Young leaders explore where the past meets the present
Arrowtown has played host to 15 young New Zealanders on a journey to better understand the role early Chinese settlers have played in shaping regional identity.
Members of the Asia New Zealand Foundation’s Leadership Network were in the Southern Lakes this weekend during a tour of Otago exploring the history of Chinese New Zealanders who first came to the district seeking gold.
Jenny Cheng, a resident of Auckland, was one of the hui's participants.
She moved to New Zealand from China aged one.
She says it was “eye-opening” to visit the Otago region and learn more about those early settlers.
“We got to experience a perspective into their daily lives, how they lived, how they worked and how they were able to send money back home. That demonstrated a lot to me about their commitment to building a better life for themselves and their families.”
Future generations, stemming from those first arrivals, have added to the “colours and flavours of the community”, she says.
Her own parents moved to New Zealand in the early 1990s, in their 30s, as skilled migrants.
“They were very much at the peak of the early success of their careers…They had very good positions and they were very stable as a family. They chose to leave that life behind…I have really benefited as a result of their sacrifice.”
She’s grown up loving both “Kiwi culture” and her Chinese heritage as well.
“Culture is always changing…and morphing…the evolution is just very beautiful to see…we decide the values we want to bring into the future.”
Toby Jordan also made the trip down south from Auckland to participate in the hui.
For him, it was about "looking back in order to move forward", he says.
A highlight: hearing of the "lived experiences" of "kaumatua" from the region.
"We had a number of discussions around people’s experiences, unpacking their past and their heritage, and we were challenged to think about how we want to create an inclusive New Zealand."
He hadn't previously been aware of the way in which mana whenua and early Chinese settlers had interacted, he says.
"They have a long, rich history of working together. When the Chinese settlers were shunned and moved to communities on the outside of towns, it was those connections with local Māori that allowed them to flourish...it’s something strong they can continue to build on."
Asia New Zealand Foundation deputy executive director Adele Mason says it is the second time the foundation has offered this experience to members of its leadership network.
The opportunity was designed to help members grow their knowledge of Asia-New Zealand relationships while travel to Asia was constrained.
“Otago offers a unique and authentic experience for emerging leaders to gain new perspectives on early Chinese who came to New Zealand,” she says.
“It helps equip the next generation of New Zealand leaders with knowledge and understanding about how Asian people have contributed to New Zealand since the 19th century.”
The group visited the Lakes District Museum and the Arrowtown Chinese Village, as well as the Chinese camp in Lawrence and destinations in Dunedin.
They were joined along the way by a range of guest presenters with expertise on Chinese New Zealanders — Dr James Ng, Malcolm Wong, Peter Chin, Emeritus Professor Manying Ip and Sean Brosnahan, of Tōitu Otago Settlers Museum, among them.
Main image: A group of young emerging leaders at the Arrowtown Chinese Settlement, Sunday, October 9, 2022.