Diversity and Chinese Language Week

This week is ‘New Zealand Chinese Language Week’:

New Zealand Chinese Language Week  (16-22 October) is a Kiwi-led initiative aimed at encouraging New Zealanders to discover Chinese language and culture. 

Be inspired by our supporters and meet our  “Mandarin Superstars” as they share their exciting experiences.

Check out what events are taking place in your region 16-22 October.

Find out how you can get “Asia ready” in 2017 by checking out our language learning resources.

But ‘Chinese language’ is not one thing, it is a diverse range of languages and dialects.

We don’t often refer to Romance languages, but instead to Italian, Spanish, French, plus the language that’s a derivative of these and has become widespread, English.

And some dialects of English can be nearly or wholly unintelligible to other English speaking people.

Bevan Chuang points out Chinese Language is more diverse than Mandarin

Chinese Language Week is the one week that I get very patriotic about how unilineal and narrow focus this week is.

Chuang details a number of reasons why she is frustrated that people ask her to write something in Mandarin – she is a native Cantonese speaker.

1. Mandarin is only one of many Chinese languages

The Chinese language we know are associated with ethnic Han Chinese. Within the Chinese community there are more than one ethnic group though Han Chinese make up 92% of Chinese in China and 97% in Taiwan.

Linguists note that the Chinese language is as diverse as a language family, like those of Romance languages.

There are between 7 and 13 main regional groups of Chinese, with majority speaking Mandarin (including Standard Chinese, Pekinese, Suchuanese, Dungan) but followed by Wu (including Shanghainese, Suzhounese, Wenzhounese), Min (inlcuding Fuzhounese, Hainese, Hokkien, Taiwanese, Teochew), Yue (including Cantonese and Taishanese), Gan, Xiang and Hakka.

Most of these groups are mutually unintelligible though they may share common terms. They also varies in tone and anaytic.

The Mandarin that we now know in the Western society is the Standard Chinese, which is derived from the term guānhuà (官话/官話), or “official speech”, to refer to the speech used at the Court. The term “Mandarin” is borrowed directy from Portuguese, mandarim, which is derived from the Sanskrit word mantrin, Conselor or Minister.

Before the 19th century, the standard was based on the Nanjing dialects, but later the Beijing dialect became increasingly influential, and with the dying of Qing dynasty, Beijing dialect was established as guóyǔ (国语/國語), or the “national language”.

With the Communist-ruled country, Mandarin became increasingly influential because it is seen as the standardised language, and people seems to only identify Mandarin as the only Chinese language.

2. Disrespectful to the Chinese forbearers to New Zealand

Early Chinese immigrants to New Zealand are Cantonese speakers from South China. They came from the Pearl River delta area in Guangdong province. Most (67%) were from Panyu county; the rest were from Siyi, Zengcheng, Dongguan and Zhongshan. These counties are located around the city of Canton (Guangzhou).

New Zealand was one of the three countries that place a poll tax on the Chinese immigrants. In 2002, former Prime Minister Helen Clark formally apologised to the Chinese Poll Tax descendents and subsequently the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust was formed.

One of the key focus of the Trust is to promote learning and the use of the Cantonese language, the language of the forbearers. Supporting the descendents to hold on to their language and culture of their ancestors.

Very different to the many Language Weeks we have in New Zealand, the Chinese Language Week is not about ensuring the language of our ancestors will live on, but this is purely about increasing trade.

3. Not celebrating diversity

Chinese, both the language and the people, are very diverse. We are not able to address and celebrate the diversity and yet lumped together as one. This also helps support the Chinese government’s plan to diminish dialects by only promoting Mandarin as the only Chinese language.

The United Nations have acknowledged that the Chinese language is becoming less diverse, and over 100 languages are in danger of dying out. Even Shanghainese, one of the many “Mandarin” dialects, is in fear of dying out. Just Google “Dying Chinese Language” and you will find pages of search results related to the concern that the Mandarin policy is killing the other languages. The killing of these languages are more than just a language, but the culture and history.

What can we do

One day, I hope, that the Chinese Language Week actually celebrates the history and diversity of all Chinese language and promote the use of Chinese as a whole, not focusing only in Mandarin. Even here in New Zealand, there are two main dialects.

According to the last Census, 52,263 people spoke Northern Chinese which includes Mandarin, 44,625 spoke Yue that includes Cantonese and 42,750 spoke a “Sinitic” language.

New Zealand is becoming increasingly diverse, and ethnic Chinese are becoming a larger part of our mix.

And within the ethnic Chinese population there is also diversity beyond simply immigrants and those born here and with as long a connection to New Zealand as many of us.

We are familiar with recognising distinct differences between English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish even though they share a common language.

In New Zealand they share many things in common, while some retain some cultural practices as well. That is usually celebrated.

Ethnicity, culture and language have never been simple and separable.

The same should apply to the diversity of ethnic Chinese now living here. They accept aspects of our culture (actually cultures) while retaining some of there own if they wish. Language is one part of that.

Food is another – Chinese options have become much more diverse here in my lifetime. I don’t know where I could still find chicken, rice and mixed vegetables – with buttered bread soaked in Worcester Sauce for an entree.

We may have no interest in learning one of the Chinese languages, that’s a lot more challenging than scoffing sweet and sour wantons or egg foo young, but we can at least recognise the diversity of Chinese language as well as cuisine.


An immigrant’s story

There are a lot of immigrant stories in New Zealand – about a quarter of the population were not born here so most will be immigrants, that’s over a million of us.

Last week Duncan Garner stirred up the immigrant issue with a column for Stuff.

In response one immigrant, Ghazaleh Golbakhsh, who has lived here most of her life (since she was 4) has written her own column:  ‘They speak English and have good lamb’: a Kiwi immigrant’s story

My parents moved here from Iran for simple but horrid reasons. They had just lived through a massive revolution, which brought in a new autocratic regime which implemented archaic laws oppressing the masses and completely overturning the nation. On top of that, there was a bloody war where the city they lived in was bombed on a daily basis by Saddam Hussein’s forces.

Interestingly enough, the straw that broke the (culturally appropriate) camel’s back was being arrested one night after a party where the sexes were mingling (not allowed) and some hipster had brought their homemade vodka for all to enjoy (definitely not allowed). I know this because I was there and so became the youngest in my family to be arrested. As a four year old. To be honest though, I was lucky. Some of the other partygoers got public lashings as punishment. I just developed mild claustrophobia for the rest of my life.

She seems to have also developed a determination to confront immigrant-bashing.

1987 in New Zealand was an odd time. It was an old time. It was a time when everything shut on a Sunday and ‘immigration’ was some strange term that seemed straight from colonial days. Except as modern immigrants, you were expected to assimilate. And fast. It was the first time in my life that I learned the power of language. When I arrived I only knew three words in English: “One, two, three”. Ironically, maths has never been my strong point.

At primary school I had the ghastly Mrs. M as my teacher. She resented me because I couldn’t understand English. One time, I drew her a darling picture of she and me and a tree – standard kid drawing stuff. She yelled and yelled at me until I cried. This wasn’t the homework we were meant to do.

One of the cool boys felt sorry for me so helped me instead. His name was Ben. If you are reading this Ben, know that I love you and hope to swipe right on you on Tinder some day.

Vowing never to be that embarrassed again, I set about reading as much as I could. I read anything I could find – to myself, to my parents, to anyone who would listen. And so I suddenly began to learn the language. My reading and writing comprehension went up so much that I got put up a year. Take that Mrs. M, you dream crusher.

Having dreams crushed at school isn’t confined to immigrants but must make it very hard for them. Parents of immigrant children seem to be good at encouraging them to succeed despite hardships they encounter, something quite a few born here Kiwis could do with learning.

Why I can’t trace my lineage to Scotland/Ireland/England like everyone else in my class? “We’re just Persian,” my mum tried to explain. “But that can’t be it!” I replied desperately. “Yes – it’s one of the oldest civilisations in the world.” Not good enough, I thought. It wasn’t until my late teens when I threw myself into writing and drama that I learned to accept my differences. It helped that I hung out with other marginalised friends who got it. They were immigrants too, or in the arts, or redheads who couldn’t sit in the sun for too long either. Or just accepting.

I was lucky I was able to feel like I did fit in, despite the redheadedness.

Then 9/11 happened and everything changed. It not only altered or destroyed the lives of those people whose lives were directly affected, but it changed the way the world looked at so many of us.

…I was also treated to heavy-handed racist diatribes whenever some mentally unstable gunman with a beard terrorised innocent victims in the West. “We need to bomb them all. Fuck the Middle East.”

It’s disheartening to hear this from people who have never even seen a bomb, let alone lived through a war.

It is sad to see intolerant people promoting violence, especially on a large scale.

I’m sure military veterans and other victims of war would agree when I say – no, you have no idea, you fucking sadist. War should not be the answer. Ever.

Ever. But that requires many people to openly oppose violence.

One of my favourite incidents was in my twenties. I got accosted by a man in a Hugo Boss suit on the bus who kept yelling at me about how there are too many of “us” in NZ. “There should be a bomb to get rid of all you immigrants, a nuclear bomb to get rid of all this rubbish like you!” Everyone on the bus just stared at me and I refused to engage.

Sad that no one spoke up against this extreme bullying.

Instead, I wrote about it and won an award. I put it into my work. I used that anger and hatred as fuel for something better. If you are reading this Mr. Suit Man, know that you are being immortalised in a film soon. I hope you see your monstrous self reflected back and think about it.

There are a few people that would benefit from seeing themselves as they are, or as they appear to others.

I know I am speaking from a privileged position. Even as an immigrant there is an obvious pyramid of hierarchy. I am privileged in that coming here as a child allowed me to develop a typical Kiwi accent. I am privileged that my parents had skills to allow them decently paid work. I am privileged that I am not usually subject to the racist vitriol directed so often at my fellow immigrants from the Asian continent.

No one in New Zealand should feel privileged that they avoid being on the receiving end of racist vitriol, but sadly it happens far too much.

That’s abbreviated, it’s worth reading the whole thing: ‘They speak English and have good lamb’: a Kiwi immigrant’s story

Many Kiwis are tolerant and peaceful, but need to do more to make it clear that intolerant and violent behaviour should not be the Kiwi way.

Golriz Ghahraman’s refugee past

New MP Golriz Ghahraman is described on the Green website:

Middle Eastern feminism, Green activism and work in international justice have instilled a deep commitment to defending democracy for the most vulnerable.

Golriz is an Iranian-Kiwi refugee, lucky to escape war and persecution as a child.

At 35 she is also relatively young for an MP, immigrating here from Iran with her family as a 9 year old in 1990.

Golriz is promoted as “the first MP to have entered New Zealand as a refugee”, and this is covered in a profile at The Wireless.

She has become widely known as the first former refugee to run for New Zealand Parliament and, at only 35 years old, has made a name for herself as an Oxford graduate and human rights lawyer, working on high-profile cases such as this recent family carers case.

Ghahraman and her parents came to New Zealand as asylum seekers, as opposed to quota refugees. Where quota refugees often have their status as refugees determined before they reach their destination, asylum seekers must first travel to their destination and go through a legal process in order to be able to gain refugee status.

“Basically,” Ghahraman says, “the standard for refugee status is that you have to prove that you have a well-founded fear of persecution, based on one of the grounds in the Refugee Convention, [some of which are] nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, or political belief. So it’s actually quite limited and the standard is really high in terms of persecution, like, it can’t just be discrimination or something like that, it has to be that you’re facing torture or death or imprisonment.”

It was the “political belief” ground on which Ghahraman’s family sought refugee status. They had been opposed to the regime in a rather vocal way, which had ended up becoming dangerous for the family. Ghahraman tells a story about her mother, who had studied psychology, applying for jobs but refusing to sit the religious exam, and being vocal about it being an unethical requirement for work.

“All I remember growing up is people talking about how we needed to get out, and how our phones were tapped. The repression was really quite real… My parents were in the revolution trying to overturn the previous regime, and then they ended up with this far more oppressive regime.

So it’s kind of a tragic situation having this entire population or generation of people who are really engaged with democracy issues, and then suddenly the lid is really violently put on their movement.”

There have been and are tragic political and social situations all over the world. Accepting victims of them as refugees is something we should welcome and accept in New Zealand, where we are lucky to enjoy political and religious freedoms that billions of people don’t.

Golriz is a welcome (by me) addition to the diversity in New Zealand parliament. It won’t be easy, like any new MP she has a lot to learn. I hope she learns well and does well.

Journalists and social media bias

When you follow New Zealand journalists in social media you get an idea of where some of their political sympathies lie. This can be subtle, and far removed from the perceptions of some (usually hard lefties and hard righties) that all journalists are biased to the left, or that all media are biased to the right.

For US news I get both Fox News and CNN feeds on Twitter, and they are both generally biased, most notably Fox.

Ironically Fox writes about a less right leaning competitor: NY Times changes social media guidelines so reporters don’t appear biased

New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet issued new social media guidelines to his newsroom on Friday and advised staffers to “read them closely, and take them to heart” so that the paper’s journalists are not perceived as biased.

“Many of our journalists are influential voices on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other platforms. The voices of our readers, listeners and viewers inform and improve our reporting,” Baquet wrote. “But we also need to make sure that we are engaging responsibly on social media, in line with the values of our newsroom.”

Baquet discussed Twitter at a forum at George Washington University Thursday and said his staff should not be able to say anything on social media that they cannot say” in the Times, according to Politico.

The Times’ rival, The Washington Post, published a story back in Oct. 2016 headlined, “#Biased? Reporters on Twitter don’t hold back about Trump”. The article mentioned Times reporters throughout, noting that “reporters are supposed to keep their opinion out of the stories they write” but that policy doesn’t seem to apply to Twitter. The Post called out Times staffers Alex Burns for attacking Trump on a regular basis – and that was before he defeated Hillary Clinton on Election Day.

While some journalists state on their Twitter profile that any tweets are their own opinions they can’t help being seem as associated with their jobs and their media organisations, so they must be aware of this and behave accordingly.

Media Research Center Vice President Dan Gainor thinks it’s too little, too late when it comes to the Times’ reporters appearing anti-Trump on social media.

“Twitter has been around for 10 years and The New York Times is only now realizing that its staff say lots of stupid, left-wing things there? I know Baquet isn’t active on Twitter, but he claims he is aware of the Times agenda problem. You’d never know it though,” Gainor told Fox News.

Fox frequently slams other media for being anti-Trump, but even though she is a political relic Fox continue to show strong bias against Hillary Clinton and the liberal left, as well as an obvious bias in favour of Trump. Their current feed has scores of positive tweets like…

…about interspersed with several like:

There are mild biases in media here at times, but they are nothing like the extremes of the US media.

They can go both ways at times, this is two consecutive tweets from CNN:


Search DigitalNZ

I have spent a lot of time searching DigitalNZ over the last few days. It is the easiest and quickest way to find images and information from a range of New Zealand sources.

I have used Papers Past quite a bit, but DigitalNZ makes that easier to use. But here’s a lot resources available than that.

I have searched on places and found new photos and information, all easily browsed and accessed.

I have searched on relatives names, and spent hours going through my great grandfather’s history, from his work as Secretary of the Bluff Harbour Board for many years, to his community involvement and his recreational activities – he is on record as being involved with Southland Rugby (not quite Otago but close), bowls and even draughts competitions.

I found detailed military records of my grandfather, which includes his work and medical histories, and his service and promotions through two World Wars. I knew some of it but have found out more details, including the names and ranks of those attending his military funeral.

This took me a couple of minutes to find (1861):


And (1904):

Article image

Anyway, that’s just of personal interest to me, but it’s a great way of searching for all sorts of information.

If searching on names try variations, like ‘Bill Bob George’ and B.B.George’.

And be prepared to spend some time on it.


Welcome to the refreshed digitalnz.org, the next step in DigitalNZ’s evolution. Here we’re developing and testing new and improved ways for you to find, share and use amazing New Zealand content.

In 2017 we’ve developed a fresh, more user-friendly and lovely-to-look-at version of digitalnz.org. We’re starting with a very basic version of the website and we’ll regularly make both small and substantial changes to this site throughout this year and beyond. These changes will often be based on your feedback, so any thoughts you have for us are hugely helpful and will feed directly into the site’s development.

Search: https://digitalnz.org

Or Explore – there are currently 30,510,788 items in DigitalNZ

All Blacks v Springboks

I’m glad I got up to watch the test between New Zealand and South Africa at Cape Town this morning. A classic match.

The ABs were relentless at times but made a lot of mistakes and failed to capitalise on their dominance. The teams were barely separated after a 50 minute first half.

Then the second half was absorbing. The Springboks started well and took the lead, and the lead kept changing from there. A couple of very good All Black tries, but the Springboks kept coming back. In the end a 25-24 scoreline was a fair enough reflection on how the game went, but it could easily have gone either way.

Commentators complained about the red card but I think that was the only option. A deliberate late charge with forearm contact to the head had to result in marching orders. It would always have been a yellow at least so it made no difference to the final outcome, apart from giving the All Blacks what turned out to be a crucial 3 points.


Caretaker government

New Zealand is operating under a caretaker government until a new government is formed.

The 51st Parliament ended on 22 August.  The 52nd Parliament must meet no later than 6 weeks after the ‘return of the writ’, due 12 October (unless a Judicial Recount is being conducted).

When will Parliament open again?

Before the 52nd Parliament can be formally opened, there are some important constitutional and practical things that need to happen.

The period after the election, while the government is being formed, is known as the “caretaker period.”

Under New Zealand’s proportional representation (MMP) electoral system, it is likely that two or more parties will negotiate coalition or support agreements so that a government can be formed, either as a majority or minority government. This can take a bit of time, but Parliament must meet on or before 23 November (two months after the election).

It is expected that we will have a new government worked out by then.

But note that Germany also had an election last weekend and Angela Merkel said she was confident of having a new government by Christmas: “I’m generally always confident. And for many years, I’ve gone by the motto: ‘power lies in tranquility.’”

In 2010-2011 Belgium went without an elected Government for 589 days because opposing parties were unable to agree on policy issues and form a governing coalition following elections.

It is unlikely to take this long here, but until a new government is formed we are operating under a caretaker government.

What is the caretaker period?

There must always be a Government, but during the period when the government is being formed, it’s in a “caretaker” mode. This means that, by convention, the Government that held office before the election will generally hold off on making significant decisions, new policy, or decisions with long-term implications. The exception to this is when there is an emergency or crisis.

Here’s how it works:

After the election on 23 September, the Prime Minister indicated that the Government that held office before the election, will operate in accordance with this caretaker convention. This continues until the political situation is resolved and a new Government has been sworn in.

Current Ministers continue with their existing responsibilities after the election, until new Ministerial appointments are made or their responsibilities are reassigned. Ministers who are not returned as MPs may continue in office as caretaker Ministers for a period, but must leave office no later than 28 days after polling day (that is, by 21 October 2017).

So Peter Dunne must still be a caretaker minister even though he didn’t stand for ere-election. And also Te Ururoa Flavell, who lost his seat in the election.

There are two main scenarios for caretaker government.

  1. Where it is not clear who will form the next government

The normal business of government, and the day to day administration of departments and other agencies in the State sector continues as usual.

Decisions taken and specific policy determined before the start of the caretaker period may usually be implemented.

Decisions on significant issues, new policy or changes to existing policy, and issues with long-term implications should be deferred if possible. If deferral is not possible, short-term solutions should be sought. If this is not feasible, decisions should be made after consultation with other parties.

  1. Where it is clear who will form the new government, but they have not yet taken office

The Government continues in caretaker mode until Ministers are formally appointed. The outgoing government should undertake no new policy initiatives, and should act on the advice of the incoming government on any significant constitutional, economic or other issue that cannot be delayed until the new government formally takes office – even if the outgoing government disagrees with the course of action proposed.

So the returning MPs who are ministers will also be caretakers – if National doesn’t do a governing deal with NZ First they will be acting ministers until new ones are sworn in, but with limited duties.

Source: Parliamentary Service

No new legislation can be passed until the new Government takes over.

Choosing a new Kiwi anthem

Out currently used national anthem is widely disliked. Apart from the tune and the lyrics it’s not too bad, but @Naly_D is trying to determine a popular replacement from other songs from our past.

Are the semi-finalists the best of that lot? They are:

  • April Sun in Cuba
  • Don’t Dream It’s Over
  • Dominion Road
  • Slice of Heaven

April Sun is too foreign, and Dominion Road is too local. Don’t Dream doesn’t sound right, so that leaves Slice of Heaven.

Hey, I got a lot of faith in you
I’ll stick with you kid- that’s the bottom line
Yeah, you have a lot of fun don’t you
And living with you is a ball of a time
Hey beauty when the mood gets you down
Your bottom lip’s near dragging on the ground
That’s when I gotta play the clown for you
Black humour made you kick your blues
Howdy Angel
Where did you hide your wings
Her love shines over my horizon- she’s a slice of heaven
Warm moonlight over my horizon- she’s a slice of heaven
Hey, I gotta lotta faith in you
I’ll stick with you kid- that’s the bottom line
Yeah, we have a lot of fun don’t we
And heaven has to be with you all the time
Hey beauty

Is that:

  1. Singable enough?
  2. Appropriate words for an anthem?


All Blacks v Springboks

It’s been a good year for rugby. First the Lions tour, drawn. Then Australia came very close to upsetting the All Blacks in Dunedin after a great come back from a poor first test.

Tonight the ABs get to test themselves against a resurgent Springbok team. This is the last home game of the year but it should be a good one.

It’s good to have a diversion from the election campaign.

‘Most important problems facing New Zealand’

Roy Morgan has a poll that gauges what are the most important problems facing New Zealand, and compares that with the World.

Respondents were asked: “What do you think is the most important problem facing the World today?” and then “What do you think is the most important problem facing New Zealand today?”

Most Important Problems Facing New Zealand and The World - August 2017

That’s quite a different response on ‘War & Terrorism’, indicating New Zealanders see major problems around the world but don’t think they apply here.

In text: Most Important Problem Facing New Zealand:

  • Economic Issues 27.9%
  • Housing/Homelessness 26%
  • Social Issues 15.6%
  • Government/Public policy/Human rights 11.1%
  • Environmental Issues 8.0%
  • Health Issues 3.6%
  • War & Terrorism 0%

People’s voting considerations are much more complex than single issues though.

Specific problems:

Most Important Problems Facing New Zealand and the World - August 2017

Text: Most important problems facing New Zealand:

  • Poverty and the gap between rich and poor 16.5%
  • House prices and housing affordability 15.8%
  • Housing shortages and homelessness 10.2%
  • Government/Politicians/Political unrest 5.2%
  • Immigration/Refugees 4.8%

Source: Roy Morgan interviewed a representative cross-section of 1,003 New Zealanders in August 2017.