The academic discourse about new Asian immigrants in New Zealand

Term Paper, 2002

13 Pages, Grade: 1,7 (A-)




Economic Status


Research situation

A more precise dialogue

Primary Sources
Secondary Sources


Until the end of the 1980s, New Zealand’s experience with immigrants from Asia was limited in two ways: Firstly, the New Zealand Asian population was rather homogenous and practically limited to mainland Chinese and Indians, who recruited the two visible Asian communities in the country. Regarding ethnic origin, the 1986 census still divided the New Zealand population into European (2,651,376), New Zealand Maori (295,317), several Pacific Island Polynesian origins (total 94,656), Chinese (19,506), Indian (12,126) and ‘other’ (14,487).[1] Secondly, the Asian population was disappearingly small. Since the arrival of the first Chinese and Indians in the 19th century, their proportion to/with the total population had only grown very little, from 0.3 % in 1945, over 0.7 % in 1966 to 1.0 % in 1986.

Changed immigration rules led to a far broader influx of Asian immigrants from 1987 onwards. The fourth Labour government had initiated the first elementary recast of immigration policy since 1961. In the 1986 White Paper, which set out the policy of the 1987 Immigration Act, there was no reference to traditional links with Britain – a novelty since the foundation of New Zealand. Its main objective was to ‘select new settlers principally on the strength of their potential personal contribution to the future well-being of New Zealand.’[2] In the same year, the Business Immigration Policy (BIP) was introduced. Many Asian immigrants took the opportunity under the general and business categories. In 1991 the newly elected National government substituted the general category with a points system. Under the new 1991 system, the business immigration numbers dropped sharply, and the points system became even more important.[3]

Whereas Asian immigrants had comprised under 20 % of the total immigration numbers until 1986, this figure rose to well above 50 % after 1991. The main sources of Asian immigration were no longer China and India, but mainly Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Malaysia, also Thailand, Singapore, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Japan. The traditional New Zealand conception of who Asian immigrants were, was no longer applicable. The change faced New Zealand academics with a challenge, when they were writing about Asian immigration after 1986. This essay examines the academic discourse about new Asian immigrants in the years 1995 and 1996. It focuses on a selection of three texts from Manying Ip (1995), Ravi Arvind Palat (1996) and Malcolm McKinnon (1996). Although they have different approaches, all three try to explain some facets of developments after the influx of new Asian immigrants started in 1987. This essay tries to elaborate problems and contradictory analyses in the texts.


Until 1986 the two ethnic groups were rather homogenous. Indians originated mainly from the province Gujarat on the subcontinent, Chinese from mainland China. This homogeneity allowed to treat the two groups as coherent entities. After 1986 this is not so easy anymore. Ethnic Chinese now come from the ethnic Chinese countries Hong Kong and Taiwan, but also from countries such as Malaysia or Indonesia, where ethnic Chinese only comprise a minority; the same is applicable to ethnic Indians who come from Fiji. Manying Ip yet tries to write a continuous history of ethnic Chinese immigrants from the 19th century until 1995, in which she encounters some problems.

First of all, Ip struggles to determine, how many ethnic Chinese live in New Zealand by 1995. This is due to three reasons: Firstly, the Department of Immigration can only give numbers about how many Residence Visas have been granted, but not how many people actually entered the country with them. Secondly, these statistics only capture the country of origin of the immigrant, not the ethnicity; thus, it does not tell for example the number of ethnic Chinese among immigrants of Malaysian nationality. Thirdly, the commonly used source to determine ethnic origin of the population is the census; but in 1995 the last available census was from 1991, which was utterly outdated, since the actual peak of Asian immigration had only started in 1991.

It might also be asked, how much sense it made in 1995 to treat all ethnic Chinese immigrants under one category. This makes sense until 1986, when the New Zealand Chinese community was a relatively small coherent group of mainland Chinese with a high interconnectedness and close kin-relations.[4] Mainland Chinese speak Mandarin, whereas most overseas Chinese speak Cantonese; some overseas communities spent decades in a diaspora, which gave each of them a different historic background. Manying Ip sees this problem and suggests that ‘it might be advisable for future studies to be based on ‘Asian arrivals’ rather than ‘Chinese arrivals’.’[5] For her present study, however, she does not make a clear distinction, but from this point on, the reader is more and more confused by the parallel use of the terms ‘Asian’ and ‘Chinese’.


[1] New Zealand official Yearbook, 1988-89, p.189

[2] Review of Immigration Policy August 1986, p.10. Cited in: McKinnon, Malcolm, 1996: Immigrants and Citizens: New Zealanders and Asian Immigration in Historical Context. (Wellington: VUP), p.46f

[3] The business immigration scheme gradually lost importance. In 1994, 6% of all immigrants came through this scheme, 3% 1995, 4% 1996, 1% 1997, <1% 1998 and 1999. Source: New Zealand Official Yearbooks 1995-2000.

[4] Ip, Manying, 1996: Dragons on the Long White Cloud. The Making of Chinese New Zealanders. (North Shore City: Tandem Press)

[5] Ip, Manying, 1995: ‘Chinese New Zealanders: Old Settlers and New Immigrants’, in Stuart W. Greif (ed.), Immigration and national identity. (Palmerston North: Dunmore), pp.161-202, p.189

Excerpt out of 13 pages


The academic discourse about new Asian immigrants in New Zealand
Victoria University of Wellington  (Robert Stout Research Centre)
Contemporary New Zealand
1,7 (A-)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
469 KB
Asian, Zealand, Contemporary, Zealand
Quote paper
David Glowsky (Author), 2002, The academic discourse about new Asian immigrants in New Zealand, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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