Re-Opening A Window On Otago’s Chinese Past

By Seán Brosnahan
Curator at Toitū Otago Settlers Museum
September 2014

A recent addition to the Dunedin Chinese Garden re-opens a window on the city’s Chinese past.  A selection of the interpretation panels on Otago Chinese history from the old “Windows on a Chinese Past” display at the museum next store have been installed.  When that display was dismantled during the 2012 redevelopment, the panels went into storage, occasionally being brought out for use by school parties.  That seemed rather a waste since the story the panels tell is just as relevant as it ever was.  So the panels have now been dusted off and placed in the corridor by the scholar’s officer in the Garden.  The selected panels give a brief overview of the Chinese presence in Otago and profile some notable personalities from the community: Choie Sew Hoy, Matilda Lo Keong, C.C. Ding, Chin Yee Ngan Ang, Chin Fooi and Eddie Chin, and Hugh Sew Hoy.

Elsewhere the fabulous group panorama of the Dunedin Chinese community at its ‘Double Tenth’ celebration in 1940 has also been put on display (in the stairway to the Tower room).  The ‘Double Tenth’ refers of course to 10 October, the date of the 1911 uprising that ended 2,000 years of Imperial rule in China and ushered in the first Chinese Republic.  This day was a major celebration for Dunedin’s Chinese community in times past. Businesses would shut and a communal picnic was held.  The 1940 celebration is notable for the presence for perhaps the first time of Chinese wives and children.  They were in New Zealand as war refugees but strictly on a temporary basis.  Ultimately, however,  the wartime ‘refugees’ were allowed to stay and our modern Dunedin Chinese community of extended family groups came into being.