Should be out front, not in obscurity

NEW ZEALAND'S CHINA EXPERIENCE <br> <b> Edited by Chris Elder </b> <br> <i> Victoria University PressThis is a book that will probably sit on an obscure library shelf when it deserves to be a $5 rental near library entrances. What's more, it's timely as far as I'm concerned, as my local pub, dairy and takeaways are all Chinese-owned, as were all the bakeries last time I visited Auckland.

What is it about Chinese people that makes them hard-working, good citizen material, whether they live in China, the United States, New Zealand or anywhere?

Readers may find the answers in Elder's collection of mostly 20th-century essays, articles, reports, letters, reminiscences, etc, by Chinese New Zealanders, and New Zealand academics, missionaries, journalists, teachers, students, health professionals, diplomatic staff and politicians, who travelled to China by inclination or invitation to work and study. Indeed, there is never a dull moment as Kiwi ingenuity grapples with Chinese ambiguity.

When the anecdotes become so-so, which they seldom do, there are poems and comic strips to relieve the humorous tales of communication and translation boo-boos, the mass starvation and slaughters in pre-Communist times, and the ''arranged'' visits to factories and rural villages in the post-Communist era, where the faces of the peasants are ever-smiling, not to mentioned those of the ''re-educated'' landlords.

Of course, inquiring minds may wonder what the Kiwi luminaries thought of Chairman Mao's ''Great Leap Forward'' with its ''re-education'' programmes, and the Tiananmen Square massacre that went unreported in the Chinese media. Yes, the Chinese do things differently to New Zealanders, but who are we to point a finger when we have massacres of our own?

But, history aside, you'll remember New Zealand's China Experience for the items that have an ''it could only happen in China'' quality; such as the one about the sheep sent to establish a woollen industry that completed part of their journey floating down the Yellow River on rafts made from inflated sheepskins. And yes, Dunedin/Otago do get a mention.

Ian Williams is a Dunedin writer and composer.