This year I’ll be heading to New Zealand, to the archives in Wellington and Dunedin, to research the history of Chinese naturalisation there. With that in mind, here’s a report from 1884 on Chinese New Year celebrations on the Otago goldfields. Happy New Year, or ‘kung he fat soy’ to you all!
A Southern paper thus descants on the Chinese celebration of their New Year, on the Otago Goldfield:—Our Celestial fellow-citizens are at present holding high-holiday, the occasion being the advent of the New Year according to Mongolian calculations. The exact moment when another unit was added to the many thousands of Chinese chronology was at one o’clock on Monday morning, and was celebrated by a terrific discharge of fireworks in front of the store known by the sign of ‘Kwong Wy Kee,’ accompanied by a lavish consumption of incense tapers, the pouring out upon the ground libations of brandy, muttered incantations, genuflections and sundry other rites and ceremonies. The usual explanation of the pyrotechnic part of the performance as given by the Europeans who are supposed to know is, that ‘it is done to drive away the devil,’ though why his Sable Majesty should have any dread of what is supposed to be his own peculiar element is rather puzzling to Western minds. Probably the trite remark, ‘Chinaman no all the same Englishman,’ used by Chinamen themselves when reasoned with on some of their peculiarities, may apply to their respective Princes of Darkness. Today (Tuesday) banqueting will begin, and invitations will be extended to ‘Fan quees’ (Europeans) to partake of many a savory mess, flavoured with sauce and preserves, piquant enough to tickle the palate of the veriest epicure, or whet the appetite of tbe most fastidious alderman; nor will the flowing bowls of the brands ‘Tommyhawk,’ or J.D.K.Z., be wanting to wash it down withal. Joking apart, however undesirable John may be in some respects as a colonist, we needn’t grudge him his fun and festivity, and we may at this time wish him in all sincerity ‘kung he fat soy.’
It’s the Year of the Tiger, and today’s my birthday. Four of us in my little family are tigers, born 1962, 1974, 1998 and 2010 (I’ll leave you to guess which year I was born).
With birthday thoughts in mind, here are a three stories celebrating the long lives of some early Chinese Australians.
George Moo-hong of Young
Market gardener George Moo-hong of Young celebrated his 104th birthday on 29 July 1954. He was born in around 1850 and arrived in Australia from China at the age of 25 (c.1875). In 1954 it was reported that he’d been living in the Young area for about 70 years.
Tasmanian patriarch James Chung Gon celebrated his 96th birthday on 23 July 1950; he was born c.1854. Chung Gon had started his life in Australia almost 70 years earlier, working as a tin miner then orchardist. He married in China, but his wife joined him in Tasmania and the couple had 11 children. The Tasmanian press noted the family’s celebration of the occasion, as it had each year since his 90th birthday.
Hobart resident Willie Chung Sing celebrated his 82nd birthday in late December 1945. Born in around 1863, he arrived in Tasmania as a young man in 1887, working for Ah Ham & Co. in Hobart, then running his own businesses in Launceston and Wellington (New Zealand), then once again returning to work as general manager at Ah Ham & Co. for 36 years. He made regular trips back to China, where his wife and children remained, and in 1946 was heading back again to rejoin his family.
Archives New Zealand has just put online a small collection of photographs of early Chinese settlers, men who lived in Otago in the late 19th/early 20th century. The online exhibition is called Chinese Portraits.
The photographs were attached to the men’s certificates of registration, the New Zealand equivalent of Australia’s CEDTs (and their colonial predecessors). The original records are held by Archives New Zealand’s Dunedin office.
The just-released second issue of Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies focuses on Chinese in Australasia and the southwest Pacific. It features articles by Barry McGowan, Mei-Fen Kuo, Benjamin Penny, Sophie Couchman and Brian Moloughney, among others. The journal is bilingual.
I was particularly interested to note Moloughney’s report on the project to create an online database from Alexander Don’s Roll of the Chinese. I have a hard copy of Don’s Roll, in the form of volume four of James Ng’s Windows on a Chinese Past (Otago Heritage Books, 1993-1999), but the potential of the database is great. I’ve been reading up on prosopography and last week attended a great conference on collective biography – and am quite taken by the idea of what databases like these can contribute to our understanding of the Chinese in Australia (or NZ). There are a whole bunch of records out there just crying to be turned into an in-depth prosopographical study!