suggested a sense of dual citizenship and loyalty. He wrote in 1932:

Many of us are Australian by birth, others are Australian by adoption; and though we are proud of our Chinese Nationality, and of being members of the oldest civilization that the world has to show, we are also proud of the land of our adoption…18

What becomes clear, is that Darwin's young Chinese were not rejecting China when they adopted western models of thought, but rather they were taking part in the reshaping of Chinese culture that was occurring in China itself. Their conflict with the older generation was based on the failure of older Chinese to acknowledge that Chinese culture was not static and unchanging, but rather going through a process of evolution, as they questioned what constituted the new Chinese culture.

To demonstrate the conflicts which arose from this questioning process, this paper will focus on four separate changes which occurred in the 1920s. These were changes in attitudes towards Chinese workers; the new status of Chinese women; a shift towards Christianity; and a new emphasis on sport.

Workers' Rights

One of the most significant changes in Chinese attitudes in the 1920s was in regard to the rights of workers. According to Benedict Anderson, one of the prime characteristics of the 'modern' nation is that 'regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship'.19 This comment is particularly relevant to Chinese nationalism. Since the death of Sun Yat-sen in 1925, the Kuomintang had more and more come to depend upon political repression as it lost popular support.20 Nevertheless, their ideology remained democratic in theory. In 1929 the consul-general for China, argued that the Kuomintang had only 'assumed the role of 'Dictator' ... during the period of 'training' or 'guardianship through which the people should go in their effort toward complete democracy'21. Whatever the political reality, the theoretical stance of the Nationalists confirmed a degree of egalitarianism which was fundamentally different from the rigid class distinction under Manchu rule.

In Darwin, the wide gap between the wealthy merchants and 'coolie' labourers was typical of the hierarchical social structure that prevailed in traditional China. For example, in 1921, several merchants wrote to the Commonwealth government requesting permission to 'indent suitable labor from China for the purpose of working mines, growing cotton, rice or other tropical products'. The suitable labour they referred to was 'coolie' labour, to be brought out under the indentured system which was notorious for forcing workers to endure slave-like conditions.22

In contrast, the new Nationalist government in Canton was in favour of workers' rights and in 1922 they were the first to legalise trade unions in China.23 In Australia, the Party also had links with unionism. At the 1920 Nationalist Convention in Sydney, an address was delivered by Jock Garden who was both a Communist and a member of the Sydney Trades Hall.24 In Darwin, the Kuomintang were similarly disapproving of conservative attitudes towards workers. Gee Ming Ket wrote:


Thankful are we that the majority of young Australian-born Chinese are joining our Society but the old Conservative Chinese are naturally opposed to any change. When did the Conservatives of any country do any real and permanent good for the working classes? The Conservative Chinese - like all other Conservatives -hate change. That sort of conservatism has held China in bonds of slavery for centuries.25

In 1928, the Darwin Kuomintang questioned Nelson, the Northern Territory Member of Parliament, in regard to union membership.26 The North Australian Workers Union (NAWU) established in 1927, had refused to grant membership to Chinese workers. Addressing Nelson, an Australian-born Chinese, asked why they should be debarred from the union?27 Nelson responded that ‘if he were dictator he would throw open the union to all Australian born' and that he understood the union was taking a vote to that effect. In fact, the motion was rejected, but nevertheless, one third of the voters were in favour of allowing Chinese membership.28 Those who supported Chinese membership in

the NAWU were mostly communists and they continued to lobby for membership "irrespective of color".29

There is evidence that the Kuomintang in Darwin were supportive of the communists. According to Henry Lee, during the demonstrations of 1930, the young men of his family joined in showing in solidarity with the unionists. The Lee family were prominent members of the Kuomintang and their grandmother was horrified that they chose to support the union.30 Given the conflict between the Nationalists and the Communists in

China, it is interesting that the young Darwin Chinese had established a united front with the communists.

By the 1930s, the activities of the Darwin Kuomintang had alienated them from many potential Chinese employers. In 1932, the merchants criticised the younger generation and asked that the government allow them to import assistants directly from China. They wrote:

It is regretted that the younger Australian born Chinese in Darwin are not proving suitable for responsible employment in this direction because they do not possess the required Chinese education... 31

In fact, a great number of the young Chinese had been educated in China, but clearly, their education had not fitted them for a 'responsible' position in the eyes of the conservatives. Their modern views on workers made them a threat to traditional business practice.

Christianity and the Kuomintang

Another characteristic of the Chinese Nationalist Party was its support for Christianity.32 There was a clear shift towards Christianity in Darwin during the 1920s. In the 1911 census, most Chinese gave their religion as Confucianism but by1933 only 4% followed Chinese traditions, though it was quite common for people to attend both church and temple.33 One example of this change was that young Kuomintang members were now married in the Catholic Church with executive members acting as best man and speech-giver.34 In contrast, the traditional Wah On Society continued to organise fireworks for Chinese New Year.35

The shift towards Christianity is usually described in terms of their assimilation into Australian culture and yet Christianity was also a characteristic of the Kuomintang. When Reverend Lo arrived in Darwin from Guangdong province, he went straight to the headquarters of the Kuomintang. He was already familiar with several former students in Darwin who had been educated in Canton. His presence in Darwin strongly suggests that Christianity came to Australian Chinese via China rather than simply being a product of Australian influences.36 This overt support for Christianity was also present in the Melbourne and Sydney branches of the Kuomintang.

Freedom for Chinese women

Another issue on which the Kuomintang differed from conservative Chinese was that of women’s rights. Gee Ming Ket of the Darwin Kuomintang, criticised the conservatives in 1929 stating: 'They hate to see liberty and freedom being granted to Chinese women - they even hate to see Chinese wives and daughters enjoying a little fresh air or outdoor recreation.'37 Their stance on women was particularly helpful for Australian journalist, Jessie Litchfield. When she applied for the job of editor of Darwin's Northern Territory Times, she recalled that the owner 'pleaded that his typographist was a pure-blooded Chinese, who would object to taking orders from a woman.' She responded 'that Walter was on the Committee of the Kuo Min Tang, which believed in the advancement of women'.38

It is significant that Darwin branch of the Kuomintang was organised and led by a woman. Lena Pak Fong, or Lena Lee after her marriage in 1924, had been educated at the University of Hong Kong and was one of the new generation of ‘modern' Chinese women and a devoted follower of Sun Yat-sen. Her father was Yam Yan, a prominent Darwin merchant.39 Gee Ming Ket described Lena as 'a highly respected and very clever lady' and noted that she was their delegate at the recent Nationalist conference in Sydney.40 Lena's case was not typical however. A 1923 photograph of the Officer Bearers of the Chinese Nationalist Party, taken in Melbourne, shows 37 young men and only one woman.41

Lena came under particular attack from the conservative Chinese. A critic in the Northern Standard complained that:

the old Conservative Chinese of Darwin will have nothing to do with this association whose chief say-so is a woman. Rightly it is pointed out that these people do not represent Chinese manners and thought'.42

The Northern Territory Times, however came to her defence writing:

Believing that the emancipation of her country was imminent, she has fearlessly advocated the absolutely knocking out of foreign capitalists from China. We have lady members of parliament in Australia and the Imperial Parliament possesses nine lady members ... Are these women out of place? If not, what is wrong with a Chinese woman emulating her western sisters and trying to assist her lesser educated brethren? 43

Tragically, in 1930, a few months after, Lena committed suicide.44 In 1931 at the Nationalist Annual conference, Lena's brother-in-law, Arthur Lee, was sent as the delegate from Darwin. The conference was opened by a Special Commissioner from Nanking and delegates were present from New Zealand, Fiji, Solomon Islands, and most states of Australia. In recognition of Lena Lee's work, the chairman, spoke of her as 'an able and loyal member whose death was a great loss.' According to the newspaper, the 'meeting stood in silence with bowed heads in memory of the late Sun Yat Sen and Mrs Lee'.45

The Kuomintang was clearly aligned with modern western thought on the subject of women's rights and opposed to the traditional views espoused by conservative Australian Chinese. Once again, the new Chinese nationalism was paradoxically accused of being 'unChinese' by those who resisted change.

Sport and physical fitness

According to the agenda laid out for the Chinese Nationalist Party in 1921 the Kuomintang supported a program of physical fitness for Chinese citizens. Their goal was to 'help the physical development of such residents by establishing gymnasiums and encouraging other forms of physical exercise.'46 An emphasis on youth sporting associations was a common factor in nationalist programs of this era as it encouraged strong citizens and a sense of group identity. A 1923 photograph shows the Darwin Chinese Soccer Team organised by a body called the Darwin Chinese Recreation Club.47 This Club was affiliated to the Kuomintang in Darwin as they shared the same executive.48 The links between the two organizations suggests that the Chinese Recreation Club was established as a response to Kuomintang policy.

Diana Giese discusses the significance of the founding of this Club in the overall picture of the Chinese in Australian society. She criticises the assessment by Cross written in 1956. As one would expect from the 1950s, with its emphasis on assimilation, Cross attributes the forming of the Chinese Recreation Club to the 'breaking down of Chinese exclusivism and encouraging social and sporting contact with the rest of the population'. Giese rejects this, arguing instead that the Club was formed in reaction to white segregationist policies when the Chinese were allegedly banned from white sporting clubs.49 I would question both views.50 The problem with these interpretations is that they assume that 'white' Australian influences were the catalyst for Chinese action. If in fact the Recreation Club was a Chinese initiative, prompted by the Kuomintang, then the new emphasis on sport should be similarly attributed to an increase in Chinese nationalism in this period. It was yet another quality of the modern young Chinese that they chose to engage in outdoor recreation.


In conclusion, if one considers the cultural changes that occurred within the Chinese community in the 1920s, there was a definite shift towards 'modern' western thought and practice. This shift was regarded with suspicion by the older conservative members of the Chinese community. The difficulty with assessing this cultural rift, however, is the confusion between assimilation and modernisation. Historians who have focused on race relations have tended to portray this change in terms of Chinese assimilation into Australian cultural practice. A study of the influence of the Kuomintang, however, suggests that the change was in fact coming from modern China, which, like many other nations at the time, was consciously adapting to western cultural and political patterns. In this case, the generation gap which existed in the 1920s was caused more by young Australian Chinese having an awareness of the changing character of China, than their response to Australian society. Further study of other Chinese communities would be required to gauge more clearly the relative influences of China and Australia in encouraging the younger generation of Australian Chinese to become 'modern’.


  1. Report on Northern Territory, 1922, Al/l 1927/7835; Customs Form, Darwin, 14 April 1916, Statutory Declaration signed by Ah Sing, born Canton, Minute Paper, Dept. of Home and Territories, 4 June 1919, Al/l 19/8168, Australian Archives, ACT (AA ACT).
  2. Diana Giese, Beyond Chinatown, Changing Perspectives on the Top End Chinese Experience, National Library of Australia, Canberra, 1995, p.43; Census figures for Darwin, 1911, Al/l 11/16191, AA ACT.
  3. Shirley Fitzgerald, Red Tape, Gold Scissors, the story of Sydney's Chinese, State Library of New South Wales Press, Sydney, 1997, pp. 113-14.
  4. Eric Rolls, Sojourners: The Epic Story of China's Centuries Old Relationship with Australia: Flowers and the Wide Sea, St Lucia, University of Queensland Press, 1992, p.447 and p.255.
  5. Helen Wilson, 'Ah Cheong', Northern Territory Dictionary of Biography, Volume Three, D. Carment and H. Wilson (eds), NTU Press, Darwin, 1996, p.3-4
  6. Darwin Local Court, Northern Standard 20 March 1931. Note that Arthur Lee was the treasurer at this time.
  7. Anne Atkinson, in Paul Macgregor (ed.), Histories of the Chinese in Australasia and the South Pacific, Museum of Chinese Australian History, Melbourne, 1995, p.43.
  8. Fitzgerald, op.cit., p.114; C.F. Yong, The New Gold Mountain, The Chinese in Australia, 1901-1921, Raphael Arts, Richmond, South Australia, 1977, p.88.
  9. 'The Chinese Question' Adelaide Observer, reprinted in Northern Standard 28 January 1927.
  10. Letter to the Editor by 'Double Ten' in Northern Standard, 18 October 1929.
  11. Eric Rolls, op. cit., p.250.
  12. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the orgins and spread of nationalistm, Verso, London, 1983, pp.81, 116-121.
  13. Jbid., pp.431 and 447
  14. Wang Gungwu, Community and Nation, China, Southeast Asia and Australia, Allen and Unwin, 1992, p.33.
  15. Jbid., p.34.
  16. Jbid., p.35.
  17. Northern Standard, 11 October 1929.
  18. Charlie Houng On, Kuo Mm Tang to Minister for the Interior, 5 July 1932, Al/l 32/2186, AA ACT.
  19. Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the orgins and spread of nationalistm, Verso, London, 1983, p.6.
  20. L1oyd E. Eastman, 'Nationalist China during the Nanking Decade, 1927-1937', in Lloyd Eastman et al. The Nationalist Era in China, 1927-1949, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1991, pp.1, 23.
  21. Rolls, op.cit., p.451.
  22. Deputation from Darwin Merchants to Poynton, Mm. of State for Home & Territories, 4 June 1921, Al/l 1931/8945, AA ACT.
  23. London Sunday Worker, cited in Northern Standard, 20 May 1927.
  24. Fitzgerald, op.cit., pp. 113-14.
  25. Northern Standard, 11 October 1929.
  26. Nelson in CPD, Vol.120, House of Representatives, 14 March 1929, p.1254; Letter from Nelson, 1925, MS 1009, 25/3503, Latham Papers, NLA.
  27. Northern Territory Times, 25 September 1928.
  28. Workers' Weekly, 13 April 1928.
  29. Andrew Markus, 'Talka Longa Mouth', in A. Curthoys & A. Markus (eds), Who Are Our Enemies? Racism and the Australian Working Class, Hale & Ire monger, Sydney, 1978, pp.147-8.; AA Al/l 31/4202, 21 March 1931; NT Times, 30 January 1931; Eric Sager, Discovering Darwin The 1 930s in Memory and History, Historical Society of the N.T. Darwin, 1993, p.62; Interview with Val McGuinness, 1984, NTRS 226 TS532, T.4; Interview with Henry Lee by S. Saunders, 1981, p.18, NTRS 226, TS261, Oral History, Northern Territory Archives Service (NTAS).
  30. S Saunders, Interview with Henry Lee, 9 April 1981, NTRS 226 TS 261, p.18, NTAS.
  31. Ah Cheong and other Chinese residents to H. Nelson, 15 August 1932, Al/l 38/2599, AA ACT.
  32. Dr. T.P. Woo, from Hong Kong, speaking in Sydney, Northern Standard, 11 March 1927.
  33. Giese, op.cit., pp.43-4.
  34. Northern Standard, 12 January 1926, 17 April 1931.
  35. 'The Chinese Question: A plea for mutual understanding', Adelaide Observer, reprinted in Northern Standard, 28 January 1927; Northern Standard, 11 February 1927.
  36. Giese, op.cit., p.17.
  37. Northern Standard, 11 October 1929.
  38. Jessie Litchfield, 'Press Collect', unpublished manuscript, Litchfield Paper, MS 132, p.2, National Library of Australia.
  39. Barbara James, No Man's land, Women of the Northern Territory, Collins Publishers Australia, Sydney, 1989, p.122.
  40. Northern Standard, 11 October 1929.
  41. C.F. Yong, op. cit., p.155.
  42. Northern Standard, 8 October 1929.
  43. Cited in Barbara James, op.cit., p.122.
  44. Thid.
  45. Northern Standard, 17 February 1931.
  46. Memorandum and Articles of Association of the Chinese Nationalist Party of Australasia, 1921, C. Yong, op.cit., p.268.
  47. Giese, op. cit. p.35.
  48. Northen: Standard 28 January, 6 May 1927.
  49. The evidence suggests that this was the case in later years but not in the early 1920s.
  50. Giese, op.cit., p.36.

5.4 Legal Restrictions on Chinese New Zealanders 1871-1997
Author: Nigel Murphy

From the outset I'd like to say that in my opinion all the policies and legislation enacted in New Zealand relating to Chinese New Zealanders were designed to minimise the perceived negative impact of Chinese on New Zealand life. Marginalisation was intended; it was a clear and desired outcome of the policies and legislation. Indeed marginalisation was desired to the point of completely excluding Chinese from New Zealand life. As this was not possible the effect of Chinese on New Zealand life was to be minimised as much as possible. This was the aim of New Zealand's legislative assault against Chinese New Zealanders. Compared with the actual size of the New Zealand Chinese community, the sheer number of laws, policies and regulations relating to Chinese is enormous. This is significant, not only because it shows what New Zealand felt about the Chinese, but also because each law, policy and regulation has been a barrier against which generations of Chinese New Zealanders have had to struggle to survive.

What were these laws and policies?

New Zealand's legislation and policy relating to Chinese can be divided into three main areas: immigration, economics and morality. These three areas precisely mirror the fears that European New Zealanders had about Chinese. The motivation behind these laws and policies was the white New Zealand perception that the Chinese were a threat to the country. It was believed that the Chinese, being racially and morally inferior, would undermine the white basis of the country, and the living and working conditions of the working classes. To understand the fears that led New Zealand to enact laws and policies against the Chinese it is necessary to examine the myths and dreams that lay at the foundation of the "New Zealand dream".

New Zealand: "working man's paradise"

New Zealand was founded as a white man's paradise. More specifically, as an Anglo-Saxon and working man's paradise. The New Zealand Company - the nation's principal coloniser, envisaged the new colony as a more perfect version of the English agrarian society. The Company selected its immigrants with great care, "respectful hard-working rural labourers and cultured men of capital" were the desired groups to build the projected "fairer Britain of the South Seas". Similar criteria motivated the Otago and Canterbury colonisers.

Later came "refugees" from the nineteenth-century English industrial poverty and oppressive class system. They came seeking economic freedom, and many of these were Fabians and other social idealists determined to set in place social welfare and egalitarian ideals.

Because of them, New Zealand became a social laboratory introducing many innovative social welfare policies that made it the envy of the world. In addition, the care with which new immigrants were selected meant the vast majority of the population were of Anglo-Saxon British stock, albeit, of the working classes.

There was therefore a high degree of idealism and working class egalitarianism in the foundation of New Zealand society. All these fine ideals, however, were only intended for white New Zealanders. The social and economic miracle did not extend to non-whites. In the twisted world of the late- nineteenth and early twentieth-centuries the non-white races not only didn't fit, but were an actual threat. They were seen as a dangerous contaminant or virus that if let in to the country would destroy the white race. Non-whites were the classic Jungian "other", and the Chinese were the worst. Chinese were seen as a moral, social, religious, health and economic threat, and therefore had to be kept out of New Zealand at all costs. Keeping New Zealand white and protecting the living standards of European New Zealanders was the purpose of all the laws and policies enacted against the Chinese.

It is perhaps not surprising that politicians such as Richard John Seddon and William Pember Reeves, who are famed as champions of the working class and leaders in social reform, should also have been at the forefront of the anti-Chinese movement. What these men (and others like them) wanted, was to protect the New Zealand working man's way of life. It was the protection of a dream and a way of life that they, in their eyes, had worked so hard to achieve. So precious was the dream and so dangerous were the Chinese, that they introduced measures they would never have dreamed of using against their own kind.

A few people realised the double standard being put in play at the time. The main objections were that they ran counter to British notions of fair play. Ironically, the very fact that the Chinese were not British and white made the double standard acceptable.

There was no contradiction between the glorification of the European working man and the damnation of his Chinese counterpart. With regard to the Chinese, ordinary standards of human behaviour did not apply.

There was, therefore, an almost unanimous agreement on the need to exclude the Chinese from New Zealand.



As noted above, legislation with regard to Chinese falls into three areas: immigration, economic and moral. By far the most significant of these areas is immigration.


New Zealand's Chinese immigration policy can be divided into six broad time periods. In the first two periods, legislation was restricted by New Zealand's need to obtain the "Royal Assent" for all Bills relating to foreign policy.

Although desired, total exclusion was not possible in the period to 1920 due to New Zealand's colonial status. Up until 1947, when New Zealand achieved full legislative independence under the Statute of Westminster, all laws relating to foreign affairs passed by the New Zealand Parliament had to receive the Royal Assent from the Crown's representative, the Governor-General. As the issue of Chinese immigration impinged on Britain's dealings with China, New Zealand was not at liberty to legislate as it saw fit on the matter. Any Act excluding the Chinese from New Zealand would have caused embarrassment to Britain and therefore would not receive the Royal Assent. As New Zealand was not able to legislate freely on the issue of Chinese immigration restriction was the only option available. The emphasis on how to achieve restriction changed over the years, but the aim remained relatively constant. In the period to 1920 restriction was used as an alternative to exclusion. From the 1920s to 1980s, the period best described as the "White New Zealand" period, exclusion was the rule. However, various loopholes and exceptions to the rule meant that significant numbers of Chinese entered during this period. In the period from the 1950s to the 1970s, assimilation was used in conjunction with a policy of exclusion. The 1970s to 1990s saw a combination of immigration control with some liberalisation of laws in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The liberalisation, however, was very much a case of economic self-interest. It was quickly followed by a reversion back to a policy of control.

The main features of these periods can be described as follows:

1866 - 1880 Period of toleration

Although there were no restrictions on immigration during this period, efforts were increasingly made both within and outside Parliament to introduce restriction. In 1871 a Select Committee of Inquiry was set up to investigate the issue of Chinese immigration in response to an outcry from Otago goldminers. In 1879 (the Governor-General) Sir George Grey sent a memorandum to Parliament on Chinese immigration. This gave fresh impetus to calls for restrictive legislation.

1881 - 1920 Period of restriction - "The Yellow Peril" tide of legislation

This period saw the most intensive efforts by the New Zealand government to limit or exclude Chinese from the country. Following the lead of Australia, New Zealand introduced a raft of increasingly severe legislative restrictions. The poll-tax and tonnage restrictions were introduced in 1881. These were raised in 1888 and 1896. Pressure from Britain forced the introduction of the less blatantly racist education test in 1907. Attempts to stamp out poll-tax evasion and illegal immigration brought in thumb-printing, photographing of new immigrants as well as debarring of naturalisation to Chinese from 1908 to 1952. Although successful in reducing the number of immigrants, and the overall Chinese population, it was felt these measures were not sufficiently effective.

1920-1939 "White New Zealand" - period of exclusion and permit system

The introduction of the permit or application system brought the desired solution to the Chinese immigration "problem".

At its discretion, the government could exclude any immigrant it chose without reference to specific groups. The new law largely removed immigration policy from the domain of public debate. The system was thought effective enough to repeal both the education test and thumb-printing system. Tonnage restrictions and the poll-tax, however, remained. An annual quota of 100 entry permits to Chinese was abolished in 1926 and thereafter, entry was possible only on short-term basis or under a student concession. In 1925 Chinese women were denied entry altogether. The policy of almost total exclusion of Chinese and other Asians, which began during this period and continued until the late 1980s, has justly been called the "White New Zealand" policy.

1939 - 1947 War refugees - period of humanitarianism

The war in China (which began in 1937) persuaded the government to introduce a concession which allowed Chinese men to bring their families to New Zealand for two years. Introduced in 1939, it was to be a temporary measure only and was not intended to create a permanent increase in the Chinese population. Conditions in China prevented the families from returning and, in 1947, a large number of Chinese on temporary permits remained in the country. As a humanitarian gesture the government decided to grant permanent residence to all those affected. The decision was made reluctantly, being seen as, in the words of a Labour Department memo, a "drastic step taken to solve a problem to which there appeared to be no easy solution". Chinese immigration was seen to be a continuing problem and it was decided to undertake a review of policy in an attempt to solve it.

1948- 1970 Assimilation - period of family reunion

The policy review, undertaken in 1950, resolved to end Chinese immigration. Temporary permits and concessions such as the student scheme were abolished. As part of this policy it was decided to allow Chinese men to send for their immediate families, consisting of wives and dependent children, in order to reunite the family group in New Zealand. Once this was done all possible means were taken to break the link with China and to assimilate the local community into the New Zealand way of life.

As part of its assimilation policy the government reduced the length of time Chinese could go overseas on a re-entry permit from four years to eighteen months. It also refused entry permits to teachers in Chinese schools. The government saw the schools as a hinderance to the assimilation of young Chinese. With few exceptions policy until 1970 remained that of prohibiting the entry of new Chinese, and only allowing entry to the wives and children of Chinese men aleady resident in the country.

1971 - 1987 Period of professional immigrants

Several factors combined to bring about a gradual loosening of the rigid restriction against Chinese immigration. Britain's 1973 entry into the European Union forced New Zealand to look for new trading partners. A freer immigration policy towards the nationals of potential new trading partners was seen as essential.

The growth of the idea of multiculturalism also saw the abandonment of the assimilation policy. New Zealand became increasingly intolerant of racism both at home and abroad, and this was reflected in government policy.

The third Labour Government espoused a new non-discriminatory policy on immigration. Its 1974 immigration review opened the door to Chinese with professional qualifications. The family reunion policy was also widened to include parents of resident Chinese. This liberalisation was offset, however, by a continuing preference for migrants from Western Europe. The White New Zealand policy continued to be enforced by the "Traditional Source Country" list, which favoured immigrants from regions such as Britain, Holland, Germany and Scandinavia. Despite the minor changes outlined above, the principles developed in 1951 continued unchanged until the late 1980s.

1987- 1997 "Asian Invasion" - the door opens and closes again

In 1987 the fourth Labour Government introduced a further radical rethink of immigration policy. The abolition of the Traditional Source Country list for selecting migrants, the introduction of the Business Immigration Policy and a policy of selecting migrants purely on personal merit saw, for the first time in over 100 years, a truly non-discriminatory immigration policy in New Zealand. This opening of the door was completed in 1991 with the introduction of the points system which graded applicants on set criteria, irrespective of ethnic or geographic background. The unexpected arrival of large numbers of ethnic Chinese, however, led to a negative backlash from the New Zealand public. The National Government responded by tightening its policy towards Chinese immigrants in 1995 and 1996. It introduced an English language test and linked residency with tax payments. These changes were aimed specifically at Chinese migrants from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Effectively, they spelt the end of the open-door policy.

With the introduction of these policies New Zealand has reverted once again to the exelusionist pro-European policies of bygone days.


Although the main thrust of legislative activity against Chinese was aimed at immigration, a significant number of laws were passed restricting the lives of Chinese New Zealanders. These laws fell into two areas; moral and economic.


Economic legislation aimed to protect the living standards of New Zealand workers from the perceived threat of Chinese. The Chinese habit of working long hours and living frugally to support families in China was seen as undermining the economic well-being of working people.

Several protectionist laws were passed to restrict Chinese economic competition. These were aimed at restricting the hours Chinese businesses could stay open, as well as the number of unpaid people who could be employed in a Chinese business. As almost all Chinese businesses were run as partnerships or family concerns, most people who worked in them were unpaid. This was seen as giving Chinese an unfair advantage over Europeans who had to pay their employees at a set rate, diminishing their profits. Since Chinese had less outlay in wages they were also able to sell at lower prices, undercutting their European competitors.

The 1910 Factories amendment act placed restrictions on the hours that laundries with more than two staff could work. This clearly discriminated against Chinese laundries which were very labour intensive and required at least two people to make them effective. The Shops and offices act 1904 and its 1927 amendment also sought to control the opening hours and numbers of unpaid workers in Chinese businesses. The 1904 Act stated that only British subjects were able to decide the opening hours of shops in a particular district. This effectively debarred Chinese from being able to take part in that decision-making process.

With regard to wages, the 1927 amendment stated that every person working in a fruitshop, except the registered owner and spouse, was deemed to be a shop-assistant and was to be paid the award rate. This was designed to prevent Chinese using their family as unpaid labour as well as having a number of Chinese form a co-operative and run the business as a partnership.

While these laws were effective in reducing the perceived competition of Chinese businesses, they were also rightly seen as being of an oppressive nature. Speaking in reference to the Factories amendment act in 1910, Legislative Councillor Walter Canicross said , "This is the kind of legislation from which I dissent very strongly... It is an attempt to get at the unfortunate Chinaman. I have no sympathy whatever with this kind of legislation that interferes with a Chinaman working as long as he chooses." Unfortunately, others disagreed with this view.

Anti-Chinese laws passed on moral grounds

One of the objections to Chinese immigration was that they were a moral danger to the country. The main threat was seen to be their gambling, opium smoking and sexuality, especially the danger of inter-marriage and miscegenation. Miscegenation was a popular theory which maintained that the offspring of two races would be inferior to the parents.

A number of laws were passed in an attempt to control the supposed moral threat posed by all these practices. The 1881 Gaming and lotteries act and its amendments made Chinese games of chance, such as pakapoo and fan-an, illegal. These laws were used very effectively as a stick to persecute Chinese, but were not very effective in controlling gambling. The double standard in constantly arresting Chinese for playing pakapoo and fan-tan while ignoring equally widespread European gambling was noted time and again, but did little to stop the persecution of Chinese under the gaming acts. The Opium prohibition act of 1901, which prohibited the importation of opium and criminalised its use, was also an effective tool to persecute Chinese. Although Chinese themselves had largely been instrumental in bringing about the Act, the fact that opium smoking was seen as a "Chinese evil" led to what seems like a campaign against the Chinese. What was worse was that under the Act, any Chinese premise could be entered by police without a search warrant if they suspected opium smoking was going on.

Although no laws were passed in New Zealand forbidding Chinese marriage with Europeans (unlike Samoa where a law forbidding marriages between Chinese and Samoans was passed), the fear of miscegenation remained and came to a head in 1929. A combination of European and Maori groups, including the Minister of Native affairs, Apirana Ngata, created an uproar by pointing out the fact that large numbers of Maori women were working on Chinese and Indian market gardens in Pukekohe. The fear was that sexual relations between Chinese men and Maori women would cause a lowering of the Maori race by so-called miscegenation. A Parliamentary Select Committee was convened to look into the matter. The Committee's intrusion into the private lives of the Chinese men and Maori women involved must constitute one of the most disgraceful episodes in New Zealand race relations.


There are three other Acts affecting Chinese which fit into none of the above categones:

1) The Shearer's accomodation act of 1898 stipulated that Chinese employed in the shearing industry were to be housed in separate accomodation from other workers. A fine of twenty-five pounds was to be imposed on employers who did not comply.

2) Chinese were specifically excluded from the provisions of the Old-age pensions act of 1898, and the 1926 Family allowances act.

These can only be seen as petty and vindictive types of legislation.



It is difficult to remain impassive when faced with the overwhelming body of legislation enacted against the Chinese over the past 110 and more years. The pathos and relevance of the history is given added dimension in the words of older Chinese New Zealanders as they speak about their own lives, and the lives of their parents and grandparents. There is no denying that this body of legislation, and the social attitudes which brought it into being, had a very real effect on the day-to-day lives of ordinary Chinese New Zealand men and women. Families were separated - often for decades, businesses were targeted, and parents were discouraged from passing on a rich cultural heritage which was their children's birthright. The institutional racism these laws and regulations represented was an immense burden on the members of the Chinese New Zealand community. It is important that these facts be remembered.

This paper was based on A guide to laws and policies relating to the Chinese in New Zealand 1871 - 1996, commissioned by the New Zealand Chinese Association, and completed by Nigel Murphy in 1997.

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