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
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.