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History of Chinese settlers during NZ's gold rush to be taught in Otago schools

Hamish McNeilly

21 Jan 2023

Students in schools across Otago will soon learn about Chinese migrants and the hardships settlers faced, including racism and poverty.

It’s part of the Aotearoa New Zealand histories curriculum and will be launched at the historic Lawrence Chinese Camp, the birthplace of Chinese settlement to New Zealand during the gold rush.

Spokesperson Malcolm Wong said the social studies curriculum had not changed for “a number of years”, but an overhaul meant a new focus on New Zealand history, including colonisation and settlement.

There was also an opportunity to tell migrant stories, “and obviously in our neck of the woods the Chinese story features quite heavily”.

The University of Otago history department, social studies’ teachers and representatives from the New Zealand Chinese community meet to discuss the idea, Wong said.

Lesson plans and teacher resources were developed by Sun Gum Saan Limited, a charitable company jointly owned by the Dunedin Chinese Gardens Trust and the New Zealand Chinese Association Otago Southland Branch.

Sun Gum Saan translates from Cantonese to mean 'New Gold Mountain', and was a name used for New Zealand during the gold rush, which began in Gabriel’s Gully, Lawrence in 1861, and attracted miners from southern China.

The new resources, which had been peer reviewed, included information on early Chinese settlement and the various hardships settlers faced, including racism and poverty.

“But we don’t want to be seen as victims, we want to have some agency in the history.”

Other Chinese communities around New Zealand may be interested in replicating something similar, “but that remains to be seen”, Wong said.

Taieri MP Ingrid Leary said it was “right and fitting that the first Chinese histories materials developed for our schools emanate from this significant place”.

“Just as we need to hear our Māori stories, our farming stories and our Pacific stories, we also need to hear the stories of the many other diverse groups who came to this place and called it home.”

Further details would be made available at launch in Lawrence at 1pm on Sunday, January 29.

Te Takanga o Te Wā and Aotearoa New Zealand’s histories would be compulsory for students up to year 10 (14 years old), from this year.

Schools would be expected to teach students about Te Tiriti o Waitangi, the ongoing development of New Zealand’s national identity through immigration, and colonialism in the Pacific, including New Zealand’s role in colonisation through control of nations such as Samoa.

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