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Asians in Wellington

July 3, 2012

I’m still thinking in terms of Alison Wong’s As the Earth Turns Silver, but this is a historical note entirely relevant to any reading of that novel:

Wardlow Friesen explains: “In the election of November 2008, six Members of Parliament of Asian origin were elected to Parliament – an event that, along with the election of M-aori and Pacific MPs, resulted in the most ethnically diverse government New Zealand has ever experienced. The six Asian MPs were all originally migrants to New Zealand, coming from at least four different countries and representing several different religions.

Only 13 years ago, there were no Asian MPs, and this is symptomatic of the remarkable changes New Zealand has undergone in the past quarter of a century. From being relatively insulated from global trends, it has become one of the countries most influenced by globalisation as a result of economic, social, legislative and related reforms. One of these changes has been a substantial change in the ethnic composition of its population. A recent Asia New Zealand Foundation report has outlined the nature of this change in relation to the growth of New Zealand’s Asian population and the demographic implications of this. The 2006 New Zealand Census revealed an increasingly diverse population in terms of ethnicity and demography following 20 years of change since the introduction of the Immigration Act of 1987. The most notable aspect of this change has been the growth of populations of Asian origin, although other populations have also grown.

While the ethnic and demographic changes resulting from the change in immigration policy have been most pronounced in Auckland, the Wellington region has the second-largest number of Asians in its population, resulting from a long-term history of involvement with Asia but especially resulting from the more recent changes to immigration policy. Wellington’s relationship with Asia has been different from that of other New Zealand cities because of its status as the nation’s capital. This difference relates not only to the presence of Asian diplomatic posts there but also to the tendency for national ethnic associations to be headquartered there, especially the central associations for Chinese and Indian communities. As in the other larger cities of New Zealand, the presence of respected tertiary education institutions is also important in attracting international students from Asia and elsewhere.” (p.1)

Soon after Wellington became the capital in 1865, Chinese were attracted from the goldfields of the South Island, concerned by both economic and political opportunities, and took up employment as market gardeners, shop owners and interpreters. Towards the end of the century the number of Chinese was rising, and by 1915 there were 203 in the city, of whom only ten were women. This was a period of escalating racism against ‘Asiatics’, with a poll tax being imposed on all new arrivals from 1881, and between 1895 and 1907, in a period when New Zealand’s (white) identity was being debated, four anti-Asian and anti-Chinese societies were formed. The intentions of these societies were to exclude Chinese and Indians from various aspects of New Zealand life and to undermine their economic base as traders and market gardeners. Despite these discriminatory actions on the part of the dominant society, the Chinese community in Wellington was consolidating in the first decades of the 20th century. A Chinese Masonic Society was established in 1907, and a number of associations based on regions of origin in China were started. Some of these associations were involved in the changing politics of China, as discussed in the ‘political ethnoscapes’ section [of this paper]. In the late 19th century, a small Chinatown was established around Haining Street, which was stereotyped as a slum and an area of crime by many in the dominant society, but was also an area of refuge and cultural association for Chinese.”[1]


[1] P2 Wardlow Friesen Asians in Wellington: Changing the ethnic profile of the capital city Outlook 10 July 2009 asia:nz foundation (http://www.asianz.org.nz/sites/asianz.org.nz/files/Outlook_10final.pdf accessed 29th June 2012)

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