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Stanley Greene, Paris, 1994 © Bernard Plossu
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The history of the New Zealand Chinese began with Cantonese cabin steward Appo Hocton’s arrival in Nelson in 1842. According to the latest census conducted in 2013, the Chinese comprise about 3.7% of today’s New Zealand population: over 170,000 people. These include recent migrants primarily originating from China, but also many other parts of the world, with about one quarter being local-born.

The aim of this exhibition is to introduce the history of Chinese people in New Zealand over the past 170 years, and to illustrate the importance of photographs as historical artefacts that make aspects of this history more tangible and real than words can. The photographic record is far from complete, but from the earliest times it depicts a people participating in the building of New Zealand, a young nation, through hard physical labor, self-sacrifice, determination and innovation. So the audience may appreciate the profound impact of the unique way  photographers can tell and retell this past.

This exhibition, Recollections of a Distant Shore: A Photographic Introduction to The History of The Chinese in New Zealand (1842-2016), with over 100 photos, reflects the history of overseas Chinese in New Zealand and represents how they have sought development, gradually adapted themselves to local society and eventually taken root and prospered. Telling life stories of Chinese immigrants in New Zealand, it highlights overseas Chinese’s indomitable and enterprising spirit against all the odds.

According to New Zealand’s government records, Wong Ahpoo Hock Ting, the first Chinese immigrant and a sailor from Canton, arrived in Nelson in 1842, marking the start of Chinese immigration to New Zealand. In the early years, they made a living mainly by growing fruits and vegetables, running laundry shops and restaurants. With the passage of time, nowadays New Zealand Chinese are active in all sectors of local society and have made remarkable achievements in commerce, culture, education and technology. Additionally, they are playing a significant role in promoting economic and cultural exchanges between China and New Zealand. In the long course of history, mankind has never stopped migration. It is our belief that New Zealand Chinese will write new brilliant chapters of migration with their unique stories. As a bridge and bond, they will continue to contribute to enhancing the friendly ties between China and New Zealand.

Phoebe H. Li and John B. Turner

Dr Phoebe H. Li is a a Chinese-born New Zealand historian specializing in the history of the Chinese diaspora in Australasia. She lives in Auckland, N.Z. John B. Turner is a photographer, writer, curator and historian, based in Beijing, China.

Recollections of a Distant Shore: A Photographic Introduction to the History of the Chinese in New Zealand (1842-2016).
20 October 2016 – 19 February 2017
Overseas Chinese History Museum of China, Beijing