Chinese Music, Difference and Inter-community Relations in a 19th-century New Zealand Gold-mining Setting


The socio-cultural milieu of colonial New Zealand changed significantly in the 1860s as a result of the discovery of gold and the subsequent immigration of Chinese miners at the invitation of the Dunedin Chamber of Commerce. At first, Chinese miners arrived from the Australian goldfields, where they had earlier migrated, and later from southern China and especially from Guangdong. The impact of this inward migration was immense and contributed much to New Zealand’s cultural diversity at the time, which comprised primarily settler British, who came from various parts of the British Isles, and indigenous Māori. Consequently, a particularly negative outcome of Chinese migration was the introduction of a discriminatory poll tax and immigration policy in 1881, with media reports often including discourse prejudiced against New Zealand’s Chinese population. However, in this setting of cultural difference, Chinese music performance was a distinct part of the sonic environment and was acknowledged in a number of newspaper articles, particularly in connection with inter-community relations for celebratory occasions or educational events. This paper offers a history of New Zealand’s Chinese past with a focus on Chinese music performance in the nineteenth century as a distinct point of difference that helped bring disparate cultures together. The methodological orientation of the paper is historical in approach, and it assembles a number of primary sources comprising English-language newspapers articles written by non-Chinese as a way of critically interpreting how and why Chinese and European communities interacted in a musical environment of difference.

Author Information
Henry Johnson, University of Otago, New Zealand

Paper Information
Conference: ACAS2020
Stream: Chinese Studies

This paper is part of the ACAS2020 Conference Proceedings (View)
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To cite this article:
Johnson H. (2020) Chinese Music, Difference and Inter-community Relations in a 19th-century New Zealand Gold-mining Setting ISSN: 2187-4735 The Asian Conference on Asian Studies 2020: Official Conference Proceedings
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon