Chinese settlement in New Zealand
Following the departure of thousands of European miners for goldfields in Marlborough and the West Coast, the Otago Provincial Council in 1865 invited Chinese working on the Victorian goldfields, to rework the Otago goldfields.
Most originated from Kwangtung Province in South China – an area which had social turmoil caused by the opium wars, over-population, poverty, banditry, clan fighting, natural disasters and epidemics. There were many incentives to emigrate, and gold provided the stimulus.
There have been three phases of Chinese settlement in New Zealand. The first period covers 1865 to 1900, when the Chinese regarded themselves as temporary visitors seeking gold. They tended to have little interaction with Europeans.
The second phase covers the period from 1900 to 1952 when they were regarded as aliens in the land, and were occupied principally on market gardens, fruit shops or laundries. The last phase from 1952 relates to their present assimilation and increasing absorption into the general New Zealand community.
The NZ-Chinese population peaked at 5000 about 1880. Virtually all were men, and goldminers. This can be compared with the 100,000 who settled in California, and 50,000 who settled in Australia during the 1850’s.
Because they were late arrivals they were obliged to rework old mining claims abandoned by the Europeans. Generally they were content to work for a steady return rather than chase the elusive bonanza.