Guest Contribution: Chinese New Year and the New Dawn in New Zealand

An honour and privilege to attend the inauguration NZ Citizenship ceremony with Mayor of Auckland Phil Goff (7 Feb 2017).

This piece is a guest contribution from David Wong, Deputy Chair – New Zealand Chinese Association Auckland Branch.

My childhood was experienced through the 1960s growing up in Wellington. My parents owned a small fruit shop in Berhampore and my brothers and I were the only New Zealand born Chinese sitting in a school classroom of Europeans, Pacific Islanders and Maori. Chinese New Year was celebrated very humbly with my mother cooking special dishes of fish, pork and rice and noodles with the occasional attendance at a function at one of the village association (Poon Far – as my parents were from that region in Guangzhou) halls to welcome in the new year.

I move forward forty years and my relocation here to Auckland and I am surrounded by a new demographic, a cultural and ethnic shift and a population transition that could never have been envisaged in my school days. I tried to research the 1970 year book to see how many Chinese were recorded as born here in New Zealand and how many were born in China and subsequently migrated. This metric was not evident through my research. I do know that there are now over 170,000 of Chinese descent in our current population (from the 2013 census).

So Chinese New Year for me has been a flurry of activity which abounds with tradition, linking to the Chinese community and celebrating the Year of the Rooster. The Auckland Chinese Community Centre continues to host the Chinese New Year Festival and Market Day at the ASB Showgrounds; an event that is well attended by key dignitaries including the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition and Mayor of Auckland. Over 20,000 people attend the event, buying various Asian foods, wares and delicacies and enjoying the variety acts from China – on the indoor/outdoor stages. In my role on the Orakei Local Board I had the pleasure of opening the Remuera Village Chinese New Year festival (with a few words of Mandarin to improve my inflexion) and it was great to see local primary schools participate in the traditional fan dancing, Shaolin martial arts and indigenous song and dance. My final Chinese new year event was our Rotary Chinese New Year fundraiser to help raise funds for Auckland Medical Research Foundation. And then some reflective time to walk through the Domain and experience the Lantern Festival.

With over 180 ethnicities in Auckland the cultural tapestry of the city and wider regions across New Zealand has taken a progressive and somewhat rapid shift. We, who were born here but have parents who came from offshore have embraced the Kiwi way of growing up – learning and living as all New Zealanders have the opportunity to do so. The new migrants bring their traditions and culture which over time like the Chinese New Year will be absorbed into our Kiwi way of life, a date in our cultural calendar and a time of collaboration and healthy community celebration. A time far advanced from my humble school days in Berhampore during the sixties.

David Wong
Deputy Chair – New Zealand Chinese Association Auckland Branch