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).