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The history of Chinese laundries in New Zealand

15 OCTOBER 2019

Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust launches book on the history of Chinese laundries in New Zealand

Since 2014 the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust has commissioned the researching and publishing of important aspects of New Zealand Chinese history. Its focus is on the early settler Chinese community, most of whom came from a cluster of counties in southern Guangdong province. Starch Work by Experts: Chinese Laundries in Aotearoa New Zealand, by Dr Joanna Boileau, is the second in a planned a series of books about New Zealand’s Chinese heritage. The book will be launched at the Auckland Chinese Community Centre in Mangere on Sunday 20 October 2019 at 2pm. Launches will also be held in Wellington on Saturday 9 November at 10am (at the Wellington Chinese Sports and Cultural Centre) and Dunedin on Wednesday 27 November at 5.30 pm (at the Dunedin Public Library).

Chair of the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust Kai Luey says:

“As so many of the early Chinese settlers and their descendants have died, there is an urgent need to record their stories and memories for the benefit of future generations. Laundry work was one of the major occupations early Chinese settlers took up in New Zealand. In this new book Dr Boileau traces the rise and fall of Chinese laundries against the background of social and economic changes in New Zealand and major world events.”

For over 60 years, Chinese laundries were an integral part of our social fabric. From the 1880s to the 1950s they traded in the major cities and smaller towns, from Bluff to Dargaville. Starch Work by Experts is based on documentary research and oral history interviews around the country. In her book Dr Boileau challenges the stereotype of Chinese laundry work as menial and unskilled. She uncovers the daily lives of laundry people — their skill, hard work and resourcefulness.

The Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust was established in 2004 as a gesture of reconciliation by the New Zealand government. This followed Prime Minister Helen Clark’s formal apology in 2002 to poll-tax payers and their descendants for the actions of previous governments. These governments imposed a tax on Chinese persons entering the country from 1881 and enacted other discriminatory statutes. The Trust administers a fund initially resourced by the government to preserve and maintain the heritage, culture and language of the early Chinese settlers and their descendants.

The Poll Tax was finally abolished on 15 December 1944 and the Poll Tax descendant community will be celebrating the 75th Anniversary of this significant historical event later this year.

Dr Joanna Boileau is an historian specialising in the history of the Chinese in New Zealand and Australia. Her previous publications include Chinese Market Gardening in Australia and New Zealand: Gardens of Prosperity, published by Palgrave McMillan in 2017, and Families of Fortune: Chinese in the Tweed Valley, published by Tweed Shire Council in 2009.


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