Portraits of perseverance

Updated 2016-10-25 13:21:09 China Daily
Photos portray Chinese goldminers by Alexander Don.

Photos portray Chinese goldminers by Alexander Don.

When describing the history of early Chinese migrants overseas in the 19th century, "blood and tears" are commonly used words in China's textbooks; many endured miserable lives as laborers and faced discrimination from locals.

But, Phoebe Li, a Chinese New Zealander sociologist, who is curating a photo exhibition in Beijing about Chinese migrants' 170-year history in her country, wants visitors to see the story through a different prism.

On Friday, Recollection of A Distant Shore: A Photographic Introduction to the History of the Chinese in New Zealand, opened at the Overseas Chinese History Museum of China. It runs through Jan 21.

"Discrimination was inevitable at that time. It was just like what was faced by first-generation Chinese migrating to the United States, Canada and Australia," says Li. "But, the Chinese overseas faced the difficulties, made an effort to integrate, and joined mainstream society.

"So, we'd do well to adopt a more positive attitude when reviewing the past and cherish their perseverance," she says.

A Chinese family running a green grocery in the 1920s by an unknown photographer.

A Chinese family running a green grocery in the 1920s by an unknown photographer.

Li, who has been studying the Chinese community in New Zealand since 2002, is now based at Tsinghua University's Center of Chinese Entrepreneur Studies in Beijing.

According to Li, the 100-odd photos on display were selected from nearly 100,000 offerings provided by 16 public institutions in New Zealand, including Archives New Zealand, the National Library of New Zealand and Auckland Libraries, besides private collections.

They cover a wide spectrum, from the mid-19th century onwards.

Li says that typical news photos were culled out in favor of images reflecting people's daily lives, and renowned individuals are highlighted in the exhibition.

Appo Hocton, whose name was spelled in Mandarin pinyin as Huang Heting, was a former sailor who worked on a British ship.

A newly wed Chinese couple in 1975 by Ronald D Wolf at a Beijing exhibition focusing on the history of Chinese migrants in New Zealand.

A newly wed Chinese couple in 1975 by Ronald D Wolf at a Beijing exhibition focusing on the history of Chinese migrants in New Zealand.

He settled in Nelson, New Zealand in 1842, and became the first recorded Chinese migrant to that country.

Large groups of Chinese from southern Guangdong province followed in the 1860s, prompted by a gold rush in the Otago region.

"After the gold rush faded, the green grocery became a common business for Chinese migrants," says Li. "These groceries not only sold vegetables and fruit, but also functioned as job agencies and banks, which helped people remit money to China."

Some Chinese tycoons were nurturing when it came to Chinese migrants. For instance, Choie Sew Hoy in Dunedin, a principal city in Otago, first offered immigration information and sold instruments to gold miners, and gradually established a business empire.

His family, now in its sixth generation in New Zealand, still plays an important role today.

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