China & New Zealand share long-term bond

China and New Zealand have closer links than many people realise.

Ties have existed between the two countries for hundreds of years - close links that are still very evident in New Zealand today.

Chinese in New Zealand

Chinese were some of New Zealand’s early and most prolific immigrants and now make up the fifth largest ethnic group in the country, with nearly 150,000 residents.

The stories of Chinese migrants are deeply embedded in New Zealand history and have provided the foundation for many tourist attractions from early mining settlements to an authentic Chinese garden, constructed in Shanghai, imported and rebuilt in Dunedin in the South Island.

Chinese culture is evident throughout New Zealand today and provides a colourful element to every day life and special events like food, art, music and sporting festivals.

Traditions like Chinese New Year and the mid-autumn festival are widely celebrated and some of New Zealand’s most popular events now include the lantern festival and dragon boat races.

The Chinese community is active in many sectors of the business world and is particularly influential in the food industry as producers, retailers and food professionals. A recent Chinese New Zealand business collaboration has seen the establishment of a major oolong tea plantation in the Waikato region.

Sister city relationships

A growing number of New Zealand communities enjoy sister city relationships or strong cultural bonds with China that are ratified by the Beijing government.

As well as increasing international understanding, the sister city relationships foster trade, tourism, educational exchanges, cultural understanding, the arts, sport and research and technology.

Of the 33 sister city relationships between New Zealand and China, Wellington - New Zealand’s capital has two formal partnerships, one with Beijing and the other with Xiamen.

Dunedin city is a sister city to Shanghai, and it is the strong bond between the two cities and cultures that sowed the seed for the establishment of one of the newest tourist attractions - the Dunedin Chinese Garden.

Dunedin Chinese Garden

The Chinese Garden was a gift to the city of Dunedin to commemorate the historic relations between New Zealand and China and is a permanent reminder of the Chinese people who first came to Otago during the gold rush and stayed to establish some of the city's businesses.

The garden is the only authentic Chinese Garden in New Zealand, the first in the southern hemisphere and one of only a handful outside China.

The design, based on the private gardens in Suzhou from the 10th to the 19th centuries, is in-keeping with the Qing Dynasty 1644 - 1911.

Otago goldmining history

The first record of ethnic Chinese in New Zealand was of immigrants from Guangdong province, who arrived during the 1860s gold-rush era and settled mainly in the Otago region but also on the South Island's west coast.

At one stage there were more than 5,000 Chinese miners in Otago and Southland, and at some diggings they even outnumbered Europeans.

Their merchants and suppliers made Dunedin the headquarters not only for the Otago trade but for dealings throughout New Zealand. Since 8 is the Chinese lucky number, the eight-sided Octagon made Dunedin an exceptionally lucky city.

But few of the thousands of Chinese men who came to Otago and the West Coast realised their dream of earning a fortune to take back to their home country. Many stories were of extreme hardship and loneliness.

Northland - 'Ventnor' ship wreck

In 2009, one chapter of China - New Zealand history was closed with an unexpected discovery of a burial site, 100 years on from a tragedy at sea.

A ship called the Ventnor, which had left Otago in 1902 carrying the bones of around 500 Chinese gold miners who were being returned to their homeland, ran aground 10km off the Hokianga coast in northern New Zealand.

Chinese thought their ancestors had been lost forever but local Māori put new light on the tragedy during research for a Chinese documentary.

It transpired that when coffins from the shipwreck began floating to shore, Māori living along the remote Northland coastline pulled them in and gave the Chinese a fitting burial.

Some were interred in the sand dunes and others in nearby gravesites alongside the Māori ancestors.

Descendants of the Chinese miners said the discovery was "like finding gold" and closed the chapter on a tragedy that had haunted families for generations.

Otago Settlers Museum

The history of Chinese in Otago is well catalogued in the Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin with a gallery called ‘Windows on a Chinese Past’.

The exhibition tells the story of Otago's Chinese community from the first arrivals in 1865 through to the present day, and depicts life on the goldfields, the movement into towns and cities, and the eventual assimilation of a generation of Chinese refugee children into a New Zealand way of life.

‘Windows on a Chinese Past’ includes an extensive array of artefacts and biographies of Chinese identities, such as Choie Sew Hoy, the merchant who pioneered gold dredging in Otago in the late 19th century.

West Coast - Shantytown

Shantytown - on the South Island’s West Coast - is one of New Zealand’s leading cultural and heritage attractions, and has a strong Chinese representation dating back to the gold rushes that began in 1864.

There are 30 historic buildings in the recreated 19th century pioneer town that was inspired by the mining towns of Greymouth, Reefton, Hokitika and Westport.

Curator and Shantytown researcher Julia Bradshaw has collated Chinese names from local business directories, hospital registers and newspapers to produce a database of stories for a book on the history of the West Coast Chinese.

Bradshaw says Chinese immigrants made a unique contribution to the region as gold-miners, merchants, cooks, market gardeners, and even missionaries.

Arrowtown - Chinese Settlement

The Chinese Settlement at Arrowtown, near Queenstown in Central Otago, is also a popular destination for tourists wanting to delve into Chinese history in New Zealand, attracting 70,000 visitors a year.

From 1869, there was a small community of Chinese miners living in Arrowtown who were originally invited as workers when the West Coast gold rush depleted local labour.

Chinese, who were largely segregated from European miners, created their own settlement near Bush Creek. The population of Chinese was entirely male, and the proceeds of their labour was sent home to families in China.

The Chinese were regarded as successful miners, which was mainly due to their hard work. The Chinese Settlement was excavated and partially restored during 1983.

There are plans for a Chinese Heritage Trail linking Arrowtown’s Chinese Settlement with goldfields and other Chinese-related points of interest - such as the Cromwell Mining Centre and the Chinese Garden in Dunedin.

Expo 2010 Shanghai

The Shanghai World Expo was open between 1 May and 21 October 2010. Around 400,000 visitors passed through each day.

The New Zealand Pavilion, developed and managed by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise, took visitors through a ‘day in the life of a New Zealand city’, highlighting New Zealand’s sustainable urban environments, and proximity of the cities and nature.

A piece of precious Māori art - a waharoa or Māori gateway, carved in the shape of a waka maumaha or ceremonial Māori canoe - was an important part of the New Zealand exhibit.

Carvers completed the artwork on site before presenting it as a gift to China as a symbol of the close relationship between the two nations.