Chinese Farming, Rural Enterprise and Environmental Change in Aotearoa New Zealand, 1870s-1950s James Beattie

James Beattie

2Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand

Scholarship on nineteenth-century Cantonese migrants to Aotearoa New Zealand has overwhelmingly focused on their activities as gold miners, and traced their movement, once mining finished, into other professions, such as market gardening, laundry work, and fruit-shop ownership. Scholars also note an urban and northwards drift of Chinese, once they moved out of goldmining. Such a perspective has meant that academics have ignored the role of Chinese in the rural industry, especially once goldmining diminished in importance.

In response, this talk provides a fresh look at the history of Cantonese in New Zealand, by examining their hitherto overlooked role in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century farming in Aotearoa New Zealand. I attempt to write the Chinese back into New Zealand’s rural history by highlighting Cantonese rural enterprise in such industries as dairying and seed-growing, both vital motors of change which helped establish new pastoral frontiers. I also consider the role of Chinese labourers on European farms, and explore the extent to which Chinese views and rural customs changed in New Zealand. Finally, the talk reveals the manner in which Chinese rural workers and entrepreneurs fashioned ‘eco-cultural networks’, yoking capital, labour, and business connections in China with those in Aotearoa.


James is Associate Professor at the Centre for Science in Society (Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand).


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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