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New Zealand apology to Chinese migrants

Helen Clark
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark  

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (Reuters) -- New Zealanders of Chinese origin have accepted a Lunar New Year apology from the government as a first step in healing old wounds caused by past discrimination towards their ancestors.

The government on Tuesday apologised to the South Pacific country's Chinese population for charging an expensive entry tax, begun in the 19th century and lasting till 1930, imposing much hardship on Chinese immigrants.

New Zealand Chinese Association president Goh Kuan Meng on Wednesday said Chinese -- representing about two percent of New Zealand's 3.9 million people -- had waited years for the apology and it was well received.

"It is a recognition of what happenned in the past and trying to put it right," Goh said. Chinese immigrants were forced to pay up to 100 pounds -- NZ$13,912 ($5,500) in today's money -- on arrival.

The legislation for the tax was in place until 1944 but the government stopped collecting the money in 1930.

Goh said a vein of resentment still ran through some families about the tax and other discriminatory practices enshrined in laws that were designed to keep Chinese -- dubbed the "yellow peril" in the press during the 19th century -- out of New Zealand in favor of white Europeans. Asia
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Prime Minister Helen Clark issued the apology at a dinner marking the Chinese Lunar New Year, saying that while past New Zealand governments might have acted within the law of the time, their actions were unacceptable by today's standards.

Ester Fung, an association branch president, said the apology was "a very good first step."

'Bucket on head'

Five of Fung's ancestors paid the tax, despite one of them, her grandmother, being born in Australia's New South Wales state.

Her grandfather was forced to wear a bucket on his head when he went hawking fruit and vegetables door to door for protection from stone-throwing anti-Chinese New Zealanders, she told dinner guests.

Chinese migrants were originally invited to come to New Zealand's South Island in the 1860s to work gold prospects abandoned by other miners.

But as they moved around the goldfields they suffered discrimination from Europeans, were often forced to work in the worst, least productive areas, and in some settlements were forced by local regulations to stay outside town limits.

Research prepared on behalf of New Zealand's Chinese Association said New Zealand governments received 308,080 pounds during the period the tax was levied.

David Wong, a third generation New Zealander who strove for 12 years with successive governments to extract the apology, said past wrongs against early immigrants had been suppressed for too long in New Zealand and the issue needed to be exposed.

"It (the apology) certainly allows us to openly discuss this which in the past people have felt very reluctant to do," Wong said.

"This is part of what we call the healing process, and if we use that in a positive way, a lot of good will come out."




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