Being Chinese in Aotearoa

Come and join blogger Yi Zhang as he explores the rich and varied stories of Chinese New Zealanders in the Being Chinese in Aotearoa: A photographic journey. This wonderful exhibition which runs through until February 2018 celebrates 175 years of Chinese life in New Zealand through close to 100 compelling and rarely seen photographs and treasures.

001_WE-Brown_Appo-Hocton-Nov-1876-Nelson-(NPM13043)_cropped-A2-50-x-37-cm-RGBW-sAppo Hocton (Ah Poo Hoc Ting), first Chinese person to land in New Zealand in 1842.

“Ever since I moved to New Zealand at the age of 16, I’ve been trying hard to blend with Western society and embrace the Kiwi culture. I’d come up with a strategy to stay away from anything “too Chinese”, so I didn’t seem an outsider. However after going to this exhibition, my perspective has changed, and I now see the real meaning behind being Chinese in Aotearoa.

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“What catches me most when I first enter the exhibition is the authenticity of Chinese culture it portrays. The wooden lattice acts like a window that frames the sight perfectly and gives us a snapshot of the history. The use of traditional Chinese characters brings that classical feel, and it’s very age appropriate. A row of displays on the wall forms a ‘wave outline’ that gives a sense of continuity. Each panel tells a unique story of Chinese immigrants since 1842, just 2 years after the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. This makes me realise how far Chinese culture traces back, and how involved we are throughout New Zealand history. Really, being Chinese in Aotearoa is a part of being Kiwi. And the merger between 2 cultures can be spotted everywhere in our day-to-day life.

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“I have to say, no matter how many times I visit this exhibition, I always get emotional and discover some new insights from seeing the beautiful and powerful images and reading the heart-warming stories behind them. One particular section that touches me this time is the comparison of occupations between the old generation and the new.

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“Seeing how the older immigrants still make a living in more traditional industries such as laundry, supermarkets and gardening, as opposed to the younger people today with their privilege of western education and modern ideology, enabling them to strive in more innovative fields such as architecture, IT, and media, is overwhelming. This reminds me of how my parents sent me abroad, so I could have a better chance. Their love and support is unconditional.

042_Grengrocer-22690941_100x72cm-RGB-WarmF-85-A1-rgbw-best-to-spotGreengrocers were very much a family business, 1920. Alexander Turnbull Library

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“A splash of red leads you into another room of this exhibition, where more modern materials and artifacts are displayed. I really enjoy the audio stations in the centre, because it utilises another sense. Listening to real Chinese people speaking about their real experiences has a huge impact as the stories are not just about the good, but also the struggles we are facing. I believe everyone from all cultures can relate to this.

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“Overall, Being Chinese in Aoeatora exhibition flows very well from the beginning to the end. Selected images are particularly outstanding and fascinating. They create a narrative throughout more than 170 years of New Zealand history. It’s educational, but not too serious. Also the interactive kiosks are fun and effectively connect the visitors, making it easy to relate to the stories.

075_Ans-Westra_-Trentham-Racecourse,-Upper-Hutt,-New-Zealand,1959)_AWM0062_10_s-A2-55cmPunters, Trentham races, Upper Hutt, 1959, by Ans Westra. Courtesy of Suit Gallery

This exhibition is definitely worth a visit, check it out soon!