Category Archives: Speak

Kiwese on Radio New Zealand

This morning I was interviewed by Jesse Mulligan at Radio New Zealand, you can hear the whole thing here: The Expats: Kristen Ng in Chengdu, China.

Though the word “expat” kind of makes me cringe. It brings to mind rich white people who live in private compounds, send their children to expensive international schools and only socialise with other “expats,” doing the “expat” stuff they read about in their “expat” magazines. People my colour are usually called immigrants. Lol. Anyway.

Here’s the photo with Jung Chang, author of Wild Swans at Writers Week in Wellington.


Here’s info about Birdstriking playing in Wellington this Saturday.

And here’s the full track he played at the end, 爱在一方 by Chengdu producer CA1XR.

Thanks for listening!


The Rise and Demise of Morning Bar 早上好

Rumours have been circulating for months now, but the demolition of Morning Bar 早上好 on Minzhu Lu has finally become a reality.

Kiwese looks back on the old venue and forward to the new, ahead of Chunyou 春游 2016 this weekend.


When people ask where I learned to speak Chinese, there are two truths – I studied at Victoria University of Wellington, Beijing Language and Culture University and Sichuan University for five years in three programs. But it was at Zaoshanghao where I really found my voice.

Located on Minzhu Lu 民主路 (Democracy Road), a quiet old street off the First Ring Road in the city centre, Zaoshanghao was a little local bar run by owner Zhang Xin and his crew of can-do local bros. Driven by a DIY attitude, love of chilling and independent music, over the past seven years Zaoshanghao has become a staple venue in the Chengdu music scene as well as the hosts and collaborators of some of the city’s most memorable music festivals.

Zaoshanghao on Minzhu Lu is a five minute walk from my flat or a two minute bike ride. Many friends live even closer; some moved to Jiuyanqiao just to be near it. Stylistically speaking, the crowd is a real mixed bag – hip hop rap stars, rasta potheads, punk guitarists, computer engineers, wandering folk singers, poets, hairdressers, techno producers, experimental cellists, oil painters, and more. Zaoshanghao is the beating heart of our little community.

I’ve celebrated the past two birthdays and New Year’s Eves at Zaoshanghao. I’ve met almost all my friends there. Zaoshanghao and the community of friends that make it great are a huge reason I am living here.

Though not an official ‘livehouse,’ the low stage and banging PA system has spawned random jam sessions, afternoon reggae gigs, experimental shows and impromptu DJ sets. While the majority of shows are hosted at the garden venue in Flower Town, the Minzhu Lu stage has been graced by bands as diverse as Soviet Pop, Noise Temple, Kawa and Jurat T.T.

With a fairly loose chuck-on-your-own music policy, people would be constantly plugging their phones into the main system, filling the weekday airwaves with music to share.

Yunnan psych-reggae band Kawa performing an afternoon set at Zaoshanghao. Sept 2015.
Cvalda (Mist) keeping it cool in the courtyard. Sept 2015.
Cvalda (Mist) keeping it cool dub style in the courtyard. Sept 2015.
Cave Circles playing the NUART Festival after party with Su and Lady Lazer Light, during the Chengdu stop of the Orchestra of Spheres China Tour. Oct 2015.
Cave Circles playing the NUART Festival after party w/ Su and Lady Lazer Light on the Chengdu stop of the Orchestra of Spheres China Tour. Oct 2015.
xiang + kr zsh
Xiang on the mix, me on guitar. New Year’s Eve, Dec 2015.

Zaoshanghao catered through the seasons, providing a place of warmth and good company all year round. The courtyard out back is cold beer in the summer and roasting round the fire in the winter. Kittens and spiders scuttled about, the foozball table perpetually in motion. Patti Smith gazed over the space in her white shirt and blazer, while the giant wooden giraffe towered above the stage.

Climb the stairs to the rooftop and you’ll find yourself sitting on a platform among the haggard rooftops of the houses next door. Amidst everyone’s grief about the closure, many have cited the greatest loss as the two banana trees out back, which have grown into ginormous beasts over the past four years due to being smothered in a full bag of fertiliser.

The charm of Zaoshanghao also stems from the neighbourhood. Surrounded by trees, cheap eateries and dilapidated wooden houses, the kind where walls are insulated with compressed ferns and newspapers. Morning traffic consists of elderly folk biking home from the vegetable market, while in the afternoon the street is lined with three-wheeled snack vendors parking up to feed the outpour of students from the music academy.

The sound of musical instruments and school children can be heard floating through the air, punctuated by the distinctive clink-clink-clank of iron hammers from local sweet sellers – the Chengdu version of the Mr. Whippy tune. The buildings are built in the old style, with traditionally tiled rooftops, open balconies and patterned brick window fittings.


Ming Ming, bassist from The Hormones/Hiperson and the Zaoshanghao triceratops. Nov 2015.

Minzhu Lu held the vestiges of the city people once knew, and while towering skyscrapers and identical apartment buildings sprung up like wild grass, Zaoshanghao was a little haven of sanity amidst the madness. People felt comfortable there. It was like home.

In a city that has experienced such rapid, unimaginable change over the past 20 years, it was in this familiar environment that the second Zaoshanghao found it’s roots. Although the buildings were rundown, they were full of character and history, traits which become scarcer and scarcer with every newly built shopping complex.

Minzhu Lu is a quiet residential street off the First Ring Road, properties from 1 through 13 were given their demolition eviction notices late last year. Zaoshanghao is number 13.

Word that Zaoshanghao was going to be 拆掉 demolished began circulating in conversation about a year ago – everything but the date was certain. The government wanted to build a music hall next to the music school, everything had to go.

On several occasions throughout the year, it was said the bar only had two weeks left. Weeks later, we’d still be sitting out back drinking beers.

In November, it sounded as if the news was certain – two weeks left, for 真的 real this time. Residents from the surrounding apartments were shifting out, the moving trucks were being piled up, restaurants pulled their shutters down and pasted notices of thanks to the community for their years of patronage.

Kiwese interviews on the rooftop. Nov 2015.
Kiwese interviews on the rooftop. Nov 2015.

Along with two architect friends, I began to film interviews with friends of Zaoshanghao and local restaurants along Minzhu Lu, with the idea of producing a documentary about the demolition of the street called ‘Goodbye, Democracy Road‘ 《民主路,再见》.

“How long have you lived here?” Yang Yang yelled across to a resident washing the dishes in their sink on the balcony.

“Since 1973,” they replied, “we’ve got to leave by this weekend.”

Everyone was shocked to hear that there were only two weeks left, and as with most Chinese bureaucracy, the issue was shelved for another few months.

All throughout the winter, we converged around the brazier out back, burning the remnants of the old community around us.

Winter was spent sifting through the vacated brick flats for wood, old furniture and pot plants. Some of the stuff the guys found looked like it belonged in a museum. Rescuing the old things before the bulldozers come in and nothing is spared.

With the neighbours gone, the sound system was pumped up to its full potential. New Year’s saw Hiroshi play hard techno until 6am.

Zaoshanghao didn’t officially open again after Chinese New Year.

烤火. Jan 2016.

Demolition of Minzhu Lu started mid-last month at the mouth of the street. A blue wall was put up around the perimeter before being replaced with a brick one, which will likely remain that way for another year or so.

The blue wall now sits around Zaoshanghao and it’s neighbours, marking the inevitable. While many of us are upset, the Zaoshanghao crew are already onto the next. This is the second venue owner Zhang Xin has been evicted from in four years and he is not letting it stop him from continuing.

Screen Shot 2016-04-20 at 3.28.23 pm
The wreck of the first Zaoshanghao on Xiaotong Xiang. Nov 2015.

I’ve been super emotional about the demolition of the old street and community. The evicted residents will be scattered into soulless high rises on the outskirts of the third ring road, forever separated from the neighbours they’ve played mahjong with for the past three decades. The abandoned buildings will be left to decay, then replaced by buildings of the homogenised, modern city blueprint.

For my local friends, the news is sad but commonplace. I listen to their stories about what Chengdu was like when they were young – full of teahouses with big wooden slide doors, street side barbershops, swimming in the river, roads full of bicycles and carts. Now it is enormous high rises, freeways packed with cars and billboard screens. I think about what Wellington was like when I was younger. It more or less the same now. Revisiting spots from one’s childhood is not a possibility that exists for the locals of Chengdu. People have a different perspective on change here, it has been a constant for as long as they can remember.

Sometimes I think that’s why people here like taking photos, as a way of preserving memories when everything has been destroyed.

However, in an endless cycle of destruction and construction, there is life, rebirth and creativity.

Minzhu Lu. Mar 2016.
The demolition of Minzhu Lu has begun. Mar 2016.

Zaoshanghao have started a new venue out in Flower Town: Morning House. Sunshine, fresh air, bird song in the flower-growing village in the south of the city. Moving into the old Xiwo, the crew have established two more stages on either side of the swimming pool. New beginnings, bigger and better. Shit just got real.

In true DIY style, Zaoshanghao have smashed down the fence at the back and expanded into some of the old houses out back, converting them into an electronic music room, rehearsal space and studios for local band Stolen 秘密行动 and folk singer Zhang Xiaobing 张小饼. At the front, they have built a beautiful wooden stage beneath a plot of tall, willowing trees. While the banana trees at Minzhu Lu will be missed, there are plenty more tree friends at the new venue.

The new Zaoshanghao is beautiful and inspired. This weekend it is gonna kick off, as the fourth annual Chunyou rolls around!!

Xiaohu and the new steps he built to the main stage. Apr 2016.
Xiaohu and the new steps he built to the main stage. Apr 2016.







4月23(六)- 4月24(日)

Chunyou is going big this year, with 17 bands and 16 DJs playing on two stages. Making a return from last year’s Chunyou will be local faves Hiperson and Stolen!

Food/Alcohol/Multiple Stages/Open Jam Sessions/Film Screenings/Grassland Croquet/Taca-Taca/Texas Hold’Em Poker and more… Plus the electronic music stage is going 24/7.

See the details below:

Morning House 早上好
成都市锦江区三圣乡东篱菊园菊园路112号 早上好
Juyuan Rd 112-Donglijuyuan, Sanshengxiang, Jinjiang, Chengdu

Get your pre-sales on Zaomengshe.
Presale:     80rmb(1-day);150(2-days)

4月23日 DAY 1: BAND STAGE 乐队舞台

14:30-15:20   疆与他的朋友们 Jiang with Friends
15:20-16:10   亮子与乐队 Liang Zi
16:10-17:00   Pascal Pinon(Iceland)
17:00-17:50   Kingkong&The Chum(Thailand)
17:50-18:40   Apollo 20
19:30-20:20   海朋森 Hiperson
20:20-21:10   未之域 Terra Incognita
21:10-22:00   罗友生 Luo You Sheng
22:00-22:50   秘密行动 Stolen
22:50-23:40   声音玩具 Soundtoy

4月24日 DAY 2: BAND STAGE 乐队舞台

14:30-15:20   汪文伟 Wang Wen Wei(SH)
15:20-16:10   张尧 Zhang Yao(CQ)
16:10-17:00   黄晶与乐队 Huang Jing(CQ)
17:00-17:50   搞乐队 Gao Band
17:50-18:40   Jahwahzoo
19:30-20:20   树子 Shuzi
20:20-21:10   Don Camilo(France)
21:10-22:00   说唱会馆 CDC


14:00-15:00   Eric Huang
15:00-16:30   Xiaolong
16:30-18:00   Su
18:00-19:30   Xiang
19:30-22:00   Sulumi(BJ)
22:00-00:30   BBdeng(TW)


00:30-03:00   DIO(BJ)
03:00-05:30   Yang Bing(BJ)
05:30-07:30   Sunyoung
07:30-09:30   Voko X
09:30-11:30   Blue
11:30-14:00   chill set
14:00-16:00   Cvalda & Ni Bing(BJ)
16:30-18:00   Summer & Nature Bao
18:00-19:30   Ewan
19:30-21:30   Harry Ho
21:30-23:30   Mickey Zhang(BJ)


I am going to be playing with techno kweens Su and Xiang from atmen in creating some dark grooves on the Electronic stage!

Kiwese is very glad to join the Zaoshanghao crew this year in making videos and doing interviews! Stay tuned for more soon..

See you at Chunyou!


Responding to Brian Rudman’s Push for More Nationalism and Less Dragons

Yesterday a friend of Kiwese sent through this opinion piece: ‘Why focus on other cultures and not our own?’ by NZ Herald columnist Brian Rudman. I eyeballed it somewhat carefully – any article that opens with possessive pronouns around culture and a cartoon dragon engulfing a white, flag-waving, Fred Dagg figure in a wife beater warrants several deep breaths through the nose and a hot cup of tea before commencing.

Bring on the insecure white man searching for national identity.

Brian, so sorry to hear you’re upset about the growth of the Lantern Festival. Does it make you feel under represented? Were there no people of your colour performing? Did the stories not resonate with your own personal upbringing? Welcome to being an ethnic group in New Zealand, it’s so lovely of you to join us.

There seems to be an awful lot of soul searching in the way of national identity recently. That’ll be the flag referendum doing its job, appealing us to identify and belong to the state, soon to be controlled by our Jonkey Wall Street overlords.

Members of the dominant group in society tend to have weaker ethnic identities than members of minority groups. Pakeha New Zealanders have a tendency to conflate ethnicity with nationality, “I’m just a Kiwi.” Not English, half-Finnish, Scottish, just Kiwi.

Upon reading Rudman’s article, it’s clear New Zealand’s “just a kiwi” cultural black hole is gaping wide open. You can fill it with as much pav and rugby as you want, but it just doesn’t taste quite as good as deep fried wontons with sweet and sour sauce.

Brian’s ‘heart sank’ upon hearing the Auckland City Council’s suggestion of extending Chinese New Year celebrations in Auckland. It’s not like Chinese culture was silenced, ridiculed and caricatured for like, the first 150 years of settlement in Aotearoa. How dare Auckland even think of further representing a large and diverse ethnic group by sharing and celebrating their collective traditions over a festival period! Outrageous!

Here’s a play by play of Brian’s argument.

“Quality celebration of all our cultures more sorely needed than a parade each.”

Right? It’s would be so much better to condense our cultural celebrations into one rather than taking the time to appreciate and understand them individually. More bang for that tax payer buck, too. Who needs Matariki, Chinese New Year, Diwali, Holi, Paniyiri, Pasifika, Songkran, Mid-Autumn Festival…

Someone call the Minister of Ethnic Communities, he’ll sort us out a trestle table and kitchen and we’ll do the whole lot on one day, to lessen the impact on your fledgling, national ego.

“Instead of attempting what will always be a poor man’s imitation of a foreign festival…”

Complains about Council spending on Chinese New Year – calls the festival ‘poor man.’ My family put up our time-honoured, plastic tree from the Warehouse each Christmas. Are we a poor man’s imitation of a foreign festival? From 16th century Germany perhaps?

Auckland is Auckland, not Beijing, Jakarta or Taipei, meaning the annual Lantern Festival draws on our Cantonese, Hong Kong, Taiwanese, Singaporean, Malaysian, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai, Mainland Chinese, Korean, Filipino and NA (non-Asian) roots to celebrate Chinese New Year together.

Where else can you get a nasi goreng chased with L&P, Peking duck pancakes, steamed pork buns and sticky rice followed by hokey pokey ice-cream? Worth celebrating, I reckon.

“Our teams haka their way around the world, strutting our unique brand wherever they compete.”

Brian, Tikanga Maori is not a brand. It does not exist to make you feel like a big man in your All Blacks jersey at the pub.

Who would believe it; 176 years old and we still can’t even organise a decent national birthday party for ourselves.

Or: 176 years since the British forged a treaty in Maori and English with different meanings in each then confiscated land for white settlers with the backing of the Crown. Woop, birthday party!

“Now, if we’re not careful, our major population centre is about to lose that date to foreign dragon puppets.”

Wow. Foreign dragon puppets, really? Never mind that over 20% of people living in this major population centre are of Asian descent, or that 80% of Aucklanders are up for a $5 pad thai, the Lantern Festival exists for foreign dragon puppets. Gotcha.

“Talk about dumb Kiwis. We haven’t rid ourselves of our previous colonial masters, and now we’re flirting with a new one.”

Hold on Brian, are you really comparing Chinese New Year celebrations in Auckland with the colonisation of New Zealand and subjugation of its native inhabitants?

Enter, 没人在:

For Chinese people to do what Pākehā did to Māori in Aotearoa, we would have to impose a Chinese legal system and government, make a treaty in Chinese and English which has different meanings and then not honour either of them anyway by stealing and confiscating land, ban English and assault children who speak it at school, make practicing western biomedicine illegal, wipe out most of the population with SARS or something, and make sure criminal justice system disproportionately incarcerates Pākehā and that Pākehā have the lowest life expectancy and health outcomes. Just for kicks, any Pākehā seen as dissenting against Chinese rule will be chucked into prison under a law like Suppression of Rebellion or Terrorism Act.

That’s okay though because we would reserve four seats for you in parliament.

Looking forward to oppressing your people,

<Insert Chinese sounding name>

(On behalf of the Asian Invasion)

(via 没人在,

“We should be saying sorry, early February is taken. If you want to party, bring your dragons and your fireworks to our show. The embarrassing thing is, we don’t really have one.”

Possessive pronouns like ‘we’ and ‘our’ are kinda scary, like, who is Brian talking to? I think he is appealing to ‘New Zealanders’ – but keeping in mind earlier usage of the phrase ‘foreign dragon puppets,’ those of dragon descent can consider themselves left out of Brian’s mighty, nationalist utopia.

As for the rest of you, you should be out there telling that loving Auckland aunty to put away her wok and dumpling steamer in February cos bitch that date is TAKEN. Oppressing and silencing Asian cultures – the true blue Kiwi way.

Let us reflect on the reasons Pakeha New Zealanders don’t have a special cultural festival of their own. They used to last century – Empire Day! Where everyone would parade the streets with Union Jack flags to celebrate Queen Victoria’s birthday. What happened? I guess imperialism lost its shine, Britain became less of a mate after joining the European Economic Community in 1973 and the old parades were replaced by silver ferned assurances that ‘we are NOT Britain!’

Chinese New Year is great and everyone is invited. White people dominate the mainstream cultural narrative for the rest of the year. When I was a kid, I asked mum why there’s a Mothers Day and Father’s Day, but no Children’s Day.

‘Everyday is Children’s Day!’ she beamed, hoeing into her annual Mother’s Day box of Scorched Almonds. This applies here too, everyday is (Pakeha) New Zealand Day!

“…lift Waitangi Day celebrations out of dysfunctional Waitangi, and create a new-style national birthday.”

Yes, let’s just forget all the historical injustices which have led to the social inequality, economic hardship and disrespected mana of the tangatawhenua and forge a NEW national BIRTHDAY where we can all get drunk and not feel bad about it, like Australia!

“A parade that represents all the groups that make up present-day Auckland, swirling pipes bands, throbbing Island drums, bobbing dragons, the lot.”

Yeah!! Then we can all hold hands and be happy and stand in a semi-circle around a rainbow and…

Brian’s suggested alternative to Auckland’s ’embarrassing’ lack of a national holiday display that stacks up against a Lunar New Year celebration observed by a fifth of the world’s population is essentially a ‘Waitangi National Day multicultural parade.’

Let me put it this way. Imagine if the Rugby World Cup, Cricket World Cup, Fifa World Cup, Netball World Cup, Wimbledon, NBA, PGA, Super 15, AFL and the Olympics were all condensed into one period. We’d have an overpacked event where we acknowledge the existence of sport, each code would get a fraction of the limelight to be appreciated and understood, and the whole thing would fly by in a piecemeal recognition of the already bleedingly obvious fact that there are a lot of different sports. No depth. No play by play analysis. No repeats. Just onto the next.

Don’t worry Brian, being an ethnic group in New Zealand isn’t so bad. You could have a Morris Dancing stage and serve meat with two veg at your ethnic food stall. But if and when you get bored, we’ll be happy to share our HK-style barbecue roast duck, Taiwanese pancakes, steamed pork buns, beef rendang, hot and spicy tofu, barely legal fireworks and dragons. There’s plenty to go round.

Sincerely, The Rest of Us.

Header image an Australian anti-Chinese cartoon from 1886, which the illustration from the NZ Herald piece in question has a frightening resemblance to.

Started from the Bottom Now We’re Here: 14 Years Since the Poll Tax Apology

“Sorry,” “arohamai,” “对不起,” “ma bad.”

Kiwis tend to over apologise for everything – sorry for being late, sorry for moving your bag, sorry for ever so slightly scuffing your foot on the bus. But what about when ‘sorry’ really means something?

The Poll Tax was a tonnage restriction and tax on all Chinese arrivals to New Zealand from 1881 to 1944

Fourteen years ago today, the New Zealand government officially apologised to the descendants of those who paid this racially discriminatory fee.

So, now what? Does anyone even know? Does anyone even care? …is this thing on?!

Let us whisk our minds back to February 2002…

New Zealand has completed Phase 1 of it’s metamorphosis into a Lord of the Rings tourist attraction – the Fellowship of the Ring has just premiered in Wellington, an enormous troll in a loincloth stands on top of The Embassy, and pre-Sir Peter Jackson has taken it upon himself to colonise the suburb of Miramar.

The All Blacks golden era of Lomu, Umaga, Cullen and Merhtens is still in play. Ju Bailz and R-Long are resident anchors on One Network News. Whale Rider is in production – the nation is yet to cry with Keisha. Poet and novelist Alison Wong wins the Robert Burns Fellowship at Otago University.

Popular New Zealand music is transitioning from the power chorded guitar rock of Zed, Tadpole and Fur Patrol to the smooth Pasifika stylings of Salmonella Dub, Nesian Mystik and a Supergroove-less Che Fu.

Whenever, Wherever by Shakira has been top of the charts for four, mind-numbing weeks. January’s Big Day Out served up headliners such as New Order, The Prodigy, Peaches and The White Stripes. In the wake of 9/11, Shihad rename themselves as Pacifier and are shat on by the bogan community at large.

Kiwese was 11 years old and cared for little other than scootering around Lyall Bay with her mates.

The 12th of February 2002 was Chinese New Year and a momentous occasion in New Zealand Chinese history, as the OG (original generation) took a pause from stuffing their faces with delicious BBQ roast meats to humbly accept Prime Minister Helen Clark’s apology for the Poll Tax and other discriminatory pieces of legislation, including:

  • In 1908, Chinese people had to put a thumbprint on their Certificates of Registration before leaving the country.
  • Chinese people were deprived of their right to naturalisation (citizenship) in 1908 and this was not rescinded until 1951.
  • A reading test in English was introduced for Chinese – while other immigrants had only a writing test in their own language.
  • Even in 1935 when entry permits were introduced after a suspension of 15 years for reunification of family and partners of Chinese people, they were severely restricted.


As with the timing of most immigration-related issues, it’s election year. Polls, poll tax, apologies, reconciled Asians…

The Labour government publicised the occasion as a “new beginning,” while Pansy Wong, former National Spokesperson for Ethnic Affairs a.k.a. The Only Asian in Parliament, let it rip by criticising the whole thing as “the indecent haste of election year politics,” due to what some considered a lack of consultation with the wider Chinese community.

As the late great neurologist, Chinese advocate and author of Turning Stone into Jade David Fung wrote in his 2007 essay ‘The Tragi-Comedy of the Chinese Poll Tax Issue, whether the Labour government’s apology was a “political opportunity seized or due to genuine remorse,” we may continue to speculate.


Polynesian explorers navigated the stars from Hawaiki and arrived in Aotearoa no later than 1300 AD. New Zealand was colonised by British settlers during the age of imperial expansion in Africa, Asia and the Pacific. This is key to understanding the creation of the New Zealand state in a global context, instead of isolating it to the bicultural narrative of early British encounters with Māori, or believing New Zealand is a young nation without history.

Around the mid-19th century, Chinese gold miners began to arrive in the South Island. By the late-19th century economic depression, anti-Asiatic groups began to raise their nasty voices, booming particularly loudly around election time, as is still the case with contemporary immigration debates. Chinese labourers were willing to work long hours with low wages, which some believed threatened the working class.

Until legislative independence from Britain in 1947, all New Zealand laws had to receive the royal seal of approval. A flat out ban on Chinese migrants was rejected as Britain was concerned it could affect their dealings with China at the time. As historian Nigel Murphy writes: “the problem was how to both exclude the Chinese from New Zealand and satisfy the imperial government.”

By Henri Meyer - An illustration from supplement to "Le Petit Journal", 16th January 1898. This reproduction from Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public Domain,
China – the cake of Kings and Emperors cartoon showing Britain, Germany, Russia, France and Japan dividing China. By Henri Meyer, 1898. This reproduction from Bibliothèque nationale de France, Public Domain,

A Brief Primer on the Poll Tax (1881-1944)

In line with the Australian states and British colonies in the Pacific, New Zealand passed the Chinese Immigrants Act in 1881 to repel Chinese immigrants and protect the racial purity of the ‘Britain of the South Seas.’

It began at £10 a head, with one Chinese permitted for every 10 tons of cargo. In 1888, the tonnage restriction increased to 200 tons of cargo, and in 1896, the Poll Tax skyrocketed to £100 per person. Only men were allowed – as the government did not want Chinese to reproduce.

And so marked the beginning of a long Kiwi tradition – blaming immigrants for failures in the New Zealand economy.

Some opposed the Poll Tax and increasing severity as racist and unacceptable, while others saw it as electioneering to the working class masses.

Historian and Poll Tax descendant Lynette Shum has written about her search for her grandmother’s immigration records at the National Archives. She eventually found her at the end, crudely lumped into one entry as ‘13 Chinese.’

The following two entries were cattle and sheep.

“There is about as much distinction between an Englishman and a Chinaman as there is between a Chinaman and a monkey,”
– Prime Minister Richard Seddon
“Any integration between Māori and Chinese would bring racial contamination and moral degradation of the Maori people.”
– Sir Apirana Ngata
1907 cartoon. Image  from International Socialist Organisation of Aotearoa New Zealand


Abolition of the Poll Tax (1944)

King George VI is head of state. Allegiance to the British Empire is fundamental to New Zealand’s sense of cultural identity, perhaps best exemplified in Empire Day, where Union Jack flags were paraded through the streets on Queen Victoria’s birthday to honour NZ’s place in the imperial British whole.

The Sino-Japanese War has mutated into the Pacific campaigns of World War II. As Japan occupies the British ‘possessions’ of Malaya, Hong Kong and Singapore, New Zealand has been summoned to go forth and retrieve for Mother the playthings that have been rudely extracted from her toy box.

American troops are based in New Zealand to plan further military expansion in the Pacific with the Royal New Zealand Air Force at their disposal, establishing bases which will act as the launchpad for the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Douglas Lilburn is composing, Allen Curnow is writing, Witi Ihimaera, Kiri Te Kanawa and Jack Body are born.

Wives and children of Chinese men in New Zealand are temporarily admitted as refugees of the Sino-Japanese War in 1939, albeit with bonds and payments in place to ensure they would go back to where they came from afterwards.

The Traditional Source Country List (a.k.a. The unofficial white New Zealand policy)

British migrants were granted free passage to New Zealand to fill the population shortage left by the war. Allowances were also made for white people from the ‘traditional source country list,’ resulting in scores of Dutch, German, Italian, Scandinavian and Greek immigrants in the 50s and 60s.

Contemporary Chinese migration to New Zealand can be dated neatly and precisely to 1987, when New Zealand’s new immigration policy removed the special ‘traditional source countries’ preference (i.e., preference for British citizens) and announced a universal criteria favouring ‘quality migrants’ who qualify for entry based on personal factors like youth, education, skills, work experience, and financial capital.”

via Here, There, and Back Again: A New Zealand Case Study of Chinese Circulatory Transmigration | Migration Policy

Glynis Ng became the first person of colour to work at NZ Immigration Service head office in 1978. During the job interview she was quizzed on whether she’d receive pressure from the Chinese community regarding help with immigration matters.

“Back then, traditional source people could get in on occupational grounds if their jobs were on the occupational priority list,” she says, “but applicants from non-traditional countries were declined under the guise of NZ being a signatory to a United Nations agreement not to take skilled applicants from developing countries, where they were needed in their home countries.”

She started working for the Immigration Service shortly after the shameful Dawn Raids – where Police singled out brown people on the streets and in their homes with orders to deport those who had overstayed their temporary work visas back to the Pacific Islands. Again, a policy created in the lead up to the election. Tongans and Samoans were most affected, while lawful Pacific Island citizens and even Māori were questioned at random. (Helen Clark apologised for the Dawn Raids in 2002.)

When the list was abandoned in 1987 and an immigration points system based on skills not race was introduced in the early 90s, many of our friends and their families made the move from Hong Kong and Taiwan to seek better lives in New Zealand.

Unsurprisingly, it was not long before anti-Chinese racism reared it’s ugly head in the political sphere once more…

The Anti-Chinese Resurgence of the Nineties (a.k.a. F.U. Winston Peters)

NZ First campaigned against the so-called ‘Asian Invasion’ ahead of the 1996 election, upsetting many New Zealanders, not least the Poll-Taxed Chinese community who had been working hard at their jobs, and working even harder not to be noticed.

As David Fung put it, the OG Chinese “self-perception of being model citizens was tarnished by the perceived bad behaviour of the newcomers.” Old Yellow Peril stereotypes of opium-smoking gamblers had been updated to 21st century Chinese ills of “flaunting their wealth, driving their BMW’s hazardously, talking in their own language too loudly…”

Floodgates, waves and other terms referring to Asians as fast-flowing, perilous bodies of water began to drift through New Zealand media.

Artist and Poll Tax descendant Kerry Ann Lee was in her early 20s at the time, thriving in the Wellington punk scene and running Red Letter Zine Distro. “All that bad media spin was enough to make the blood curl in an angry teenager’s heart in the late 90s,” she reflects over email.

kal feiyue
Hanging with KAL in Mt Vic

The Apology

Giving an apology can be difficult, as it is usually sparked by some kind of social pressure – like when your Form 1 teacher drags a boy across the classroom and forces him to apologise in front of everyone for making ching-chong eyes at you and making you cry after lunch. Whether he is genuinely remorseful or not, it is worth having him publicly admit he was wrong, to see him hang his head, feel the shame and say the words- “I’m sorry.” 

Likewise, receiving an apology can be awkward, the pregnant pause following the wrongdoer’s admission of guilt, the teacher’s expectant offering of “…so is it okay now?”

“The PM making a formal public apology to the Chinese was a landmark moment to my understanding, as nothing like that had ever come close to happening before,” KAL says, “it evoked a lot of hurt that was still happening at the time on the ground. Confusion too, I think.”

The Poll Tax was a financial burden for so many early Chinese settlers, but it’s not just the money. For the PT generation, decades of aching assimilation was unforgiving towards the heritage culture. As NZCA and CPTHT leader Esther Fung so astutely noted in her speech at the formal apology, “we have been a model minority, compliant and silent. Silence came too with the loss of the mother tongue – Cantonese, the language of our forbearers.”

Beijing-based Charlie Gao, whose family arrived after the Poll Tax era, remembers the Helen Clark apology well. “It was the acknowledgement that it was totally wrong and evil,” he reflects, “I thought that was particularly important, more than just the ‘we’re sorry’ part.”

“There’s power in a genuine apology,” he types over our VPN Facebook connections, “as it allows the healing process to start.”

(NB: only cos it’s about saying sorry, and only cos it’s the Royal Family Dance Crew from AKL. CROWNS UP!)

Professor Paul Spoonley, the long-time go-to guy for facts and figures on contemporary New Zealand immigration graciously got back to me on my ranting email in December.

“My view is that the apology had short-term impact amongst most non-Chinese,” he wrote, “would most be aware that there was an apology – probably not.”

True dat.

This article has been stressing me out, so I gave Mum a call.

“I think all the Chinese wanted was recognition,” she reckons, “we didn’t want to be seen as asking for hand outs, it didn’t go with the hard work ethic of the old restaurant and laundry generation.”

The Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust (est. 2004)

After the formal apology, the government continued to negotiate a settlement fee with various Poll Tax descendants – the exact details of which I’m not too clear. In any case, $5 million was given to the establishment of the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust (CPTHT) as a good will gesture to support projects and research that “strengthen the unique identity of Chinese New Zealanders and their communities in New Zealand in recognition of poll tax payers.”

Kerry Ann Lee is one artist who has benefited from CPTHT funding, going towards major public art productions, chiefly Home Made (2008), AM Park (2010), and the incredibly personal, incredibly epic The Unavailable Memory of Gold Coin Cafe (2014), which documents the existence and demolition of her family’s popular Chinese restaurant in Central Wellington.

Gold Coin Cafe KAL
Taken from The Unavailable Memory of Gold Coin Cafe (2014) by Kerry Ann Lee.

“There was a notable unease with the cold hard cash aspect,” reflects KAL, “especially with working class Chinese families like mine who were so used to being heads down and invisible and definitely definitely never expecting a ‘hand-out,’ which I understand the Poll Tax Fund has been regarded as by some.”

“My parent’s (and their parent’s) generations had their identity reflected back to them by dominant NZ culture – from token representation to outright racism,” she adds, “for me, it’s been a process of recovery in terms of our settlement stories, working through the scars of displacement, outsidering and being a misfit.”

Hard. Pretty sure I hadn’t seen a Kiwi Chinese on TV till Li Mei on Shortland Street in like third form. And she was annoying as. Haha. Thank god for Jane Yee presenting on C4 in the mid 2000s, or I might’ve thought we never existed outside academia, medicine and/or the restaurant industry.

Aotearoa Chinese Artists Network (ACHA) artist and self-described ‘gweipo who doesn’t look very Asian’ Kim Lowe has also been able to create and exhibit with assistance from the CPTHT. “The apology did change something for me, was like a switch that was turned on at the right time,” she says, “it was after the apology that I started contacting NZC (NZ Chinese) artists and designers.”

President of the New Zealand Chinese Association and old hand market gardener Mayor of Gisborne Meng Foon says the CPTHT has funded the book Sons of the Soil, “a great history of our people in the market garden sector.”

“Now the CPTHT is directing more publications on fruit shops, laundries and other sector vocations,” he adds, “which will be interesting for future generations.”

“There is a sense in which the government feels it has done its bit – and to some extent it has – the community has been mandated to do things in its own interest,” concludes Spoonley, “but what constitutes that community – and the context – has changed dramatically in the last 13 years with the arrival of PRC Chinese.”


The Current Qíngkuàng

Today, the Chinese diaspora in Aotearoa is more diverse than ever. Those of us affected by the Poll Tax have been long outnumbered by other Chinese from all over the world. In addition, ‘local born’ is no longer an automatic referent to Poll Tax descendants. Roots run deep from many family trees.

While most recent Chinese migrants do not know what it is like to be an ethnic minority – the pain and pleasure, the cultural confusion, the misrepresentation – the local born know it all too well.

“While the local born acquired their humility and inoffensiveness because they had to exist as a minority under a white mono-culture, the new arrivals grew up in societies where Chinese are dominant and did not need to apologise for their Chineseness,” wrote Manying Ip and David Pang over ten years ago.

The complexity continues when the idea of the ‘ethnic community’ is evoked, and we are all, despite the vast range of different backgrounds, languages and condiment preferences, brought under the all inclusive umbrella of “the Chinese community.”

In online Chinese-language forums, I’ve seen newer migrants express scorn for NZ Chinese who have lost their language and culture, claiming we are not real Chinese. The authenticity debate can be upsetting, as well as inflaming the ‘you don’t know shit’ attitude of the local born.

There’s been a gulf between each generation of migrants since the Gold Rush, each wave blaming the next for making us collectively look bad – the latest outcry regarding statements from Phil Twyford about Chinese sounding names last year. As Ip and Pang put it, Chinese New Zealanders “cannot be expected to behave in a ‘pan-Chinese manner’ simply because they belong to the same ethnic group.”

Upon reading this story back to front, local born Chinese could be considered out of touch with difficulties faced by newer migrants, or even alienate them for not being real Kiwis. What’s up with that? We of all people know that shit hurts! We could try harder to understand the challenges of new migrants. We all could.


Everybody hurts. Everyone wants their stories to be heard, to be represented in this modern day, multicultural New Zealand.

The history of the Poll Tax is there for all to explore, well-documented in the work of academics, historians, artists, playwrights and poets (James Ng, Lynda Chanwai-Earle, Renee Liang, Chris Tse, Alison Wong to name a few). The NZ school curriculum does appear to include modules on Chinese settler history and we can only hope more people become educated on this “blot on our legislation.”

As David Fung put it, “we can now raise our heads high to take our rightful place in New Zealand.”

A fifth of the New Zealand population lives overseas. Those based in the U.S. aren’t necessarily American, those in Australia don’t need to become Aussies. Likewise, those who come to live in the beautiful land of Aotearoa don’t need to sacrifice their original sense of identity to become New Zealanders. We can be different, together.

I’d like to close with one of my favourite quotes from ‘Our Sea of Islands’ by Professor Epeli Hau’ofa, shared with me by the Michael Powles of the New Zealand China Friendship Society (NZCFS) a few years back.

Social scientists may write of Oceania as a Spanish Lake, a British Lake, an American Lake, and even a Japanese Lake. But we all know that only those who make the ocean their home and love it, can really claim it theirs. Conquerors come, conquerors go, the ocean remains, mother only to her children. This mother has a big heart; she adopts anyone who loves her.





This article is made possible with the resources available at Steven Young’s ‘Chinese in New Zealand‘ website, NZ Chinese Proboards and Migration Policy which includes writings from David Fung, Esther Fung, Manying Ip, Lynette Shum, Nigel Murphy and Pansy Wong.

Header image from ‘Home Made’ (2008) by Kerry Ann Lee, picturing ‘Chang-O, the Chinese Moon Goddess and her pet rabbit (an image of a Chinatown performer from Picturing Chinatown – Art and Orientalism in San Francisco by Anthony Lee, University of California Press, 2001), watch over paper ships made of hell money (bought at Asian grocery stores and traditionall burnt at Chinese funerals) as they sail across the waters of anonymous New Zealand seascape.’

Other resources include:

  • White Ghosts, Yellow Peril – China and New Zealand 1790 – 1950 by Stevan Eldred-Grigg with Zeng Dazheng

  • New Zealand Identities: Departures and Destinations edited by Teresia Teaiwa

  • Immigrants and Citizens: New Zealanders and Asian Immigration in Historical Context by Malcolm McKinnon

  • ‘Our Sea of Islands’ by Professor Epeli Hau’ofa

  • East by South: China in the Australasian Imagination by Charles Ferrall, Paul Millar, Keren Smith

Special thanks to Kerry Ann Lee, Meng Foon, Paul Spoonley, Manying Ip, Stevan Eldred-Grigg, Kim Lowe, Charlie Gao, Tze Ming Mok, Michael Powles, Richard Leung, Helen Wong, Aunty Glynis, Mum and my late grandparents for sticking it out and giving us life in New Zealand. And you, for reading all that.

Are you a Poll Tax descendant? Find out how you can apply for CPTHT funding here. [edit: you do not need to be a PT descendant to apply, just need to be interested in Chinese issues! Go for it!]

Chinese New Year (Chunjyeah!)

Ayi Wan Lin phoned on the weekend. Forgot to reply to that text, flicked it away for later consideration while the eternal online shopping hole of Taobao was draining my essence.

Chunjie seems to creep in just as you’ve been blobbing into the festive glow of Christmas, New Year’s and a self-administered hangover period. It’s chill. Then you realise that laowai holidays didn’t mean shit to anyone and that early February is where the lunar end of the year is at – so you’d better stock your fridge before all the restaurants close. Except for the fam at Lanzhou Lamian. They do not give a fuck.

Red lanterns adorn doorways and trees. WeChat release several new sets of cartoon greeting stickers, the 21st century China version of a Hallmark card. When are you gonna fangjia, how long are you gonna fangjia and are you gonna huijia have ripened into standard seasonal chat. A nice change from air pollution.

In line with traditional Chinese customs, my flat is observing the New Year by completely ignoring the red sticker stuck above the front door by our previous tenant ancestors and buying a discount bottle of Bailey’s.

Xiao Mei!” she exclaimed, with what must have been a smile.

No one has called me that name since the Pearl River Delta whanau about this time last year. I respond with an approximation of “hello, what’s up (oh shit what title do I call you again)… aunty!”

The conversation shifts to weather, as chat with relatives so easily does. She told me it had snowed in Guangzhou, which for their usual climate is totally insane. Around the same time, sleet was falling in Chengdu for the first time in years, though everyone wished they were snowflakes.

Sounds of the shoe market clattered down the phone. I remember Wan Lin didn’t make it for the big(gest) feed at Kan Bong’s last year, due to work. Shoe sales are busy, as parents and children grab new their knock-offs for the New Year.

“Are you coming for New Year’s?” “你今年会过来过年吗?”


Sorry, think I’ll pass.


Kung Hei Fat Choi!
Happy New Year!

Year of the Mm-Mm-Monkey!*

Chinese New Year: Monday 8 February 2016

*(have been singing phonetics with a toddler for the past two weeks, will never look at the words apple, igloo, or monkey the same ever again.)

Premature New Year’s greetings from Kiwese, as I won’t be near the internet next week. Tibetan New Year (Losar) is on the same day. Packing my bags, stay tuned…


Mian Mian Says

Mian Mian 棉棉 is a writer from Shanghai.

A mainstay of the 00后 Beijing-Shanghai art community, Mian Mian’s confessional blog writings published in On High In Blue Tomorrows《于忧郁的明天升上的天空》 are scattered with bands, albums, films, poems and lyrics, some of which I have collected here for you to enjoy.

There is something about trawling that I like. The thrill of a bargain genetically inherited from an Asian bloodline. The delight in digging through second-hand records in the wooden coffers of Wellington’s record stores. The flick and pluck of counterfeit DVD sleeves in Hong Kong night markets. So the street front pù miàn 铺面 bookstores of China, where cheap deals are recited over a megaphone like a modern day sales mantra, are essentially my spiritual homeland.

Last year, amidst the stacks of dusty, plastic-wrapped reprints of ancient primers and gaudy coloured children’s books, I found a copy of On High In Blue Tomorrows by Mian Mian. Intrigued by the choppy hair and dark shades of the figure on the front cover, I took the book home and entered the personal recollections of a writer, music-lover and survivor of addiction, often dubbed as a New Generation Writer 新生代作家.

Mian Mian On high
Image by Kiwese.

Mian Mian gained a reputation as a post-Mao era, 70后 (born in the 70s) wild child, with the publication of her sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll novel Candy《糖》in 1999, based upon her own life experiences as a party girl flitting between Shanghai and Shenzhen. In the 80s era of reform and opening up, Deng Xiaoping saw Shenzhen transform from a tiny fishing village to a ‘special economic zone’ full of factories, new cash and people from all over the country trying to make it.

In the early 90s, a young Mian Mian ran away from Shanghai to join the action, as with new money brought parties, drugs and hedonism. Heartbreak, hopelessness and heroin followed. In 1995, her parents dragged her out of Shenzhen and placed her in a Shanghai rehab clinic. She published her first book two years later. Candy was published in the same year as Wei Hui’s Shanghai Baby《上海宝贝》, which is also about drugs, sex and parties and also banned in China. The two books are often likened in this way.

Mian Mian’s prose in On High In Blue Tomorrows is colloquial and clear, it reads like a personal journal. It is not heavy with literary descriptions or obscure chéngyǔ 成语 (idioms), which means as a learner, it is easy to read and enjoy.

“My books are not for intellectuals,” Mian Mian said to Jonathan Napack in an NY Times interview almost fifteen years ago, “my readers are in the streets, in a disco, listening to cool music.”

The inner sleeve reads:


Mian Mian’s writings are mostly about liberation, self-destruction and self-rescue. Her personal life has recently undertaken a huge change with giving up smoking, drinking and eating meat.

The blog entries date from 2005 to 2008, through which she writes about the illness and death of her father, her reflections on her previous life and novels, being a writer, her relationships with friends, the universe and Buddha. Her posts touch on daily life and encounters – trying to give up smoking, going to YY’s club in Shanghai, as well as a lot of movie watching at home.

Below I have included some of the music and films she mentions in these entries written in brown along with my own English translation in black. She often mentions and promotes the work of her friends, which is what blogs are for, right?

  • Jiang Xin 姜昕

Recommend baby Jiang Xin's album 'I'm An Unusual Flower'! It is even better in the moonlight! She is as beautiful as vanilla!
I believe the happiest thing in life is finding the road you want to take, then having lots of close friends along that road. I think that's what 'Rainbow 2006' is about. The song is an all-encompassing bridge, not a bridge of the human world, but one that connects people and spirits, life and death, the past and the present.
Talking with Jiang Xin is a pleasure. Her purity has power, she makes the little details come to life.
I asked her: "Do you believe in love because the person is beautiful, or has talent, or because they love you?" She immediately responded: "Absolutely not. Love is fate."
Her manner, attitude and voice is unparalleled. Using beauty, youth, music, love and troubles and destiny, she bears witness to a Beijing underground that will never return again.
  • Muma 木马

Muma was formed in 1998, consisting of members Muma (guitar/lead vocals), Cao Cao (bass), Feng Lei (keys), Huhu (drums)
Some people say that listening to Muma is cold, but I think it is a kind of warmth. They sing so honestly about grief, buried youth, the good years and strange dreamscapes.
Out of Muma's three albums, I am most inclined towards the first two.
I remember a song off the new album called If There is One Person I Hate, That Person Is Myself. It is only a name, and I can see their old stubbornness. The new album doesn't make me lose hope, I'm already well-acquainted with that sound from the depths of night, the same way I have come to understand Radiohead.
Some years, in the late hours of night, I find myself in Muma's sound, on the streets of disorder, in my room, picking up my already broken heart.
  • Wild Children 野孩子

I keep forgetting: I saw Wild Children play at Su He Art Space and cried. Back at home I listened to their CD and cried some more. They are so clean!
  • Sonic Youth

If you want me to
I will be the one
That is always good
And you'll love me too
But you'll never know
What I feel inside
That I'm really bad
Little trouble girl
Remember mother?
We were close
Very, very close
Sha la la you taught me how to fit it good
Sha la la flow down life you understood
Sha la la curl my hair and eye lash
Sha la la hitch my cheeks and do my lips
Sha la la swing my hips just like you
Sha la la smile and behave
Sha la la a circle of perfection, it's what you gave
Sha la la then one day I met a guy
He stole my heart, no alibi
Sha la la he said: "Romance is a ticket to paradise"
Sha la la momma, I'm not too young to try
Sha la la we kissed, we hugged, we were close
Very, very close
Sha la la we danced in the sand
And the water rose - higher and higher
Sha la la until I found myself floating - in the sky
I'm sorry mother, I'd rather fight
Than have to lie
If you want me to
I will be the one
That is always good
And you'll love me too
But you'll never know
What I feel inside
That I'm really bad
Little trouble girl 
我的好朋友Anto... 想起她我会想起这首歌。。。她给我发过这首歌的歌词,而这首歌我以前很喜欢。
My good friend Anto... when I think of her I think of this song... She sent me the lyrics and I also liked this song before.


  • Lotus by Anni Baobei《莲花》安妮宝贝

Anni Baobei 安妮宝贝. Image from Smart Shanghai.
I seriously recommend Lotus by Anni Baobei to everyone. One look at it and I cry. This book is blessed, containing important information and moving emotions. I'm not someone who reads books often and given my busy schedule I generally skim through to the end, but then I have regrets because this way of reading doesn't respect the author. So I implore you not to do as I have.
Our writing styles are very different, though similar in the way we are always searching for 'meaning.' This wasn't my phrasing but I think it is absolutely correct.
  • Love Streams《爱的激流》

Today I saw another sad film, but it was so great! It was Love Streams by independent American filmmaker John Cassavetes,
This film told the story of two heartbroken people. Exquisite, lively, interesting and sad. The acting was so good. The director is the lead actor, so handsome! I love him so much!
  • Summer Palace 《颐和园》

Yesterday I watched Summer Palace and cried for ages.


Today I watched Carmen, a Spanish film from 2004. I never find characters that resemble myself in literature or film, so I was shocked to find so many details that reminded me of the old me. So strange, and at key moments in the film she would speak the same as I did: "either leave me or kill me, I don't love you."

And plenty more. Mian Mian has been pretty quiet on the writing front recently, but you can find her blog (which this book was based on) over on Sina!

Tell You What 2016

As the annual exchange of useless crap among family and friends beneath a conifer pine approaches, Kiwese is here to shamelessly remind you that Tell You What: Great New Zealand Nonfiction 2016, published by Auckland University Press, is available in stores now! 

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 3.13.02 pm

Earlier this year, I received an email from Auckland editor Jolisa Gracewood. She’d stumbled across the blog, and was keen for Hanzu in a Headscarf to be included in this year’s AUP collection of New Zealand nonfiction that she was editing with Susanna Andrew. The piece is a cultural commentary on the relations between Han Chinese and the Uighur from my perspective as a huaren wearing a headscarf in Xinjiang. While the piece delves into a little of the region’s historical background, it is by no means comprehensive. It is merely a spread of personal impressions

I was initially unsure how the photo-heavy, hyperlink-saturated blog version would translate to print with no block quotes or colours to supplement the text. Jolisa and I edited back and forth for several weeks, shifting the structure, cutting the flab and discussing the likelihood of a New Zealand prose readership knowing who Mufasa was. Shout out to Jolisa, Anna and the team at AUP for including a piece from this blog alongside the work of actual writers. Lol.

The book arrived at my house this week. I excitedly sliced it open the package with a cleaver and tucked in. I’m not even halfway through and am loving it. So far my favourite piece is Ali Ikram’s awkward interview attempt with Keri Hulme. Check it out, give it as a meaningful gift, perhaps even rid yourself of the compulsion to give your loved ones random crap you bought on sale at The Warehouse.

You can view the book here at Auckland University Press. $30NZRRP.

Year of the (Scape)goat: Responding to Phil Twyford on Chinese sounding names

Crime rates rising? Road toll increasing? Quality of secondary or tertiary education declining? No jobs? Housing bubble in Auckland? Just blame the Chinese.

New Zealand’s social media is aflame with hot and sour responses (from people with Chinese sounding names and non-Chinese sounding names) to comments from Labour’s housing spokesman Phil Twyford on TV3’s The Nation in an interview with Lisa Owen on Saturday evening, where he accused foreign investors, specifically those with Chinese names, for depriving Kiwis of their house buying dreams.

Read the transcript of the interview here.

Anti-Chinese cartoon by J. Blomfield, 1905. Image from Te Ara/Alexander Turnbull Library.
Anti-Chinese cartoon by J. Blomfield, 1905. Image from Te Ara/Alexander Turnbull Library.

Kiwese doesn’t often weigh into politics, but I’ve been following the responses to Phil Twyford’s statements over the weekend from hard-edged Kiwi commentators such as Tze Ming Mok and Keith Ng and have found it hard to restrain my own frustration.

On Saturday 11 July, Phil Twyford appeared on both The Nation and in the NZ Herald armed with Labour’s latest “analysis” of the housing market in Auckland. Over the weekend, actual analysts have taken him down here, here and here, while Race Relations Commissioner Dame Susan Devoy says Chinese in New Zealand “deserve better than to be singled out” based on their surnames.

So what are the numbers? Labour are running their combo fried rice set of data which consists of ‘leaked’ figures from an unnamed real estate agency in Auckland, as weighed up against the city’s 9% resident Chinese population. As all people with Chinese surnames know: combination fried rice consists of random leftovers and shit in the fridge.

Now, despite what my Chinese name may suggest, I am god awful at maths. Thankfully, Keith Ng, statistician, journalist and Chinese sounding name person, has examined the figures in absolute terms over on Public Address. He writes: “You can’t magically MATH your way from a last name to a residency status.”

The real estate data from the myopic period of three months between February and April 2015, shows that 39.5% of houses were purchased by people with “Chinese sounding names,” while the electoral roll shows that Auckland is only 9% ethnic Chinese, leaving a discrepancy of 30%, as emphasised by big chunky infographics and a scrolling list of Asiany surnames full of X’s and Z’s. According to Twyford, this discrepancy points to a “tsunami” of foreign Chinese investors who are flooding the Auckland property market, taking with them the water-logged debris of the dream verandah from the grasps of young, hardworking Kiwi home buyers.

If this is supposed to be about restrictions on foreign buyers, why bring ethnicity into it at all? Not only has Twyford brought out the race card, he has specifically targeted one ethnic group. The Chinese. We look distinct, our names sound distinct and the groundwork has already been laid through decades of having a crap image in the media… hidden camera exposés on dirty Chinese kitchens, dramatic confiscation of contraband products in airport security shows, the all-tarring brush of news headlines about dodgy Asian drivers, high-profile murderers and now, greedy offshore investors.

The Auckland Banquet, via NZ Herald.
The Auckland Banquet, via NZ Herald. 10 March 2015.

It appears that for Labour, singling out ethnic Chinese for looking Chinese is a bit too old-fashioned, so the change of tack is to judge whether we sound Chinese. Perhaps Labour should have door-knocked these properties after all and sniffed around for any scent of soy sauce, illegal fireworks and/or opium.

For the sake of analytical accuracy in his interview with a somewhat stunned Lisa Owen, Twyford discussed the probability of Lee being a Chinese name or a non-Chinese name, the house buyer could be a Brett Lee or a Bruce Lee! To dredge up the old Winstonism, we could be talking about a white one, or a Wong one. He goes on however, if your surname is Wang, there’s a 95% chance of being Chinese. But what am I harping on about, let’s just forget racism.”

Upon removal of one’s yellow tinted glasses, Labour’s figures boil down to little more than an unsubstantiated set of figures that blame the Chinese for Auckland’s housing crisis based on a game of Charades, with Twyford heavy on the clue for “souuuuunds liiiiike…

Twyford corroborates Labour’s surname guessing game by stating there’s a “major presence of people of Chinese descent in the Auckland real estate market, but the Government has been in complete denial about this.” Newsflash, guys, there are Chinese people in Auckland looking at houses… and the GOVERNMENT IS DOING NOTHING ABOUT IT. I swear dragging us along to open homes “just for a look” was Dad’s favourite hobby when we were kids, alongside bulk-buying discount toilet paper at Pak N Save and discussing the price of bok choy with Uncle Wong. As London-based “shouty Asian girl on Public Address,” Tze Ming Mok writes“for Chinese immigrants in the West, buying houses is almost on a par culturally with food. It’s like you’re giving us shit for eating.”

After watching The Nation interview, it was clear to me that Twyford has played to the assumption that those with “Chinese sounding names” are foreigners to New Zealand, furthermore, they are the ones who are “driving up house prices beyond the reach of hard-working Kiwi first home buyers.” It is just plain offensive. The us and them attitude smacks of fresh, 2015 Yellow Peril rhetoric for people to deploy alongside the opener “I’m not being racist, but…”

Today Twyford wrote for the Herald to support his statement from Saturday night. He and his frighteningly large support base of Stuff and Herald commenters (if there were ever a time to say never read the comments, it is now) can deny this being about race, accuse offended Chinese commentators of being too PC, and even have the temerity to ask us to just “forget racism” in order to have a “mature public debate,” but when a party bases their foreign housing market analysis squarely upon whether a name sounds Chinese or not, well, that is just straight-up racial profiling.

There have been emotive responses to Twyford’s comments from all sides of politics. Any issue that scapegoats a particular ethnic group will provoke emotion. It is offensive. I am offended. And I’m worried about how the continuously negative, invasive portrayal of ethnic Chinese in the media by the highest levels of government will fall back on the way we are treated on the street, at an open home, online, or at school. I hope we are past ching-chong Chinaman. I hope I never have to hear “go back to where you came from!” ever again.

Labour’s analysis rests on the presumption that people with Chinese names are simply non-resident foreign property speculators, and perhaps the most upsetting part of it all is the underlying narrative that New Zealand, and by extension New Zealanders, are not Chinese. It reinforces and relies upon the toxic monocultural hegemony that to be Kiwi, a real Kiwi, is to be white.

Just last week marked the 134th anniversary of the New Zealand Government’s Poll Tax on Chinese immigrants, many Kiwi Chinese families were affected by this shameful and unjust tax, but just how many Kiwi kids are taught about this part of our national history?

There is a deeper cultural refusal to allow Chinese stories to permeate mainstream cultural consciousness in New Zealand, a denial to our rightful stake in the building of this nation. It doesn’t fit alongside the long white cloud of British settler history in New Zealand. A closer examination of the colonisation of Aotearoa would bring out too many colonial skeletons.

My Chinese Sounding Name is Fuck You, via 没人在
My Chinese Sounding Name is Fuck You, via 没人在

From the market gardens, the restaurants, the shitty ass jobs that no one else wanted to do… Chinese people have been contributing to New Zealand society since the mid-late 19th century. Chinese ingenuity and experience with farming and irrigation saw all sorts of fruits and vegetables spring up where they’d never been sown before. My family on both sides had started, developed and sold several businesses (back-breaking laundries and restaurants etc) before Twyford’s Irish immigrant parents even arrived in the 1960s. Who’s the foreigner here, again? Is it just me or is there SUM TING I’m missing here?

Now that Mr. Twyford has divided the housing crisis into two sides: 1) those with Chinese sounding names and 2) deprived, hardworking Kiwi families, I can finally understand what Mai Chen meant at the Bananas Conference about us Chinese needing to combat discrimination and redefine for ourselves what it is to be a Chinese New Zealander. We need to speak out. We need to tell our stories. We need to stake our claim.

Chinese greengrocer. Image from Te Ara.
20th century Chinese greengrocer. Image from Te Ara.

The Chinese have been in New Zealand for a really long time now. Mr. Twyford and supporters, please, enjoy our fruit and vegetables, come dine at our Yum Chas, even utilise the hashtag #ilovedumplings or some shit to demonstrate the diversity of your palette for Asian cuisine, but do not then have the audacity to scapegoat us for Auckland’s problems, then turn around and say it’s about foreigners.

A final question for Phil:

If this isn’t an issue about race…

then why the bloody hell did you make it one?!

[You’ve pissed off a lot of angry online Asians. Good one. Nice job.]


Kiwese also recommends reading:

Header image by Charlotte Curd, from

He Tangata: Interview with Mayor Meng Foon

Tūranga-nui-a-Kiwa, “the Great standing place of Kiwa,” formerly “the first city to see the sun” (jeez… thanks, Apia), whānau hometown Gisborne on the North Island’s East Coast is a very special place indeed.

Beaches, cicada song, 50c ice-blocks from the dairy, backyard cricket with the cuzzies! Those hot summers up at Por Por’s are seared into my memory, us Chinese kids barefoot biking the streets, bronzed brown and yellow… NB: Outdoor pursuits dwindled as we later adopted mahjong and beer.

For almost fifteen years now, tri-lingual local bro and cultural chameleon Meng Foon has been the Mayor of this predominantely Māori beach town. I’ve seen him confidently korero in Te Reo with Māori figureheads, slay games of mahjong in a single round, and even pose in photos with Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China.

Kiwese caught up with Mayor Meng recently about his goals as the new President of the New Zealand Chinese Association (NZCA), what it was like growing up in Gizzy and why the town could be adding 吉斯伯恩 Jí sī bó ēn to it’s long-list of nicknames in the future.

Portrait by Nathan Foon. Image from Nathan @ Two Pumps.
Portrait by Nathan Foon, Two Pumps. Image supplied by the artist.

KIWESE: Kia Ora Meng. Could you tell us a bit about your whakapapa and settlement on the East Coast? 

MENG FOON: My Dad came to Gisborne, NZ, in 1947. Their family had fled Guangzhou to Hong Kong because of the Japanese War. Dad married Mum in 1959 in HK and came back to Gisborne to continue their market garden business. Dad is Seyip and Mum is Taishan – both speak different dialects of Chinese, so we know both. My kids are all grown up now: Amanda in London, Jessica in Auckland, Nathan in Wellington.

What was your childhood like growing up in Gisborne in the 60s and 70s?

We grew up knowing work and supporting our parents, we loved being kids as we could build fires, play in the drains, make bow and arrows, toys from my uncle… but most of the time if we weren’t at school we worked.

Dad would pick us up from school at lunch time, we would quickly eat our lunch in the truck and do an hour of garden work, then go back to school.

We worked in the shop, standing on a box to reach the till. And we had a horse called Dick who did some of our preparation work for our gardens. I started on tractor work at 8 years of age.

Gisborne's gorgeous Wainui Beach. Image from
Gisborne’s gorgeous Wainui Beach. Image from by Gray Clapham.

Most Kiwis are monolingual, with a mere 18.6% listed as speaking more than one language in the 2013 census. It’s well known that you are fluent in Te Reo, English and Cantonese. Can you talk about your own experience with language learning, at home and at school growing up, as well as now in the community?

Working in the shop we had all sorts of dialects comes to our place, the many forms of English, from Irish, Welsh, Scottish and English customers fascinated me. Even customers told me that the north of London was different from the south of London!

Māori was also spoken by our customers and I would always copy what they said with their tones, they laughed at us sometimes when what we said was naughty. So gradually I learnt more Māori.

Our Māori customers were great they were very encouraging, I loved the stories of all cultures and Mum used to tell us Chinese stories – we just couldn’t get enough.

“I found out at an early age that my Māori friends didn’t speak Māori, which was odd to me as we spoke Chinese at home and sometimes to other Chinese kids.”
What motivated you to first get involved with local politics in the mid 1990s?

We bought a shopping mall in August 1997, one of the buildings we built was a Community Police Station. I made good friends with a couple of police men, Hemi Hikuwai and Allan Davidson. We would solve all the world problems over tea and biscuits. One day he said that I would make a good councillor. I didn’t even know what that was, after a bit more chatting he said, “lunch is good.”

Anyway, he introduced me to a councillor who presented the Patutahi Taruheru Ward, Crl Owen Pinching. He was a great mentor and showed me all the issues of the area introduced me to a number of people and we became good mates.

I could stand in the city ward or the country ward, I choose the later as it was where our gardens were, our shop and our home, most people knew who we were, most of them were our customers.

We got our voting strategy with Hemi and Allan and I won the seat in 1994. There were 2 positions and I was pleased to top the polls on my first election. In 1998 I stood for Mayor and missed out and was successful in 2001.

You’ve been Mayor of Gisborne since 2001, what is your ethos towards leadership?

Listening to the wants and needs of the community, support them,

It is all about people, people, people.

My own agenda.

Having and plan and executing it is very important.

Say what you do and do it well.

Keep focussed on the important matters.

Meng's campaign for Mayor was successful again in 2013.
Meng’s campaign for Mayor was successful again in 2013.

We are now seeing a gulf between the original old hand Canto Chinese, and the ‘new wave’ of Chinese to NZ. Culturally, socially and linguistically these groups differ greatly from one another. As the President of the NZCA, how do seek to appeal to the various needs of this ever changing ‘Chinese community’ of NZ?

Change is inevitable and it is a journey, there have been many waves of Chinese coming to NZ from gold miners, pre-WWI, WWII, Hong Kong Chinese, Colombo Plan – Malaysian Chinese, Taiwanese Chinese, now Chinese from China, we are all from the same womb.

We need to celebrate and embrace each other’s values. It is great to have such challenges. Meet with the various groups, learning Mandarin is a start.

Gisborne has the largest percentage of Te Reo speakers in the country, truly awesome! How do you see the preservation of Te Reo holding itself alongside the growing urgency for more Asian language education? There appears to be a growing narrative where Te Reo is labelled a ‘dying language,’ while Mandarin and other Asian languages are the ‘languages of the future’…

Māori is the native language and it unique to Māori and NZ, I still believe in Māori being compulsory in schools.

A few schools are now having Mandarin classes, which is great, I know more Kiwis are looking at the future.

Just like at a time when the Japanese economy was booming and Japanese was a key language in schools.

At the Bananas Conference 2014, I heard you speak on a panel with Dr. Pita Sharples about Maori-Chinese relations. As much as I dislike the ‘banana’ analogy, it would seem you are more brown on the inside than white!! How do you balance your support for the interests of various iwi, whilst also being an ambassador for the NZ Chinese community and new economic interests from China?

Always act with integrity and good faith and this will get us a long way in our relationship building.

READ: ‘Chinese and Māori business relationships are the future of NZ’s prosperity,’ by Meng Foon

For many young people outside of Gisborne, the city is now synonymous with Rhythm and Vines. Tens of thousands of party goers descending on Gisborne every year obviously bring pros and cons to the city. How have you seen this festival affect Gisborne over the years?

The festival has been great for our region, but bodes well for the future as this will help our future prosperity as a great place to live play and do business.

Just another day at Bay Watch. End of 2009, RnV campsite.
Just another day at Bay Watch. End of 2009, RnV campsite.

“Yummy yummy in my tummy!” – I know you are a passionate foodie. Could you talk about food culture in Gisborne? I’ve seen some really unique kai on your Facebook, Filipino roast hog, earth coal fired lamb tails…

We have the world food and sea baskets at our doorstep in Gisborne, so fresh so healthy and yummy yes! Food is a great door opener for us and a great ambassador to show our wares. I generally like plain food fresh from the sea with squeeze of lemon on my crayfish, paua, kina, fresh veges.

We have great wines which are made with love, for love.

Can you share your favourite spots in Gisborne?

We have so many special spots in paradise, my one favourite is on the beach with Ying and family sharing food.

The Dark Horse is a film that has brought a lot of international attention to the region. Were you acquainted with Genesis Potini? How has this film been received by the community?

We love this film and I have known Genesis for a number of years, he could speak perfect Mandarin, awesome. We had Whale Rider, Nati, White Lies, they are all great stories of our world view.

Cheeky one – Mum said back in the day she was blamed for stealing several pies at Sunday school and got the strap for it… but she reckons it was you!! Confirm or deny.

I love pies, I think stealing is an adult term, we just loved life.

Hahahaha crack up! Who ate all the pies? Thanks, Meng.

Kiwese and whanau VS. Meng Foon. Summer, 2010.
Kiwese and whanau VS. Meng Foon. Summer, 2010.

Click the links below to read more:

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“Respect that, bow down bitches / 尊重吧,向她鞠躬”: ‘Flawless’ and Language Learning

Sometimes there are days in as a language student in China where group discussions just make me want to scream and/or smash my head against a wall for not being able to sufficiently articulate myself on the thinly veiled sexism and objectification that lies beneath almost every text or topic that relates to women. At least not in the way I could in English. Yet. 慢慢来。。。


I often wish ‘Flawless’ by Beyoncé feat. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche would just miraculously just come on at full volume and convert international classmates and Laoshi alike into supporters of the feminist cause.

Today’s class discussion was about the rapidly growing plastic surgery industry (整形美容界 zhěngxíng měiróng jiè) in China, supplemented with an article that surveyed around a hundred female Chinese university students about plastic surgery trends.

The article claimed that 87.5% of those surveyed had either had plastic surgery or were preparing for a procedure. According to this text, like in South Korea, these students have either had cosmetic surgery on their eyelids and noses or were planning it for after their graduation. They believe it will get them a job. There are other mentions of poorer students who lied to their rural parents that they needed 6000RMB for medical fees, then used it to get cosmetic surgery… There is also a sweeping craze of imitating celebrity faces through plastic surgery, as well as a strong sense of competition cultivated among female graduates who will soon be applying for jobs through the rigid, multi-stage process.

Laoshi then mentioned the viral internet story of a beautiful Chinese mother who had given birth to an average looking baby girl and wanted to have her eyelids and nose done with cosmetic surgery. The baby was a one-year-old. She was promptly ripped to shreds by Chinese netizens.

Growing up in New Zealand, a country of five million people, I recall being taught at primary school about how everyone is ‘unique.’ We made posters about ourselves and drew self portraits. My mama always told me I was beautiful. We were raised believing we were perfect, just the way we are. I grew up karate kicking my leg in the air to the ‘Girl Power!’ message espoused by the Spice Girls. Differences were celebrated in the classroom, though sometimes targeted in the playground.

In China, home to over 1.3 billion people, students are in classes of approximately 50 (predominantly monocultural) students all in the same uniform, and are barely spoken to directly by the teacher on a daily basis, let alone told they are unique. Telling people they are fat or ugly to their face is commonplace. There is a disproportioned sex ratio, as boys are the coveted gender and there can only be one. I can’t imagine what it must be like, growing up in a country which has achieved the level of industrial development that took Europe 200 years, in a mere fraction of the time. All at once.

There is a new generation of little girls with no brothers or sisters, who are surrounded by these ridiculous, airbrushed K-Pop standards of beauty, who are told that they need to be beautiful to find a husband and/or find a job, who are compared against each other and crassly labelled as ‘leftover women’ (剩女 shèngnǚ) if they don’t have a husband by their late 20s. I could cry. Mulling over the normalisation of the cosmetic surgery phenomenon in China’s wider societal context got me so upset, won’t somebody please think of the children?! Evidently, I was way too emotional for a regular morning in 综合 today.

Chengdu is absolutely saturated in plastic surgery advertising. One can barely walk up the road to get noodles in the inner city without spotting a clinic. In some cases, one just needs to step out of their apartment into the elevator to be confronted by it.

Seriously, it is everywhere.

Three different cosmetic ads in one elevator. Taken in March 2015. This one says: "Others have had cosmetic surgery, have you?"
Three different plastic surgery ads in one elevator. This one says: “Others have had cosmetic surgery, have you?” Taken in a Chengdu apartment building, March 2015.

While body positive messages have recently taken down the ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign in London, such movements are unlikely to emerge against the tidal wave of unrealistic beauty expectations here in China in the foreseeable future.

Baidu has provided a translation of ‘Flawless’ into Chinese, which I’m sure any language student/Beyoncé fan will enjoy reading. I was gonna do ‘Pretty Hurts’ as well, but might be a bit OTT haha.


演唱:Beyoncé feat. Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

“Your challengers are a young group from Houston
Welcome Beyonce, Lativia, Nina, Nicky, Kelly, and Ashley
The Hip-Hop Rappin’
Girl’s Tyme!”

I’m bout that H, town coming coming down
我在休斯顿外面 来吧,来吧
I’m coming down, drippin’ candy on the ground
H, Town, Town, I’m coming down, coming down
drippin’ candy on the ground

I know when you were little girls
You dreamt of being in my world
Don’t forget it, don’t forget it
Respect that, bow down bitches
I took some time to live my life
But don’t think I’m just his little wife
Don’t get it twisted, get it twisted
This my shit, bow down bitches
Bow down bitches, bow bow down bitches (Crown)
Bow down bitches, bow bow down bitches (Crown)
H Town bitches
休斯顿 热烈,
H, H Town bitches
休斯顿 热烈
I’m so crown crown, bow down bitches

We teach girls to shrink themselves
To make themselves smaller
We say to girls
You can have ambition
But not too much
You should aim to be successful
But not too successful
Otherwise you will threaten the man
Because I am female
I am expected to aspire to marriage
I am expected to make my life choices
Always keeping in mind that
Marriage is the most important
Now marriage can be a source of
Joy and love and mutual support
But why do we teach girls to aspire to marriage
And we don’t teach boys the same?
We raise girls to each other as competitors
Not for jobs or for accomplishments
Which I think can be a good thing
But for the attention of men
We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings
In the way that boys are
Feminist: the person who believes in the social
Political, and economic equality of the sexes

Chorus / 副歌:

You wake up, flawless
Post up, flawless
Ride round in it, flawless
Flossin on that, flawless
This diamond, flawless
My diamond, flawless
This rock, flawless
My rock, flawless
I woke up like this
I woke up like this
We flawless, ladies tell ’em
I woke up like this
I woke up like this
We flawless, ladies tell ’em
Say I, look so good tonight
God damn, God damn
Say I, look so good tonight
God damn, God damn

Momma taught me good home training
My Daddy taught me how to love my haters
My sister taught me I should speak my mind
My man made me feel so God damn fine
我的男友使我感觉如此地好 我很完美

Repeat chorus / 重复副歌

“The Judges give champion Skeleton Group 4 Stars
评论给骨骼组合 照例四颗星
A perfect score
And the challenger Girl’s Tyme receives, 3 stars
Skeleton Groove, champions once again
Congratulations, we’ll see you next week.”

Bow down, bitches! Translation text taken from this Baidu thread, to which I’ve made a few small corrections.

You are beautiful!