Fan So and Early Chinese Musicians in Aotearoa New Zealand: Musical Creativity in an Era of Colonialism, Migration and Discrimination


After warning John McLean of a plot on his life in order to steal his gold, Chinese goldminer, Fan So, became a faithful servant and travelled with him from the Australian goldfields to Aotearoa New Zealand around the middle of the nineteenth century. While McLean became an important and recognised figure in New Zealand, little is known of Fan So. Yet within the scant reports that do mention him, he is portrayed as maintaining musical roots to his Chinese culture through the playing of a ‘fiddle’. As part of a deconstruction of the dominant narrative that has so often defined music in a setting of elitism and inequality, this paper recognises Fan So’s and other Chinese music making as an assemblage of creativity that demands critical inquiry in an era of colonialism, migration and discrimination. In this context, and adopting a critical historico-biographic perspective through the study of musicking, media sources and secondary literature, this paper provides a study of what is known about Fan So and his association with the McLean family, his music making activities, and how his musical biography relates to similar narratives in other parts of nineteenth century New Zealand. The aim of the discussion is to re-think what constitutes New Zealand music and to illustrate some of the ways that Chinese music contributed to the soundscape of Aotearoa’s colonial past.

Author Information
Henry Johnson, University of Otago, New Zealand

Paper Information
Conference: ACAH2021
Stream: History/Historiography

This paper is part of the ACAH2021 Conference Proceedings (View)
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