Tēnā koutou, Da jia hao, ae ga hole – greetings.
I am full Chinese, from Guangdong province, Taishan district, Slanwoy village. My ethnicity is seyip. Being keen on my family's ancestral history has given me more insight into our beginnings in Aotearoa. In the beginning — in the 1860s — the gold fields and towns were in decline. The Otago Chamber of Commerce invited a few Chinese men from the Victorian goldfields in Australia to come and have a look.
We love gold; we had followed gam san – gold mountains — in California to Victoria and now Otago.
Welcome to Otago, please make yourselves at home (if only there'd been a mayoral welcome). Within a year, we flocked to Otago, thousands of us. The Pākehā were anxious. They lobbied government to stop the ‘Yellow Peril’. A poll tax should take care of this, 10 pounds to start, 100 pounds after, fingerprinting, limit the females, no citizenship and pension rights. None of this stopped my forefathers, they kept coming.
Not to worry: ‘head down, backside up’ – as my mum said. Our family loves Aotearoa, and so did our ancestors.
Chinese people are inventors: paper, gunpowder, printing. Choie Sew Hoy invented the first river gold dredge in the world, in Otago — yes, the first in the world. Chu Chong of New Plymouth found the native keka wood fungus. The province's exports of this, mainly through Chu Chong, exceeded butter exports in value. Chu saves many farmers from the brink of bankruptcy through the keka economy. He was probably the first to install refrigeration for butter exports; he won numerous prizes for the quality of his butter.
I always have a chuckle: a few are discriminatory to the Chinese people of New Zealand. But those people also like Chinese food, and may need to see a Chinese dentist or doctor. Interestingly both Choie and Chu married European women.
Today many have paved their own footsteps in the world of commerce. Chinese people are good at it.
Yay, our stories are told, by a few historians like Dr James Ng, TV series like Asia Downunder, and now a proliferation of Chinese newspapers, CCTV, and many other media channels.
We are everywhere, every profession – actors, doctors, politicians, business, authors.
George Gee was the first Chinese mayor in New Zealand in 1968 (for Petone) — like me, a fruiterer and market gardener. It was a pleasure and an honour to serve for 24 years in the Gisborne District Council. Pansy Wong, Raymond Huo Yang Jian, MPs like Melissa Lee and Kenneth Wang... none of them were born in New Zealand. There seems to be a keen appetite for Chinese to enter New Zealand politics. All have made important representations of the Chinese voice in parliament.
One of my favourite stories is about Chinese ANZACs in New Zealand. They had difficulty enlisting. They got there through lobbying government; they fought in the theatres of Somme, Passchendaele and Gallipoli – a commitment of blood for a new country they loved.
- Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon speaks Cantonese, Seyip, English, and Māori, and has more languages on the way. He was Mayor of Gisborne from 2001 to 2019.