‘Kung he fat soy’, Otago, 1884

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!

Chinese gold miners at Muddy Creek, Waikaia, on the Otago goldfields (National Library of New Zealand 1/2-019165-F)
Chinese Festivities

Thames Star, 6 February 1884

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.’


  1. Trevor Agnew says:

    Dear Kate

    It is good news that you will be following the path of the Cantonese miners of Victoria who were invited to come to the Otago gold fields.

    These miners’ celebration of Chinese New Year is interesting because they made a point of inviting Europeans to join the festivities. The ‘Papers Past’ website [https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/] has many accounts. Here are a few samples.

    You will notice that John Alloo (mentioned in the last item) who worked in Otago as an interpreter and a constable, was one of the Cantonese who had come over from Victoria. He ran a restaurant in Ballarat, and a replica of it can be seen at Sovereign Hill. Many of his descendants have been important figures in New Zealand’s legal system.

    Kate, I hope your visit is equally successful.

    Bon voyage,
    Trevor Agnew

    1871 (Mar)
    Otago Witness, 4 March 1871, page 14

    ‘News of the Week
    We learn from the Cromwell Argus that the Chinese throughout the goldfields celebrated the advent of their New Year with the usual feastings and rejoicings. Large numbers of fowls, ducks, geese, and pigs, besides unlimited quantities of rice, flour, ale and porter, brandy, &c, &c. were consumed on this festive occasion;, and there was a general cessation of work among the Chinese miners on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.’

    1873 (Jan)
    Lake Wakatip Mail, 29 January 1873, page 2

    ‘Yesterday and to-day the Mongolians of this district and, it is to be presumed, wherever else located—have been celebrating the close of their old, and the advent of their new year. Tomorrow (Thursday) being New Year’s Day, there is to be greater feasting, which, we understand, will be continued, more or less, to the end of the week. The claims of the Chinese miners are protected for fourteen days, and the Companies at the Big Beach and other centres keep open houses, where all—especially the European “barbarians” are hospitably received and made welcome to partake of the varied dishes of unaccountable mixtures prepared on such an august occasion.’

    1873 (Feb)
    Lake Wakatip Mail, 5 February 1873, page 2

    ‘The Governor has forwarded the following reply to the Chinese addresses, which were presented to him during his recent visit to the Wakatip:—” The Governor has received, with much pleasure, the two addresses presented to him by the Chinese miners of Queenstown, iu which they assure him of their loyalty to the Queen, and of their earnest desire to conform to the laws of this colony. Wherever the British flag flies, all persons under its protection are entitled to equal justice in the Courts, and to equality before the law.

    His Excellency is glad to learn that friendly relations, honorable to all parties, continue to exist between the Europeans and the Chinese in the province—G. F. Bowen.”

    The Chinese New Year was celebrated with great rejoicing at Big Beach, Shotover, on Thursday last, the 30th ultimo.[30 Jan 1873] The feast being thrown open to all comers, many Europeans, from curiosity as well as good will, availed themselves of the opportunity of acquiring some insight into “ye manners and customs of ye Celestials,” and received a hearty welcome.

    At half-past 3 o’clock the visitors sat down to dinner, which consisted of fowl, roast pork, Chinese vegetables, custards, wines, spirits, &c; after which some prominent residents of Queenstown returned thanks to the Chinese for the reception received at their hands, and then adjourned for the purpose of witnessing a grand display of crackers, which were fired off in commemoration of the day.

    Mr Worthington then read the Governor’s address (or rather reply) to the Chinese address. Messrs John Alloo (the interpreter) and Ham Tie made a few remarks, and the affair broke up with hearty cheers for the welfare of all parties. There were about thirty or forty Europeans present.’

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