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Xn x ln: the long history of Chinese in NZ


Staff member
Dec 16, 2021
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Nelson-based photographer Virginia Woolf gets asked where shes from and complimented on her English skills, despite being born and living in New Zealand her whole life.
An outdoor enthusiast, she captures images that showcase the immense beauty of her country, yet is sometimes left feeling like a visitor.

Woolf is New Zealand Chinese, part of a group who are often seen as new immigrants, despite the earliest arrivals starting from 1865 in large numbers.

On the eve of New Zealand Chinese Language Week (25 Sep - 1 Oct), Stuff has launched a new documentary that examines the history of New Zealand Chinese in Aotearoa.

* Many faces of Nelson's diversity provide MUSE for exhibition
* Contribution of Asian communities to our economy is often overlooked

The five-part series Xn x lán (which means New Zealand) explores the long and rich history of Chinese New Zealanders, looking at the communitys economic and cultural contributions and the long-standing discrimination theyve faced in their bid to call New Zealand home.

The documentary features trail runner Nancy Jiang of Nelson whose parents migrated to New Zealand for a better life.

Nancy says; When I got told that Chinese dont run, that were not very good at it, I decided that Id prove them - my parents, family - wrong.

Virginia Woolf/Stuff
Runner and engineer Nancy Jiang at Rainbow Ski Area, Nelson Lakes.

Chief news director Sally Kidson says the project uncovered some amazing stories. A casual conversation Woolf had at a school drop off led to a tip about Richmond woman Wendy McKays Chinese links.

McKays Chinese great-grandfather and European great-grandmother broke social conventions and faced strong disapproval from both cultures when they married in 1869. It was one of the first mixed marriages on the Otago goldfields. Her great-grandmother was 14 and her great-grandfather much older.

McKays mother never spoke about her grandfathers Chinese ancestry so she grew up not knowing about that side of her whakapapa.

Virginia Woolf/Stuff
Braden Fastier and Sally Kidson interview Yep King in Ashburton.

Woolf and Kidson say New Zealands Asian communities now make up 15 percent of our population, and despite more than 160 years of history, Kiwis might not see NZ born Chinese as belonging, or they view them as new immigrants.

Why do New Zealanders of Chinese origin get asked; `Where are you REALLY from? when they were born in Aotearoa and it is the only home theyve known? Kidson says.

Why dont my European friends, who have shifted here as adults, get asked the same questions?

Multi-award winning visual journalist Braden Fastier worked on the videos for the project and enjoyed honing his storytelling skills through a long form documentary style.

By telling the stories of NZ Chinese, Woolf and Kidson hope to shed light on New Zealands growing multicultural reality, even if it is a delicate subject.

What does this multiculturalism mean for New Zealand, a country that is still working out how to be bi-cultural? Kidson says.

Virginia Woolf/Stuff
Braden Fastier and Sally Kidson interview Peter Chin in Dunedin.

Xn x lán was produced with funding from NZ On Air and the episodes will roll out across New Zealand during Chinese Language Week.

Episode one is live from Saturday and can be viewed here.

Several events are planned to mark Chinese Language Week in Nelson.

Human Rights Commissioner Meng Foon, who was interviewed for the Xn x lán project, will speak about New Zealands evolving cultural mix and the integration of Chinese communities.

He speaks at the Trafalgar Centre on Wednesday from 7.30pm to 9pm. For more information on the other events, including China Day at the Trafalgar Centre next Saturday, visit chinaweek.co.nz

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