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Past Discrimination Against Chinese Community

Govt Starts Reconciliation Process Over Past Discrimination Against Chinese Community

The government is calling for submissions on an appropriate form of reconciliation with the Chinese community following an apology for past discrimination, Prime Minister Helen Clark and Minister for Ethnic Affairs George Hawkins announced today.

At the Chinese New Year celebration at Parliament on 12 February, Helen Clark formally apologised to Chinese New Zealanders who paid a poll tax and suffered other discrimination imposed by statute and to their descendants in New Zealand from the late nineteenth century through to the mid twentieth century.

The Chinese Immigrants Act of 1881 imposed a poll tax of ten pounds per Chinese person and restricted the numbers able to enter the country to one person per ten tons of ship cargo. These provisions were increased and consolidated in legislation over the next few years. The poll tax rose to one hundred pounds per person and numbers entering the country were further severely restricted. The poll tax was last collected in 1934, but not repealed until 1944. No other ethnic group was subjected to such restrictions, or a poll tax.

Other legislative initiatives also singled out the Chinese:

- In 1908, Chinese people had to put a thumbprint on their Certificates of Registration before leaving the country - no other ethnic group had to leave thumbprints.

- Chinese people were deprived of their right to naturalisation in 1908 and this was not rescinded until 1951. No other ethnic group was deprived of this right.

- A reading test in English was introduced - other immigrants had only a writing test in their own language.

- Even in 1935 when entry permits were introduced after a suspension of 15 years for reunification of family and partners of Chinese people, they were severely restricted.

Helen Clark said the government wants to consult with representatives of the families of the early settlers on a form of reconciliation appropriate to, and of benefit to, the Chinese community.

“As a result of the consultation, recognition can be given to those who faced discrimination in the past, and to the success of their descendants. Although the past cannot be undone, reconciliation will allow us to put the past behind us and look to the future with new confidence.”

George Hawkins said anyone can make a submission, but the main effort is to ensure the issue is properly canvassed among the descendants of those who paid the poll tax, or were prevented from uniting their families because of it.

“The Office of Ethnic Affairs and representatives from the Chinese community have now developed a consultation process. Chinese organisations are telling their members about the consultation. Newspaper advertisements this week will urge community members to make their views known. A series of meetings starting May in main centres will provide an opportunity for discussion,” Mr Hawkins said.

There are full details of the submission process on


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