Won Kee: A Historico-Biographical Study of Creativity, Inter-Cultural Intervention, and Discrimination in a Nineteenth-Century Goldmining Setting in Aotearoa New Zealand


During the latter part of the nineteenth-century gold-mining era in Central Otago, New Zealand, Won Key was a well-known Chinese merchant living in Cromwell. His activities centred on offering a base for supplying Chinese miners, yet at the same time he provided a link between the disparate cultures that made up this migrant setting. While little is known of Won Key’s roots, he was active in bringing the Chinese and European populations together, holding regular cultural celebrations and being effective in charitable activities that benefited all in the local community. While contributing to the re-thinking of music in the making of New Zealand, this discussion examines Won Key’s creative community activities that offered a setting for inter-cultural understanding in colonial context. This paper is a historico-biographical discussion of Won Key in a setting of creativity, inter-cultural intervention, and discrimination. Including a short biography of what is known about Won Key’s background, the study focuses on several distinct case studies as a way of analysing discrete examples of Chinese creativity that contributed to the musical making of New Zealand in the late nineteenth century, yet is so often void in discourse on New Zealand’s music history. The aim of the paper is to add a new perspective to music in New Zealand, and offer insight on the importance of understanding this sphere of the nation’s musical creativity in a nineteenth-century goldmining setting.

Author Information
Henry Johnson, University of Otago, New Zealand

Paper Information
Conference: ACAS2021
Stream: Comparative Studies of Asian and East Asian Studies

This paper is part of the ACAS2021 Conference Proceedings (View)
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