Forty Years On: New Zealand-China relations then, now and in the years to come, edited by Chris Elder

This book is currently available in selected bookstores.

This slim volume is a skilfully edited digest of the proceedings of two symposia held incv_forty_years_on 2012 to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and China. These two symposia were organised by the Victoria University Contemporary China Research Centre, the New Zealand Institute of International Affairs, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. But don’t let those big names put you off! This is a very approachable book.

These symposia (one in Wellington, the other in Beijing) attracted some very high-powered, and knowledgeable, people including the Prime Minister and other political leaders, government officials, academics, business people and journalists. The two days’ deliberations have been, in the words of the preface, “marshalled so far as possible into broad subject areas” which cover a wide range. The establishment of the relationship between the two countries, the current state of relationships, its future challenges, past successes and difficulties, and effects both big and small, are all traversed.

The range of topics covered is enormous – and since the book is just 129 pages some have obviously had summary treatment. But the overall coverage is impressive. As well as the development of closer relationships, and the obvious trade and economic ties the deliberations included the cultural differences, NZ’s Chinese community, and the role of New Zealand and China in the regional (South Pacific) context.

The editor is well placed to tackle the task of summarising these deliberations. Remember Joe Walding? He lead the first mission to make direct contact with China at a ministerial level. He was accompanied by the editor, who at that time was a career diplomat. He returned to China as NZ Ambassador in 1993, and his wealth of experience shows in the way that these deliberations have been organised, and background material added where necessary.

Sections on the history and development of China-New Zealand relationship are valuable in putting the current situation and participants’ thoughts about what might happen in the future into context.

The book is well presented, with a few graphs and (mostly historical) photographs. Frequent asides help fill in the detail. Did you know that NZ is called the “Country of the Four Firsts” in China? That’s an indication of how advanced our relationships with China have been. Most of it is, perhaps surprisingly, easy to read   as the majority of the material is reporting direct speech I guess.

I approached this book with a certain amount of trepidation. I knew little about China-New Zealand relations other than that many things I bought were made in China, and that milk which might be contaminated with botulism is a hard sell. While not every section was equally gripping, I came away feeling much better informed, and I feel much more able to appreciate and understand many things I see in newspapers. One of the speakers refers to the level of ignorance about China in New Zealand being “still quite remarkable”. This book should shed some light into that darkness, and I’m glad I read it.

Reviewed by Gordon Findlay

Forty Years On: New Zealand-China relations then, now and in the years to come
edited by Chris Elder
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864739155    

Book Review – New Zealand’s China Experience by Chris Elder

cv_new_zealands_china_experienceThis book is in bookshops now

My King Country school principal of the 1950’s turned a blind eye to the dilemma: the Chinese-Maori pupils, could choose either to list themselves in the annual school census as Maori or Pakeha. There was no room on the census form for Chinese ethnicity: the boys of these families often chose to be Maori and the girls, Pakeha.

“Being Maori-Chinese is:// eating pork bones and puha with chopsticks” from Jenny Bol Jun Lee’s Jade Taniwha illustrates the dilemma very well and in many ways captures the essence of New Zealand’s China Experience edited by Chris Elder and published by Victoria University Press.

Designed to commemorate 40 years of diplomatic relations between New Zealand the People’s Republic of China, the book is a skillful compilation of historic records, illustrations, reports, poems and personal reflections, which manage to capture the simplicity, but also the complexity, of the relationship. It does not just deal with the 40 years of diplomatic relations but goes back to the 19th century and the role Chinese played in the development of New Zealand from the gold rushes of the South Island to developing the Dairy Industry in Taranaki.

In those early days and for much of the 20th Century the Chinese in New Zealand were treated with racist bigotry, including the imposition of the hugely discriminatory poll tax. Later, then Prime Minister Helen Clark apologised to the Chinese for the poll tax and other iniquitous restrictions (her apology is printed in full in the book) and Chew Chong features in the Business Hall of Fame for his crucial role in bankrolling the development of the dairy industry in Taranaki.

Many New Zealanders in China early last century were missionaries, doctors or nurses such as Kathleen Hall, George Shepherd and Barbara Spencer. The stories of lone rangers such as Rewi Alley (of yo banfa! and gung ho fame) and journalists including Rhodes Scholar James Bertram feature, as do the experiences of Chinese gold miners and refugees in New Zealand – not always good experiences.

The book carries much ephemera of the relationship: scattered throughout are posters, advertisements, cartoons, Rita Angus paintings and extracts from Mao’s Little Red Book. Extracts from fiction authors such as Dame Fiona Kidman and Alison Wong are also included along with numerous poems by both Chinese and New Zealand poets.

There is an extensive bibliography and an index of illustrations. However it does not have a general index which limits its usability in referencing.

By its nature and structure, the book is disjointed but nonetheless it is a very worthy commemorative of a relationship between a small country and a very large one. It is well published by Victoria University Press.

The relationship between the two countries has changed greatly over the 40 years but I wonder if the census form at Ruapehu College, Ohakune has changed to keep up with the times?

Reviewed by Lincoln Gould, CEO of Booksellers NZ

New Zealand’s China Experience
Edited by Chris Elder
Published by Victoria University Press
ISBN 9780864738370