Thursday, September 16, 2010

Auckland's Chinese community in 1919

Back to another of my underlying interests. Completely by chance, I spotted the article below as I was looking through newspaper files yesterday at the Auckland Research Centre at the central library. 1919 was just under 60 years after the first indications of Chinese residency in Auckland, so this gives us an interesting (albeit European-focussed) view of the community six decades on, in the midst of a post-war rice "famine" in Auckland. "For the last few weeks there has been a rice famine in Auckland. The leading wholesale and retail dealers have been literally without a grain in their establishments, and the position has resulted in a good deal of hardship for those who formerly made rice one of their staple articles of diet. The situation has been relieved to some extent, for both the Niagara and Malcura have brought a considerable quantity of Ace from Sydney."(Evening Post, 11 September 1919)

From the NZ Herald, 29 August 1919.


Although the sight of the Chinaman working industriously in his trim garden, reckoning change with amazing accuracy in a fruit shop or handing out the week's laundry, is a very familiar one to Aucklanders, comparatively little is known of the local conditions under which these sons of the Celestial Empire are living. There are at present about 400 Chinamen in Auckland, and perhaps 10 Chinese wives. Nearly all the others, however, have wives and children in their own land, and are patiently adding day by day to the little board that will some day enable them to go back to their homes and families. The family tie is a very strong one with the Chinese, and their sojourn in a foreign land usually but the stepping-stone to a return home and prosperity among their own folk that it would be very hard to obtain in the ordinary run of life in China.

The ancient traditions of the Chinese still hold strong sway in some respects, but in others even the manners and customs of the oldest Empire are waning and undergoing the change inevitable when Occident and Orient come into close and continuous contact. The pigtail has gone, and the quaintly-trousered women, with shy eyes and tiny sandalled feet, have given place to smart young misses wearing tailored skirts and French heels. But the average Chinaman is still the frugal, industrious worker of the age old East; even in prosperous Auckland he still lives mainly on rice, although his needs in this respect have gone unfilled for some time past on account of the prevailing acute shortage.

Chinese Delicacies.

An inquiry made yesterday as to how local Chinese residents were faring in view of this dietary difficulty resulted in some interesting information being given with regard to the general trend of life among Chinese in Auckland. As in other respects, the Orientals are conforming more and more to European ideas with regard to foods and, although rise still is, or was until recently, their staple diet, the white man's menu is gradually being adopted by the Chinaman. A few traditional Chinese dishes are still regarded as a great delicacy: dried sharks' fins are in strong demand, and luxury fare is provided at the banquets occasionally held in Auickland.

A glance at a list of delicacies forwarded from China for local consumption revealed some weird and wonderful dishes. An item of dried shrimps and oysters looked more or less familiar, but sugared watermelon rind, fishes' eyes in vinegar, onions in treacle, bamboo shoots in syrup, beche-de-mer or sea-slugs brought to mind visions of a banquet truly Oriental. Other items were:- Chinese medicines and wines, canned bean cure, salt cucumber, hen albumen, and a quantity of the "Asiatic egg" so well known to local pastrycooks.

The Chinese are not given to riotous living but, by all accounts, local banquets lack few of the traditional delicacies associated with these sumptuous repasts, allowance being made, of course, for those dishes requiring ingredients which China alone can produce.

Keeping in Touch With Home.

There is in Auckland a strong branch of the Chinese Nationalist Society, which receives all the newspapers and current literature of China. This is widely read by local Chinese residents, who follow the occasionally-stormy course of home politics with keen interest. There are also two Chinese "Freemasons' " societies in Auckland, in which the trend of politics is reflected, although party feeling is apt to be a little less pronounced than is sometimes the case with regard to local politics. That is to say, the Celestials usually agree to differ politely.

One interesting point mentioned yesterday by a well-known Chinese resident was that the ancient dread of surgical operations is to a large extent dying out among Chinese living abroad. The Chinese physician is traditionally a herbalist; amputations were unknown in China until students of the present generation migrated to the West, where they learned Western methods of healing and treatment of the sick. Consequently Auckland doctors frequently tend Chinese patients and perform operations and send them to the General Hospital in a way that would have been undreamed of among the Orientals of a past generation.

At the same time, the use of herbs is still very popular, and the only Chinese herbalist in the Dominion, who has a shop in Wellington, does a fairly wide trade among his fellow-countrymen.

Another point of interest, as showing the general acceptance of Western ideas, is that the old tradition that the bones of every Chinaman must be taken back to his own land is not so inexorably observed as in the past. During the epidemic about ten Chinese residents of Auckland died; some of these were buried in the ordinary way and will rest forever in alien soil; but the others were embalmed and provision made for shipment of the remains back to China. This cannot be done, however, for at least one year after interment, and even the ultimate carrying out of the old tradition will depend very largely upon prevailing shipping conditions.

No comments:

Post a Comment