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Essay: The Chinese Gold Rush: A History of Immigration to New Zealand

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  • Published: 1 February 2018*
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  • Words: 924 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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One group that has an interesting history of immigration into New Zealand are the Chinese.  To begin with Chinese men immigrated to New Zealand to mine gold in Otago.

In 1866 there were less than 100 chinese men in New Zealand. This was because immigration wasn't big during the 1800s and many of the men came from Australia which also mined gold.   In 1868 the number increased to just over 1200 men as gold mining became more popular.   After a while migration to New Zealand to mine gold started to gain popularity in 1871 there were now 5000 chinese men working in the otago goldfields.

During the 1800s there was 300 million people in china. As for New Zealand there was only 120,000. So new zealand had a lot more space.  This was also a big reason for many Chinese to make the move.  Another reason was because of many years of a lot of poverty in China.  Many chinese families wanted to get out of poverty so they would send their brothers or sons to work in goldfields. Large amounts of chinese gold miners went to california and australia but some came to new zealand.  Most of the chinese men that came to new zealand were from the Guangdong province which is in southern china.  There was high unemployment and the area was majorly over populated after the Opium Wars. The Opium Wars were between trading countries, they were fought between United States, United Kingdom, China and Quing Dynasty. There were two wars the first one was in 1839-1842 and took place in southern china (Guangdong province) and the second one was in 1856-1860 and was in the same place. The Opium wars left a devastating effect on southern china many peoples homes had been destroyed and unemployment after was very high after the wars were over.  

The chinese found out about the otago gold mines because the europeans had been there years before but they did not succeed, so the chinese used the same technique that they used on australia and california and mined the goldfields that the europeans had abandoned.  At first New Zealand found out about Chinese miners in Australia. New Zealand invited a certain amount of them to come and work at the Otago goldfields.  This was because before the Chinese the Europeans had been working at the Otago goldfields.  They had abandoned them leaving all the gold in the goldfields to go to waste.  So New Zealand needed gold miners in the mines.  Chinese gold miners traveled by boat from Australia and China.

The Chinese gold miners had originally planned on only coming to New Zealand for a couple of years but they stayed because they didn’t have enough money to leave.  Also, after 50 years of Chinese men working in the goldfields an anti-immigration legislation was introduced and sent nearly all the Chinese gold miners home.   In 1921 New Zealand was left with only 59 chinese miners.  However, later on more Chinese returned to New Zealand.

 The Chinese gold miners were they very first Chinese immigration to New Zealand.

The few chinese men that came to new zealand made it because their families were living in poverty and needed to get out of it and so they gave their sons/brothers money to go to other places in the world to find jobs.They came on large sailboats and one of the most popular jobs was gold mining, new zealand was one of the of the ideal places to go for it.

    Migration Model

Many of the chinese families were living in poverty this meant that it was hard for families to send their sons overseas to find jobs this also meant that the journey over there would be harder for the men that didn't have as much money especially when they got there it would be harder to adapt. Also at first when there was less than 100 men it was hard to adapt to places with so little of their culture.   

The goldminers also had gardens and grew their own vegetables.  They sold the vegetables for money when gold mining wasn’t giving them enough money.  One of the things that the Chinese miners would do was celebrate Chinese New Year.  Many New Zealanders weren’t familiar with this celebration but would receive sweets from the miners. Fireworks would be set off to celebrate their New Year.  This happened in February rather than January. The miners also used to gamble which was a big part of their lifestyle and kept the men interested in their community.

Down in Otago the Chinese influence continues to exist today and more people have been interested in researching the history of it. There has been a Chinese Mayor in Dunedin.  The miners made veggie gardens and then this went on to increase the South Island’s use of vegetable marketing. The chinese gold miners have brought a big change in new zealand's culture and has shaped some of us into who we are today. We will never forget the brave chinese miners who put a great layer in new zealand's history.


The Encyclopedia of New Zealand, Chinese:  https://teara.govt.nz/en/chinese/page-2

Chinese Miners: New Gold Hills: http://www.handsonhistory.co.nz/students/chinese-minners/

Chinese New Year in Central Otago: https://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/afternoons/audio/201832429/sound-archives-chinese-new-year-in-central-otago

The remarkable journeys of NZ's Chinese goldminers: https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/top/323266/the-remarkable-journeys-of-nz's-chinese-goldminers

Chinese Pioneers in NZ – Facetime, Guangdong TV:

Opium Wars


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