by Philip Ferguson
The subordination of China and the racialisation of the Chinese
If it is the social position occupied by Chinese migrant workers, especially in the labour market, which underlay the process of racialisation in the broader society in the later 1800s, not vice versa, those overseeing the process may already have had stereotyped views of the nature of Chinese labour. These particular views can be explained through the reversal of the positions of Europe and China between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
The first important Western account of China, by Marco Polo, was overwhelmingly positive and enjoyed wide influence. Even more enthusiastic was the Franciscan friar Odoric, whose fourteenth century account was also popular and influential. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries China was highly respected by Jesuits who, experiencing the country first-hand, developed “an especially high regard for the Chinese civilisation” and sent back favourable reports to Europe. Admiration for China reached its height during the Enlightenment. For Goethe, for instance,
He who knows himself and other
Will also recognise that East and
West cannot be separated
For the French Enlightenment intellectual Voltaire, the East was the civilisation “to which the West owes everything”. Among these debts were, as Joseph Needham has noted, many of the scientific and technical achievements of western Europe. Far from being seen as a backward country, marked by despotic rulers and a slavish population, China was used by Enlightenment intellectuals such as Pierre Bayle in the late 1600s and Voltaire in the 1700s as a positive example of toleration, political freedom, reason and progress and used as an argument for these in Europe itself. Rationality, rather than Oriental despotism, was seen to rule in China and this was contrasted favourably to the ancien regime clinging to power in Europe. Francois Quesnay, the founder of political economy, “regarded China’s despotism as benign” and saw Chinese agriculture as a model. While European images of China in the eighteenth century were dominated by France, in Britain, too, respect for China was substantial, although more restrained than on the Continent. Essayist and diplomat Sir William Temple thought China’s excellence “endless” and the result of “sense and wisdom, beyond what we meet in any other government in the world.” Adam Smith also presented a “basically positive” view of China. British Deists were particularly attracted to China where belief was seen as being based on rationality rather than revelation. China also influenced Britain in the cultural and artistic realms. German Lutheran logician and mathematician Leibniz regarded China highly and “worked much of his life for cultural interchange” between it and Europe. The period from the mid-1600s to mid-1700s saw European images of China at their most positive, amounting to sinomania.
In the late 1700s a more critical and less flattering view of China began to emerge in Europe. Some intellectuals, such as Rousseau in Nouvelle Heloise, began shifting their ideal to the ‘noble savage’; others, such as Condorcet in Sketch of a Historical Picture of the Human Mind, saw Europe becoming the centre for rationality and human emancipation and progress through events such as the French revolution of 1789. Indeed, Montesqieu had already sounded several sour notes in relation to China, but essentially “a very much bleaker picture of China (emerged) in the imperialist nineteenth century.” China began to be seen as unfree and an obstacle to progress. But it was not until some decades later, most specifically after the Opium War of 1839-42 and the rise of ideas within Europe which focussed on social divisions as innate products of human difference, that disillusionment with China turned into contempt for the Chinese and a racialised discourse emerged in relation to them. In the intervening period, the first decades of the nineteenth century, there was still a substantial amount of good-will and favour towards the Chinese, certainly on the part of Europeans in Southeast Asia who had dealings with them.
For instance, Appendix 1 of Wakefield’s 1833 work (volume 2) is called “Proofs of the Industry, Skill and Commercial Disposition of the Chinese People”. At this stage, the Chinese are seen as filling diverse economic roles rather than as being confined to the position of ‘coolie’ labour. Indeed, there is no mention of the Chinese in relation to this kind of labour at all among the range of people whose testimony appears in the Appendix. One of the people cited, Sir George Staunton, noted that the then-Dutch Batavia could hardly have existed without the “industry and ingenuity” of the Chinese who carried on, reported British resident Barrow, an extraordinarily wide range of activities from commerce and tax-collecting to “every trade and profession that are indispensably necessary for making the state of civilized society tolerably comfortable.” A Mr Finlayson in his 1822 account of the Mission to Siam and Hue, speaks of the Chinese at Penang as muscular, animated and energetic, “a people highly valuable as settlers, by reason of their industrious and regular habits, who had established on this spot the mechanical arts, on a scale which might even vie with that of the European artists”, and notes their adventurousness and eagerness as traders. John Francis Davies saw a clear distinction between the Chinese rulers and the Chinese people and thought that “The Chinese, if left by their rulers to themselves, would perhaps be the most industrious people in the world.”
John Deans, a resident of the Eastern Archipelago (now Indonesia) for twenty years and a businessman with extensive dealings with the Chinese believed they were as good at carrying on business as the Europeans, while John Crawfurd thought that in terms of business and industry their “manners more resemble Europeans”. Testifying before the Select Committee on the Affairs of the East India Company in the late 1820s, Crawfurd pointed out that Chinese wages in Singapore were noticeably higher than those of other workers – for instance, double those of Malay workers – due to Chinese greater skill and ingenuity. He commented that while the Chinese lived apart from people of other nations they also lived apart from each other, with different classes of Chinese living in different areas. At the same time, Chinese men – there were virtually no Chinese women migrating to other parts of Asia – continuously intermarried with the people of the countries to which they migrated in the region. Yet by the second half of the nineteenth century views of the Chinese had changed dramatically.
One of the most important events in bringing this about was the Opium War of 1839-42 and the unequal treaties which followed it. In attempting to force the opium trade on China, the British state had relatively little trouble and, as Stavrianos has noted:
“the hopeless military inferiority of the Chinese became obvious. With a squadron of ships and a few thousand men, the British were able to seize port after port at will. The Chinese fought valiantly. Their garrisons often resisted to the last man. But the odds against the non-Europeans were even worse now than they had been between the conquistadors and the Aztecs. European warships and artillery had improved immeasurably between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, whereas Chinese military technology had stagnated at a level little above that of Aztec capabilities.”
So primitive was Chinese military technology that when they tried to recover the city of Ningpo which had been captured by the British, part of their ‘weaponry’ was a group of nineteen monkeys with fire-crackers tied to their backs. The crackers were to be lit and the monkeys flung aboard British ships in the hope that something on the ships would catch fire and the flames spread until reaching the powder-magazines. In the event, “no-one ever dared go near enough to the foreign ships to fling them on board”, recorded Pei Ch’ing-ch’iao, a member of the Chinese force. Chinese war junks also carried stones, lances, pikes and swords, none of which were a match for British warships and armed steamers.
The stagnation of Chinese military technology reflected the state of Chinese society itself over the previous several centuries. The European countries leapt ahead of China in terms of social, economic and scientific development and the beginnings of democratic representation. Civilisations which had fallen behind Western Europe were not seen to have done so because of the absence of the socio-economic factors which had made capitalism possible in Europe, but for ‘natural’ reasons – there was something in the make-up of the people of these countries which made it impossible for them to develop beyond a certain point. As Europe forged further ahead in the later 1800s, countries like China were seen not only to have stood still, but to have regressed. This conception of the Chinese was also an outgrowth of the notion of regression which arose in Europe in relation to lower social classes and the naturalisation of inequality, discussed in chapter one.
The Opium War had been in the immediate sense about the desire of British business interests to enforce the opium trade on China through utilising the British state. But the British also wished to displace the Chinese in dominating trade and commerce in Southeast Asia and to remove Chinese imperial restrictions on British manufactures. While unequal treaties and extra-territoriality were thus economically-motivated, rather than racially-driven, they also had a racialising effect. They placed the Chinese in an inferior position in practice. Unequal treaties formalised British power in relation to a now subordinate China. This in itself might not have been enough to lead to a racialised view of the Chinese, since wars between European countries generally led to unequal treaties of one variety or another. But extra-territoriality was never used by European powers in their wars with each other because it was not necessary for trade and access to each other’s markets. If in China extra-territoriality was necessary to ensure freedom for British business, it nevertheless, by its very nature, both created the practice and established the idea that no Chinese, whoever they were, and even in their own country, was fit to govern – or even judge a criminal act by – a British person. The Chinese were thus made inferior to British, and later other Europeans, in China itself. If the Chinese in China were to occupy such an inferior position, then Chinese in places ruled by Europeans were going to be seen – and treated – as even more inferior. Over the course of the nineteenth century, Mackerras notes, “the balance between positive and negative images (of China) shifted decisively away from the former and towards the latter.” Moreover, it was now Britain, the leading industrial power in the world, which was the chief “formulator of Western images of China.” Essentially, as he puts it,
“The newly industrializing and supremely confident West now saw a declining China with eyes totally different from those with which their predecessors of not long before had viewed an empire which appeared to be at the height of its glory.” 
The development of racialised thinking in Europe and the actual subordination of China to Britain meant that after the 1850s China began to be seen, as Charles Price has put it, as a “perverse, semi-civilized breeding ground for swarming inhuman hordes”. Ideas that China was a tyranny, full of injustice and oppression, a cruel land in which human dignity was virtually unknown, characterised by stagnation, poverty and indigence, became increasingly common. By the early 1880s, the period of the first anti-Chinese legislation in New Zealand, China scholar S. Wells Williams was describing China as having “a kind and degree of moral degradation of which an excessive statement can scarcely be made, or an adequate conception hardly be formed.” Such images crop up repeatedly, as we shall see, in the debates in New Zealand over Chinese immigration.
The parliamentary debates over the 1881 Chinese Immigrants Act
The 1881 Act in New Zealand punished with a fine of up to £10 any British vessel – and non-British vessels according to measurements regulating British ships – having on board more than one Chinese per ten tonnes of the tonnage of the vessel. Ships masters were to provide Customs with a list of Chinese on board, including their name, place of birth, apparent age, and former place of residence. With the exception of crew members on shore leave, no Chinese could land before a £10 poll tax was paid. The Chinese were to pay the ships’ master who would then pay Customs on their behalf and be supplied with a certificate for each Chinese who had paid. The money collected through the poll tax was to go into the Consolidated Fund. Chinese not paying could be fined up to £10, and masters up to £20. Chinese already resident in New Zealand had two months to apply for a certificate of exemption.
How do the actual debates confirm or challenge the existing accounts in relation to the factions in the House of Representatives and the Legislative Council?
Since these debates have been generalised about in only the most superficial manner, and to ensure that an abundance of evidence is sampled, it is necessary to go into them in some detail. Firstly, the arguments put forward in support of the bill will be looked at, followed by the views of the opponents who wanted stiffer legislation. Next the views of the opponents will be examined and I will consider whether they fit the category of ‘liberal humanitarians’ who supported free entry for the Chinese, as suggested in Hall and Murphy. Finally, I shall look at the class position of those who spoke in the debates, and whether these coincide with existing interpretations or not, and what additional inferences and/or generalisations it might reasonably be possible to make.
In the House, the bill’s final support was 36-23; in the Council it passed by a much larger margin – 13-2. Even an amendment put before the final vote in the Council – that the legislation not come into operation until Chinese numbers reached two percent of the population – was defeated by 14-7.
There was overwhelming agreement in both the House and the Council that Chinese immigration had to be restricted; the differences were over whether the numbers should be prevented from getting any larger at all or whether they should be allowed to increase to a total which would still be tiny, before the doors should be shut. During the debate highly racialised thinking about the Chinese is often presented. The sole individual who spoke for “the right of the Chinese to come to New Zealand unimpeded”, was Colonel Brett, a Canterbury member of the Legislative Council associated more with progressive causes than his fellow members whom Murphy sees as liberal humanitarians. Brett’s speech is a damning indictment of British policy towards China and, remarkably, in the light of the comments of his colleagues in both houses, free from racialised thinking and any slurs at all on the Chinese.
In the House the first speaker was Joseph Shephard (Waimea). Shephard generally opposed the government, but supported them on this bill. He spoke of “the vices and diseases we fear may be introduced into the colony if the influx of these people is not checked”. These “vices” had already been introduced by the Chinese, he claimed, into some parts of America. In parts of San Francisco, “certainly no woman or child can enter there without being liable to insult and pollution”. Diseases had been introduced into the USA by the Chinese and spread among the general population. Shephard also argued that a Chinese worker in New Zealand could live on half the wages of a European labourer and still “save money and go back to his country comparatively wealthy.” He declared that support for European labour was an important aspect of his support for the bill. The “wages class”, he claimed, feared the “swarming in” of “tens of thousands” of Chinese and would work better if they knew legislators “were endeavouring to protect them against this unfair competition.” The “wages class”, however, was far from his only concern. In his view:
“. . . all this talk about our country being open to all the human race, and welcoming with open arms any man who chooses to come here, is mere sentimental claptrap. We are endeavouring to reproduce here something like the great countries of Europe, but we are also endeavouring to conduct our affairs on better principles, and to get rid of those things which are now keeping down the great body of the people in the countries of the Old World. I believe the House will greatly regret not at once taking steps to prevent this great evil coming upon the people of this country.”
His speech is particularly interesting in relation to the original Wakefieldian vision of New Zealand settlement and the way in which this came up against the realities of colonial capitalism. Wakefield, as we saw earlier, was forced very early on to abandon – or substantially modify – his original vision of New Zealand as a slice of England by the realities of an acute labour shortage which threatened Canterbury in the very first years of its existence. In order to overcome that labour shortage, Wakefield and his closest associates moved to bring in Chinese workers. Three decades later, the only way that New Zealand could be maintained as a slice of England, albeit with (as Wakefield had envisioned) a more prosperous labouring class and some social mobility, was through the enforcement of a racialist regime in the form of legislation such as the 1881 Act and those which followed it. The labourer with a ‘sufficiency’ was to be white and only white.
During the debate over the bill, an attempt was made to stiffen its prohibitiveness by increasing the tonnage per Chinese allowed into the country from 10 to 50 tonnes. The amendment was moved by Wellington City MHR William Hutchison when the House went into committee at the end of the first session in which it was discussed. All the members of the Ministry who were MHRs supported maintaining the ten tonnes, rather than raising it to fifty. Hall (Premier and Commissioner for Customs, who was also Acting Minister for Public Works), Dick (Colonial Secretary and Minister of both Justice and Education), Atkinson (who was Colonial Treasurer and Commissioner of Stamps), Rolleston (Minister of Lands and Immigration, and also of Mines and for Native Affairs), and Johnston (Postmaster General and Commissioner of Telegraphs) all voted.
At the start of the third reading Grey Valley MHR Richard Harman Jeffares Reeves moved that the £10 poll tax should instead be £50. The opposition to this amendment was not a liberal humanitarian one, let alone based on respecting the right of unimpeded entry by Chinese migrants. Colonial Treasurer Atkinson said that the bill in its existing form was almost identical to that recently passed in Queensland and this had effectively checked Chinese immigration there, while having the further merit of being acceptable to the British Crown. (The British Crown, of course, had to take into account broader diplomatic relations with China and, at least partly, subordinate the prejudices of its white dominions to these global considerations.) Stiffening the provisions of the bill would, argued opponents of the amendment, lead to it being unacceptable to the Crown. In such a situation the trickle of Chinese immigrants – presented by both sides as virtually a raging torrent – would continue. Here, then, the argument was one of how to most effectively exclude Chinese, not one between those who wanted to exclude them and those who wanted to welcome them on the same basis as Europeans. Reeves’ counter-argument was that the Queensland legislation had not halted Chinese immigration; his argument also revealed a terminology frequently applied to the Chinese. For instance the Chinese never simply entered a country, they poured or swarmed in. He claimed Chinese were still pouring into Queensland and that “. . . they came there as slaves brought by capitalists and were obliged to work for a certain prescribed time before they could free themselves.” This was occurring in New Zealand Employers would think nothing of paying the £10 fee and so stiffer measures would be needed “against a great influx of the ‘yellow agony’. . .”
Newtown MHR William Swanson stated that he wanted the tightest possible restriction but would stick to the bill’s provision of one Chinese per ten tonnes and a £10 poll tax if a more restrictive ratio would not be acceptable to the British government. If these proved insufficient to keep out the Chinese, he “would be willing to double or treble the penalty and the tonnage. It would be a very small thing to do that; but to have the Bill thrown back in their faces would not be a small thing by any means.” Rangitikei MHR Sir William Fox claimed that the New Zealand government was sending it to Britain under the guise of being a ‘fiscal measure’ whereas it was really a measure to prohibit Chinese entry. He voted for the £50 amendment in order to sabotage the bill as a whole, through making clear, when it went to Britain, that it was a bill of “absolute prohibition”. While he stated that he would not vote for a bill “with a lie on the face of it”, he did not express any reservations in principle about excluding Chinese. Atkinson declared that he favoured the existing bill but would vote for £50 if he thought that would get passed in Britain. Waimea MHR Joseph Shephard agreed with Atkinson and said the restrictions could always be increased in the future. Waikouiti MHR George McLean pointed out that it was an electioneering bill but said that he too “should be sorry to see a large number of Chinese coming into the country”. He felt the £10 poll tax would be enough to keep them out.
It is also important to situate the 1881 debate, over how best to keep Chinese out of New Zealand, in the context of growing recession. Some members of the House and the Council – like some newspapers, trade unionists and workers – saw restrictions on Chinese as economically important. For Tuapeka MHR James Clark Brown, for instance, the rigid restrictions of the 1881 legislation would
“relieve the Government from the demands made by the unemployed. In mining districts the large quantity of ground worked by Chinese would be left to the ordinary European labourer, and the Government. . . would be able to satisfy the demand for employment without being obliged to make special provision in that respect.”
James Wallis, MHR for the City of Auckland West, complained that “strong prejudices” had been stirred up against the Chinese by “the lowest class of our newspapers” which were trying “to ingratiate themselves with the loafers of New Zealand.” He also declared his disagreement with Wellington City MHR and anti-Chinese legislator William Hutchison that it was the duty of legislators to maintain high wages, stating “(I)t is not our duty to do anything of the kind.” Yet having criticised the newspapers and “loafers” for anti-Chinese prejudice in the country, he then argued, “it is the duty of the Government to take into consideration these prejudices, to make allowance for them, and to legislate accordingly.” And he went on to state:
“We are justified in trying to spread the Anglo-Saxon race, at any rate the Aryan type of humanity, as widely as we can. We desire that these Australian lands which we hold in our hands shall be peopled by the type to which I have referred, and that they shall not be handed over to the domination of a Mongolian population. We want the British people to spread over these lands, and we must adopt such means as may be necessary to prevent our country being inundated by the Mongolian.”
Wallis saw the issue of living standards as important, arguing that when the standard of living is low, people are moving towards “barbarism” and when it is high they are rising in the scale of civilisation. The English and their dependencies had achieved a high standard of living and it was, in his view, the MHRs’ duty not to allow it to be lowered. A European population in Australia and New Zealand was seen as the
“only way of maintaining European standards of living. If the Chinese become too numerous the consequence will be that our standard of living will be reduced to their level instead of the Chinese standard being raised to our level. Again that justifies the action of the Government.”
What is revealed here is the notion of the Chinese as degraded labour, having the natural effect of dragging down European labour. What are fundamentally economic relations are being understood in racial terms. Whereas the price of labour is actually set in the market, a human creation, and living standards are formed by that price and its relation to the prices of other commodities, here living standards are seen as inherent in ‘races’. In particular, being Chinese is seen to mean, inherently, a lower standard of living. This lower standard of living is then seen as having the power to spread, like an infection – or ‘yellow agony’ – dragging down the standard of living of European labourers. In this discourse, it never appears to politicians, including those seeking working class support, to ask why the standard of living of the Chinese labourers cannot be raised to that of the Europeans or why they cannot be equalised at an even higher level than the existing European workers’ standard of living. The workings of the market, most especially in this case the labour market, have been naturalised and so the different levels of socio-economic existence of the different strata of the workforce are also naturalised, specifically in racial terms. It is thereby assumed that nothing can be done to alter this, and the only solution is to keep out the racialised sub-section of the working class, the Chinese.
Wallis was not unaware of the contradictions of the Government’s position, noting that on the one hand “we profess to believe in perfect equality between man and man – the common brotherhood of the human race; and yet we are passing a Bill which is actually intended to interrupt our intercourse with one-third of the human race. . .” He also disagreed with those who saw the Chinese as “half-savages” and pointed to two-three thousand years of Chinese civilisation to which he felt the West was indebted. Nevertheless, one of his worries was that if Chinese continued to come to New Zealand they would see the difference between “our professions and practice” and return to China “to inform their countrymen of the inconsistencies they had seen.” This, he felt, “would be most disastrous to the work of the missionaries.” Thus the appearance of certainty about European superiority was underpinned by a strong sense of the fragility of this superiority.
Andrews, the sole ‘working man’ in the House, spoke only during the second reading of the bill, declaring the Chinese to be “the most undesirable settlers for this country. They are not a class of beings with whom we can safely associate. . .” He raised the spectre of their “horrible diseases” and suggested the bill needed to go further and be “so amended that it will keep the country free from anything that would have a tendency to contaminate the people living in it.”
In the Legislative Council, George Marsden Waterhouse of Wellington criticised “these days of bigotry, malevolence, and uncharitableness, so far as the Chinese are concerned” before going on to say that he felt that the most salient quality of the Chinese “which rendered them undesireable citizens” was “the undoubted fact that they are filthy in the extreme.” He claimed that for anything up to thousands of years they had been accustomed to a “vitiated atmosphere” which, while fatal to Europeans was for the Chinese “a necessity”. Waterhouse told the Council members of his visit to an orphanage in Hong Kong where he had found that European and Chinese children were physically separated. The Lady Superior had told him that whereas European children required a certain amount of fresh air, such fresh air would be “absolutely fatal to Chinese children”. Through natural selection, claimed Waterhouse, the Chinese race could not live except “huddled together in such a manner and in such an atmosphere as would be fatal to Europeans. . . An atmosphere that would be absolutely poisonous to Europeans is breathed not only with safety but with pleasure by Chinamen.” This, he argued, was why you could not have Chinese living together in European cities.
Dr James Menzies (Otago) saw usefulness in the Chinese as “excellent servants, cheap labour” but was fearful of their “vices so objectionable” and the way they were “pouring in” to Australia. Menzies linked racial purity, patriotism and equality. The Chinese, he said, repeating a view also expressed the day before, “are amongst us but not of us.” Colonists should be “of such a kind as will share with ourselves in a common feeling of patriotism – who will be likely to occupy the position of social equality with ourselves. The Chinese could never occupy that position. . .” Additionally, “We do not want to leave behind us a race who can look on us and the Chinese as their common ancestors. “
One of the most forthright anti-Chinese members of the Legislative Council was Captain Fraser (Otago) who declared “the strongest objection to these Asiatic Turanians, with their loathsome diseases, and their accumulated dark and hideous vices consequent on five thousand years of arrested civilization, coming here, robbing our land of the gold and our people of bread. He claimed that the Chinese had been driven out of India in the fifteenth century “(b)ecause of their hideous and abominable vices”. While the arrival of the Chinese had halved the price of vegetables, people eating these vegetables should fry them first because, he claimed, the Chinese liberally used manure, including human excrement. Fraser also claimed the Chinese were taking over Honolulu and “threatened to swarm every place they went to.”
John Nathaniel Wilson (Hawkes Bay) strongly supported the bill and was “only sorry that it does not go far enough.” While the bill had “been brought forward to attract popularity for the Government” it was supportable “on many grounds.” Among these were the Chinese character. While the Chinese were thrifty, “they set the example of thrift in the worst possible form. They live in such a state of filth and misery that they at once disgust any decent person.” No parliamentarian who opposed the Bill , said Wilson, would like to see “our people frugal in the same manner.” Henry Herman Lahmann (Westland) held that the voice of the labouring class, especially the miners, was for halting Chinese immigration. He suggested that the manner in which Chinese in Greymouth lived would “find very little favour with Europeans”. “Reliable sources” had suggested that “thousands more” Chinese were expected arrive, especially on the West Coast. John Thomas Peacock (Canterbury) said that the bill was not a “liberal bill, but nevertheless I shall support it.” He favoured keeping those Chinese already here who were industrious and healthy – while raising the spectre of their replacement “by others having loathsome diseases” – and therefore suggested a departure tax as well as an arrival tax. Given the numbers of people which large ships could carry, he said, it was easy for hundreds of Chinese to arrive frequently. This meant that “it would be a very great mistake” to defer for one moment longer in passing the bill. Peacock also raised the spectre of Chinese paupers who would not only add to the class of paupers already in existence but also “come to prevent our artisan classes gaining a respectable livelihood. . .” He wanted “to see labour as cheap as possible” but opposed its use “to grind down the European labourer.” White labour “would find its level in time”, while “the colony (would be) very much the worse” for having cheap labour of the Chinese kind.
It is worth looking at the arguments put forward by opponents of the Bill in the Council to see on what basis they opposed it and how their arguments might, or might not, fit into the dominant historiographical presentation of a Legislative Council strongly inclined to liberal humanitarianism and open entry for the Chinese.
Henry Scotland (Taranaki) felt his opposition to the bill was futile – “the dog has got a bad name, and it must be hanged”, he noted – but went on to make a powerful denunciation of it. He argued the Chinese were “of great benefit to the colony” and a “necessity” as “they only do work which white men will not do.” It did New Zealanders no credit to treat them in the manner proposed by the bill. Scotland also compared the ‘welcome’ given the Chinese by white New Zealand with the welcome pakeha had received from Maori, and suggested pakeha had done much more harm to Maori than the Chinese had done to pakeha. Future generations would be “thoroughly ashamed and thoroughly astonished at what their progenitors have done, for it is simply an inhuman and barbarous measure.” In the end, however, Scotland did not vote on the legislation.
Mathew Holmes (Otago) declared that one of the crucial things to consider was the “prerogatives of the Crown in consequence of the treaties made between the Imperial Government and China.” He went on to criticise “a black catalogue of crimes” in relation to China, such as forcing the opium trade on that country and he attacked the indiscriminate killing of Chinese men, women and children during the Opium War. In his view, the Chinese had been “systematically wronged by us in the past, and I hope that we shall now pause in our wrongdoing, and begin to deal out even-handed justice to them.” Holmes saw the Chinese as “a most inoffensive, industrious and frugal people” and pointed out that Chinese numbers in Australia and California were decreasing rather than increasing, so there was little likelihood of New Zealand being “overrun”. In his view, the Bill was the result of the recent Inter-Colonial Conference in Sydney which had left aside big issues such as federation and tariffs and been steered by leading Australian political figure Graham Berry in the direction of the Chinese immigration issue. While much of Holmes’ speech was sympathetic to the Chinese, on a humanitarian basis, he also “set my face against protection in any shape” and criticised the Bill for effectively offering protection to labour. Part of his concern, then, is with a free labour market. He also declared that he was“not desirous of seeing the country overrun with Chinese” and that he had “never myself employed them, nor do I intend to do so”. He also stated, “I must vote against the Bill”, which, in fact, he did not.
Dr Daniel Pollen of Auckland suggested that there was no urgency as the Chinese population had increased very little since 1871. At that time the special committee established to investigate the Chinese had found that the allegations against them were generally groundless. Since then the Chinese population had scarcely changed, while the European population had substantially increased, so it was “very doubtful whether this Bill is required.” It had, however, “been noted in other countries that propositions for legislation of this kind are very usual at particular periods, and that those periods always recur upon the eve of a general election.” Pollen also pointed to the 1876 report by a committee of the US Congress to inquire into the situation in California which noted, “the resources of California and the Pacific Coast have been more rapidly developed with the cheap and docile labour of Chinese than they would have been without this element.” New Zealand was currently offering bonuses for the establishment of such industries, he argued. The Chinese had the further merit that “having done the hard work in the first instance, (they) generally dropped out and returned to work more suited to their particular physique and character.” Even where the Chinese still “monopolized” any employments, these were “chiefly of a menial character” and thereby “left the European labour to be employed in more befitting occupations.” Thus Pollen’s support for the Chinese was not based on humanitarian principle; instead a large part of his argument revolved around the advantages of the Chinese as cheap labour. He was also not opposed to limiting Chinese entry in principle. He stated that he would not oppose such a Bill if, after it had been publicly discussed, there was a popular feeling in favour of it. While he would vote against a second reading of the Bill, if it continued he would try to get a clause inserted “making the time at which it shall come into operation dependent upon the existence of a certain proportion of Chinese in the colony in comparison to the whole number of the European population.”
Attorney-General Frederick Whitaker of Auckland pointed out the small number of Chinese in the country. He noted that in 1874 there were 4,816 Chinese compared to a European population of 294,698, while in 1881, the number of Chinese had declined to around 4,600 compared to around 490,000 Europeans. A lot of exaggerated statements had been made about the Chinese, the 1871 Select Committee had shown the allegations to be largely unfounded and there was no danger of the country being swamped by them. Yet, having said all this, Whitaker went on to state that things had changed since 1871 and the Chinese now represented a threat. Despite the figures he gave, he claimed that the rapid increase of Chinese in California would be repeated in New Zealand. In California, the Chinese presence created racial contention and this was likely to be repeated in NZ, in which case restrictions would be needed.. He argued there was not yet a panic over the issue, and so this was a good time to bring in restriction. Referring to the “evils of Chinese immigration on a large scale”, he expressed the view that “we are all alive to the desirableness of placing a limit upon that immigration.” There were differences over what the limit should be – “a matter of detail” – “but, as regards the principle itself, it must be apparent that something ought to be done.”
And here, indeed, was the crux of the matter. Nearly all the members of the House of Representatives and Legislative Council were “alive to the desirableness of placing a limit upon (Chinese) immigration”. There was little dispute over that principle; the dispute was essentially over the “matter of detail”, namely at which point Chinese immigration should be halted and which means would be most effective. The 1881 Bill had originally included a provision that it should not be implemented until there were over 5,000 Chinese in the country – still a tiny percentage of the overall population – and that the £10 poll tax would be refundable under certain conditions, especially good conduct. Yet these were dropped to tighten it up before it was discussed in parliament.
Only two members of the Legislative Council – Henry Chamberlin (Auckland) and De Renzie James Brett (Canterbury) – ended up voting against the 1881 Act. Chamberlin opened his speech by stating he “believe(d) in the necessity for some measure of this kind”, but that he could not agree with the Bill as it stood. His objections were four-fold: that there were not yet enough Chinese in the colony to justify exclusion; that Chinese cheap labour was necessary in certain industries; that the bill protected labour; and that China might retaliate by legislating to keep out Europeans. He felt that if the “Bill had some clause in it regulating the number of Chinese to be admitted into the country – say, fixing their number at some proportion to the European population – no harm could come.” Some Chinese immigration “should be encouraged” so they could “carry on certain special industries that will never be carried on unless done by cheap labour. . . the tea and silk industries.” He criticised the Bill “as a Protectionist Bill, because it protects labour.” He “believe(d) in protection of local industries” and complained that the Bill “rather injures them by preventing Chinese from coming into the country. His final objection to the Bill was that the Chinese might respond with legislation to keep Europeans out of their country. Thus for Chamberlin, the right of the Chinese to enter New Zealand as equals of Europeans did not come into the question at all.
Brett’s speech was rather different from Chamberlin’s and not only opposed the restrictions without qualification, but also strongly condemned British imperial policy in China. Brett declared that he would follow “the old proverb, ‘Do as you would be done by’” and continued that it was unjust to force the Chinese alone to pay a poll tax. It was both “cruel” and in violation of the Sino-British treaty of 1842 which had itself been “exacted and extorted from the Chinese at the mouth of the cannon and at the point of the bayonet.” These were “the people of a country which two thousand years or more ago was the most educated in the world”; why should they now be excluded? Brett also saw pakeha opposition to Chinese entry as highly hypocritical. People complained the Chinese were robbing the country’s gold but, he asked, hadn’t Europeans already plundered it from the Maori. “We should be ashamed,” he argued, “to express such views (in relation to the Chinese) before our honourable friend Mr Ngatata, who must blush for us, only we cannot see it. “
As a Christian, Brett believed “that the human race has been created all alike. Everyone created has free access to the world.” He therefore argued, “let them come forth to this colony, no matter what nation they belong to. Let us receive them and give them a hearty welcome.” Given NZ’s small population, the country should “receive these industrious, law-abiding, intelligent, hardworking and most skilful artisans that the world ever produced.” In relation to claims that the Chinese were dirty, Brett claimed that in his substantial contact with Chinese he had found them a most clean people. In response to Lahmann’s claim about the dirty condition in which Chinese arrived on the West Coast, he asked, “If Englishmen had arrived in a crowded vessel, with no one to control them except the captain, whether they would not arrive in a most filthy, degraded state”. “Poverty, misery and wretchedness” were to be found in European quarters in Wellington, while Chinese who had been here for a week or so were “just as cleanly and as much to be respected as men of our own country.” For Brett, what stank was the Bill itself. He hoped it would “be thrown out, and not merely thrown out, but thrown out with indignity” and declared “I shall vote against this trashy, abominable Bill that stinks in my nostrils.”
Is it possible to detect any clear political lines of demarcation in the debates over the 1881 legislation, for instance between radical pro-working class agitators and upper class liberal humanitarians? Did politicians divide over principle on the issue? Is there the beginning at least of the emergence of party-type lines between those opposing and supporting the legislation? Are there distinct socio-economic-political interests represented by either side of the vote?
The first point to make is that virtually everyone in both the House of Representatives and Legislative Council at this time belonged to the upper class or, at the very least, the upper middle class. The people who voted for and against the legislation were relatively similar types of people in terms of socio-economic position. For instance, Henry Levin (MHR, City of Wellington) was a very wealthy merchant, philanthropist, Anglican, and a liberal who opposed Grey. He would seem to have ideal credentials for membership in a ‘liberal humanitarian’ lobby which might oppose restrictions on Chinese immigration. Yet Levin voted for the exclusionary 1881 legislation. Walter Woods Johnston (MHR, Manawatu), a merchant and landowner whose family was part of the economic and political elite of Wellington, similarly voted for it.
The members of the Ministry which introduced the legislation were people such as Colonial Treasurer Harry Atkinson, a significant landowner and subsequently an opponent of the Liberals, the party which would play the leading role in driving legislation towards a White New Zealand policy. Premier John Hall was a runholder and possibly the leading conservative politician of nineteenth century New Zealand, just the kind of person who would fit the Murphy and Hall view of the class opposed to restrictions. Thomas Dick (City of Dunedin) was a businessman prominent in religious groups and in work amongst the poor, again a liberal humanitarian. Attorney-General Frederick Whitaker was a businessman and lawyer, as well as a politician, at this time sitting in the Legislative Council. While he voted for the Act, his son Frederick, the MHR for Waipa, a lawyer and newspaper proprietor, voted against.
Henry Bunny (MHR, Wairarapa) was politically a Liberal, yet voted for the 1881 legislation while others who went on form the actual Liberal Party opposed the legislation since they wanted it to be more prohibitive. This was true of people such as Ballance (MHR, Wanganui), subsequently the first Liberal premier, and Cecil De Lautour (MHR, Mt Ida), not to mention the liberal Sir George Grey (MHR, Thames) and his supporters such as Frederick Moss (MHR, Parnell) and Joseph Tole (MHR, Eden). Then again, Albert Pitt (MHR, Nelson city), a lawyer and militia officer who would become a Liberal in the 1890s and early 1900s and rise to Attorney-General under Seddon’s premiership, supported the legislation. Thomas Kelly (MHR, Town of New Plymouth), a landowner, leader writer for the Taranaki Herald and a former member of the Taranaki militia, who would later be called to the Legislative Council by Ballance (1892) and be a staunch Liberal, also voted for the 1881 legislation.
Like liberals/Liberals, conservatives also divided on the issue. William Murray (MHR, Bruce) tried to set up a conservative party with John Ormond (MHR, Clive), an indication presumably of a substantial amount of political agreement between them. The two electorates they represented were also very similar: southern South Island ones, next to each other. Yet Murray voted for the 1881 Act and Ormond against. In the House of Representatives, landowners/runholders, newspaper proprietors and editors, businessmen, merchants, religiously devout and less so, liberal and conservative, voted different ways on the 1881 legislation. Moreover, many of the people who most strongly wished to limit Chinese legislation voted against the 1881 Act, on the basis that it did not go far enough. The evidence suggests that there is no clear pattern of division and the point made by Price in relation to the debates in Australia in the 1850s, – that it is difficult to apply any class division to the arguments and votes – applies in New Zealand in 1881.
In the Legislative Council, the divisions again do not fall into any clear pattern. John Acland of Canterbury was the son of a baronet, went to Harrow and Oxford and trained at law, subsequently becoming a huge runholder in Canterbury, prominent in the Church of England and a major figure in the New Zealand elite. According to the currently dominant historiographical presentation, these would appear to be ideal characteristics for an opponent of stringent restrictions on the Chinese, but Acland voted for the legislation. He was joined by twelve other members: landowners such as William Baillie (Marlborough), James Menzies (Otago) and William Robinson (Nelson), businessmen such as Henry Lahmann (Westland) and Patrick Dignan (Auckland), members of the legal profession such as John Wilson (Hawkes Bay), Mathew Richmond (Nelson) and Robert Hart (Wellington). Members from Church of England (Acland), Wesleyan (George Waterhouse of Wellington), Presbyterian (Menzies) and Catholic (Dignan) backgrounds voted for the legislation. The two members who opposed the legislation do not belong to any different social, economic or political category.
De Renzie James Brett may appear to conform to the image of being part of the wealthy, landed class whom Murphy sees as liberal humanitarians opposed to the restrictions. Yet what is most notable about Brett is his political and social distance from this class. Brett was born in Ireland and joined the British Army when he was sixteen, serving in India almost continuously until 1853, then in the Crimea where he was decorated by the Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, then again in India where he was decorated for helping put down the Indian Mutiny. He retired from the Army on full pay in 1863 and subsequently migrated to New Zealand where he established an estate at Kirwee in mid-Canterbury. However, he was identified as a champion of small farmer interests against the pastoralists. He was an advocate of irrigation schemes for the benefit of small holders and was strongly opposed by the landed gentry and unpopular in their social circles in Canterbury, resulting in his leaving the elite Canterbury Club.
Henry Chamberlin came from a well-to-do background in Norwich, England and arrived in New Zealand in 1853, in his late twenties, with sufficient funds to buy the Waihoihoi estate near Drury and other land at Raglan. Later he bought a substantial block at Hobsonville. Although he was not successful at farming, coal prospecting – which preoccupied him until his death – or getting elected, he was called to the Legislative Council in 1869 and remained there until his death in 1888. At each session he introduced motions to try to prevent the employment of women in hotel bars. Chamberlin was also interested in inventions and business, becoming, for instance, a director of the South British Insurance Company in his later years. He gave money to charities in both New Zealand and his home county in England and in the early 1880s he met the demand for small farms by dividing up most of his Raglan land.
Henry Scotland who spoke vigorously against the legislation, but did not vote, was the youngest son of George Scotland, the chief justice of Trinidad. Educated at Oxford, he had come to New Zealand in 1850 and practised law at New Plymouth. Called to the Legislative Council in 1868, Scotland was an advocate of a single-chamber government. This latter position was certainly not one associated with the sections of the elite described in Murphy and Hall as ‘liberal humanitarians’, since these strongly defended an upper house, which was, after all, where they sat.
What is most notable about the debate in 1881 is that there were not any coherent political divisions along party or class lines and little disagreement on the question of whether the Chinese should have the same rights to enter the country as Europeans. The overwhelming sentiment across the sections of the elite who made up both houses was for restriction, with only a couple of voices of dissent such as Brett. Moreover there was agreement that the acceptable number of Chinese was very small. The dispute essentially revolved around the best way of achieving this and at what stage the restrictions needed to be imposed.
This does not mean, however, that we can not see at least some flicker of class and political interests at work. Keeping in mind the dangers of reading back trends of one period into an earlier period, what can perhaps be discerned is the beginnings of the class alliance between workers and a section of capital, an alliance that was expressed organisationally in the Liberal Party and ideologically through a developing political discourse which Belich has described as populism. This populism, he argues, involved a kind of egalitarianism which did not deny class altogether, but
“emphasised equality before the law, the proud birthright of (adult male) Briton; it disliked tight class or class community, and very overt or oppressive class distinctions; it demanded abundant, though not equal, opportunity for promotion and adoption across class lines; it rejected class antagonism and insisted on harmony between classes. . .”
Belich argues that since both the upper and lower ends of the social spectrum shared a commitment to ‘egalitarianism’ it therefore may better be defined as populism. However this definition seems inadequate. After all, the populism included a strong anti-Chinese aspect, with the Chinese seen as a slavish people who could not exercise democratic rights and therefore the ‘egalitarianism’ was not to be extended toward them. They were to be kept out, in order for a robust democracy to develop. This populism could thus be more tightly defined as Liberal populism or popular Liberalism, a shift from the early and more patrician variety of colonial liberalism associated with someone such as Sir George Grey to the later variety which more actively engaged the working class and middle class and which was expressed in and by the Liberal Party. This populism was more akin in some ways to the British Radicals, a middle class wing of British Liberalism which oriented towards the more plebeian elements of the population.
This shift is clearly related to the beginnings of mass democracy, with the extension of the franchise to all adult males and (in 1893) to women. Moreover, since New Zealand was a colony, some of the central political questions were its relationship to Britain and what kind of society it would be. The substantial growth of the European population and the establishment of the basis for an independent country made defining the nature of the new society important. As a new society, its contours and structure were seen as less historically set than those of Britain; they could therefore be shaped more easily. And the shaping could be one sympathetic to those lower down the social ladder in the old society, and offer them a means to social mobility.
Thus the Lyttelton Times, reporting on a strike by farm labourers in Sussex and Kent in New Year 1879, was clearly on the side of the labourers fighting reductions in their wages. The paper also saw such rural unrest in England as a chance for enterprising colonial governments to promote immigration. Immigration is also seen as the British labouring class’ best hope for social improvement. The paper editorialised:
“The perpetual and almost hopeless struggle which forms the life of the English farm labourer is occasionally varied by the alternative gloom of a strike. It is these strikes which offer the most splendid opportunities for Colonial Governments with far-seeing immigration policies. . . the opportunities afforded by a labourers’ strike are peculiarly favourable for showing the remarkable contrast between the inducements held out to agricultural labour by those who wish to retain it in its own country and those who wish to tempt it away.”
The following day, the paper editorialised that no-one but an “ignorant snob” called a worker “my man”. Where this term was used by such a snob, the “experiment generally gives him some valuable matter for reflection.” It went on sarcastically to attack that section of the colonial elite which “patronise the working man” and “attempt to mould him into the uninteresting, because unoriginal and dependent, mass of clay, which is the pattern set up by well-meaning sentimentalists for the whole of work-a-day mankind.” The editorial was in the context of Native Minister Sheehan’s speech to the Auckland Working Men’s Club. Although the paper disagreed with Sheehan’s view that working men’s clubs should not engage in political controversy, they noted, in relation to the patronising kind of speech, that his was “not of this class. He spoke as an independent man ought to speak to other independent men.” They also drew a distinction between Grey’s more patrician sort of liberalism and that of Sheehan:
“Sir George Grey seemed to prefer to recommend the constituencies to depend on the gentlemen who represent them in Parliament. Mr Sheehan tells them to depend on themselves. Of the two, independent colonists will prefer Mr Sheehan’s way of looking at the matter.
The difference between Sheehan and Grey is thus that of a liberalism that actively engaged, rather than simply represented from on high, the labouring masses or at least the white male section.”
Given that this period is an early part of the transition from colony to nation, it might be more useful to say we are dealing with the beginnings of New Zealand nationalism. Populism and egalitarianism can then be seen as crucial component elements of the nationalism which begins to emerges in the last 20-25 years of the nineteenth century. Anti-Asian xenophobia is also an important element. Thus, this is a nationalism which appeals across class lines, but not across race. Indeed it is, from the start, highly racially exclusive. The 1881 debate lifted the curtain on key themes in the emerging New Zealand nationalism:
* New Zealand as a democracy of those capable of exercising political rights
* New Zealand as a society of opportunity for those capable of making the most of such opportunity
* Cross-class nationalism, in which workers were politically attached to, and ideologically hegemonised by, the industrial and commercial bourgeoisie represented by the Liberal Party
* New Zealand as a white society, since only whites are capable of the democratic spirit, progress and making the most of opportunity
* New Zealand as politically independent of Britain, in terms of shaping its own laws and social structure; and a country of independent-minded and independent-spirited people
In the next chapter, the development of these themes – which became more obvious in politics and public discourse through the 1880s and 1890s – will be explored in greater detail. Over the course of the rest of the 1880s, however, there were fresh moves against the Chinese. In 1882 Theophilus Daniel (the MHR for Wallace) introduced a bill to ban the Chnese from mining gold. Politicians such as Seddon and Reeves pressed the government on the issue of the Chinese from time to time. In May 1888, Chinese on board the ship Te Ana were met by hostile receptions and repeatedly prevented from landing. The Press, while opposing “Vigilance Committees” and preferring strictly parliamentary action, editorialised that there was, “a real and pressing danger of the arrival in the colony of a Mongolian population, calculated seriously to disturb our social arrangement, and, moreover, to deteriorate the high character of the race. . . “ Along with a call in the Times of London for the colonies to unite to secure the exclusion of the Chinese, this showed that papers connected to the elite were as hostile to the Chinese as the papers which oriented more to the liberal middle class and workers, such as the Lyttelton Times.
On May 11, W.P. Reeves asked premier Sir Harry Atkinson what the government was doing on the issue, to which Atkinson was able to reply that new legislation was being brought forward. The new legislation, the Chinese Immigrants Act Amendment Act 1888, was itself something of a mixed bag. Some provisions of the 1881 Act were liberalised, while others were tightened. The debate took much the same tone as that of 1881. For instance, one MHR claimed the Chinese had “a polluting effect on the moral atmosphere all around them”, while another spoke of “diseases which appear to be inherent in the Chinese. . .” By contrast, Brett called for the Chinese to be given a home in New Zealand and be treated as fellow countrymen. While John Ballance (MHR, Wanganui and future Liberal) premier felt the new legislation did not go far enough, Atkinson’s main concern was that Imperial assent was needed for further legislation. The following year the Chinese Immigrants Act Amendment Act Continuance Act was passed, repealing one section of the 1888 Act while continuing the rest of the Act indefinitely.
The fundamental principle of exclusion was now established. Indeed, this had been done with the 1881 Act. As the Press editorially noted of the provisions of that Act:
“. . . while they are admittedly insufficient for their purpose, they contain the principle which needs only to be carried further in order to secure the object. For as soon as it is once conceded that we have a right to impose an exceptional tax on the Chinese immigrant, in order to prevent his landing, the right of making that tax sufficient for its purpose obviously follows without further argument.”