Chinese Language Week is coming

By Frank Neill | Otaki Mail

26 Aug 2021

Ni hao.

Chinese Language Week 2021 begins on 26 September with dumpling day, an opportunity for everyone to enjoy one of the famous elements of Chinese cuisine, and runs to 2 October.

Ōtaki College will have a full programme for the week, which it has organised in conjunction with the Confucius Institute. Based at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, the Confucius Institute is dedicated to promoting Chinese language teaching and to fostering international cultural and intellectual exchange.

Ōtaki College’s Chinese language week programme will focus on year 7 and 8 students.

It will feature a variety of activities, including the Chinese language, caligraphy, Chinese painting, Chinese drama, Chinese food, making dumplings, the tea ceremony and kung fu.

This represents a return to having activities for Chinese Language Week following a break of two years.

Covid-19 brought activities to a halt last year, and the year before there were resourcing issues for the college’s Chinese language programme.

In New Zealand’s school curriculum, Chinese Language Week supports the principles of cultural diversity and inclusion. It gives students the chance to experience and learn a new culture and language. Children can explore the values of diversity, community and respect, and see what it means to be part of a global community.

It is particularly appropriate that Chinese Language Week is celebrated in Ōtaki, given the long association of Chinese people with the town.

That goes back to before the turn of the 20th Century, when a number of Cantonese speaking Chinese arrived in Ōtaki, primarily from the Otago goldfields and from Wellington.

They leased land, as they were not permitted to own it, and they began market gardening for the Wellington markets.

By 1910, there were numerous market gardens operated by Chinese.

There are now few, if any, descendants of the early Chinese settlers, however. That was mainly because the immigration laws of the time provided for such a low annual quota for Asian entry that wives were not usually able to join their husbands in New Zealand. That situation gradually changed, however, giving rise to multi-generational Chinese families in the area.

By 1988 Chinese families resident in this area for at least two generations include some very well-known names: the Moys, Hings, Chongs, Chungs, Wings, Youngs, Gows, Yungs, Wongs, Sues and Yees.

Some of the town’s street names reflect this Chinese heritage.

This includes Jean Hing Place. When Jean Hing and her older son Brian unveiled the street sign on 22 August 2007, they were unveiling the first bilingual street sign in New Zealand.

Long before Ōtaki’s now famous kite festival was established, there was also a famous kite initiative in the town.

Moy Chin Poy began making kites and found a commercial outlet for his interest. People walking, cycling or driving down Main Street in the 1970s would have seen his “Kites For Sale” sign.

He sold a variety of very well made kites with prices ranging from about $3 to $4.

So there is plenty to celebrate for Ōtaki in Chinese Language Week this year.