Photographic Exhibition of Chinese

Auckland museum has a Chinese photographic exhibition. It’s a social history of Chinese people in New Zealand since the 1840s. The title of the exhibition is Making a Home; 175 years of Chinese Life in Aotearoa. The curator of the exhibition, Dr Phoebe Li, selected 100 photos out of more than 1,000. The photos came from Archives New Zealand, the National Library of New Zealand and from private collections. The exhibition was first shown in China and is now in Auckland. It will be at the museum until February 2018.

The photographs show how Chinese have made a home in this country over the last 175 years. The first Chinese man, Appo Hocton, arrived in Nelson in 1842. In 1856, he married a European woman, the widow of his neighbour, and when she died 9 years later, he married another European woman. He had 5 children. He became a very successful businessman and more than 1,000 people today are related to him in some way.

However, it was after 1865 when about 500 Chinese came to work in the gold fields of Central Otago, hoping for a better life. They came from Guangdong province in South China where there was famine. They did not get rich in New Zealand. Visitors to Queenstown can see some of their very poor homes beside the Arrowtown River. There are very few photos from these earlier days, of course, but Alexander Don, a Christian minister, had a camera. The Rev Don learnt Cantonese so that he could communicate with the Chinese gold miners. He kept diaries and wrote articles as well as taking many photos and that is how we know about their lonely lives.

In 1881, the New Zealand government introduced a poll tax on any Chinese coming to New Zealand. This made it too expensive for most of the Chinese miners to bring their wives. It wasn’t until the end of the poll tax in the mid 1930s that Chinese women came to New Zealand so most of the earlier photos show only men.

Many of the photos in the exhibition, however, show Chinese families. They show ordinary people, working in fruit and vegetable shops, laundries, market gardens or just doing what other Kiwi people were doing like going to the races or sitting in the garden. Some photos show children at home, school or play. They show Chinese making New Zealand their home.

The accompanying artwork and stories of contemporary Auckland show successful Chinese in the arts, sport and business in this country.


• curator – the person who put this exhibition together, she collected the photos and displayed them
• Archives New Zealand – has historic New Zealand documents, film and photos; it’s used by people doing research
• widow – wife of a man who has died
• famine – food crops failed so often people were starving to death
• poll tax – a tax for each person who arrived in New Zealand
• laundry – place where clothes are washed and ironed
• accompanying – together with the historic photographic exhibition
• contemporary – modern, things that show what life is like today


photograph (n), photographer (n) a person who takes photos, photographic (adj),


To take a photo of someone or something. e.g. I took a photo of my family
Someone took my photo.
I had my photo taken (by someone) – passive; eg. our graduation photos were taken outside the hall.


If you have been to this exhibition, what interested you most? Were there any surprises? Did you know that Chinese people have a long history in this country?

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