Being Chinese: A New Zealander's Story

Bridget Williams Books
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This is the story of a quest I began three decades ago – the search for my Chinese identity. The path I travelled was not linear, and the years brought pain as well as joy. But, while this is a narrative about being Chinese and also a New Zealander, I know that the search for purpose and meaning in life is universal. I hope that others in our culturally diverse society will find their own ways to embark on that same journey.

Helene Wong was born in New Zealand in 1949, to parents whose families had emigrated from China one or two generations earlier. Preferring invisibility, she grew up resisting her Chinese identity. But in 1980 she travelled to her father’s home village in southern China and came face to face with her ancestral past.

What followed was a journey to come to terms with ‘being Chinese’. Helene Wong writes eloquently about her New Zealand childhood, about student life in the 1960s, and coming of age in Muldoon’s New Zealand. What her Chinese ancestry means to her gradually illuminates the book as it sheds new light on her own life. Drawing on her experience of writing for New Zealand films, she takes the narrative forward through the places of her family’s history – the ancestral village of Sha Tou in Zengcheng county, the rural town of Utiku where the Wongs ran a thriving business, the Lower Hutt suburbs of her childhood, and Avalon and Naenae.
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About the author

Helene Wong was born in Taihape, New Zealand, and grew up in Lower Hutt, near Wellington. After graduating in Sociology from Victoria University of Wellington, she worked in the Public Service, becoming in 1978 social policy adviser to Prime Minister Sir Robert Muldoon, and the first woman to be appointed to his Advisory Group.

Her career then took a different turn as she followed her love of theatre, working as an actor and director before moving into film and television in the mid-1980s. She was appointed as the first script development executive in the NZ Film Commission, then worked as a freelance script consultant on several short and feature-length projects, including Illustrious Energy, Leon Narbey’s acclaimed feature film about Chinese goldminers in Otago.

Helene then wrote and directed documentaries for television, notably Footprints of the Dragon, about Chinese in New Zealand, for the series An Immigrant Nation. It was among the ten top-rating documentaries of 1995. The following year, she became a film critic with the New Zealand Listener, a position she still holds.

Helene has taught classes in scriptwriting, film criticism, cultural identity and the media; judged numerous industry awards; served on the jury of the Asia-Pacific Film Festival in Auckland in 1996; and, from 2000 to 2006 was a member of the board of the NZ Film Commission. Helene Wong is now a full-time writer and occasional actor.
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Additional Information

Bridget Williams Books
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Published on
May 9, 2016
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Biography & Autobiography / Personal Memoirs
History / Australia & New Zealand
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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From the bestselling author of Tulipomania comes Batavia’s Graveyard, the spellbinding true story of mutiny, shipwreck, murder, and survival.

It was the autumn of 1628, and the Batavia, the Dutch East India Company’s flagship, was loaded with a king’s ransom in gold, silver, and gems for her maiden voyage to Java. The Batavia was the pride of the Company’s fleet, a tangible symbol of the world’s richest and most powerful commercial monopoly. She set sail with great fanfare, but the Batavia and her gold would never reach Java, for the Company had also sent along a new employee, Jeronimus Corneliszoon, a bankrupt and disgraced man who possessed disarming charisma and dangerously heretical ideas.

With the help of a few disgruntled sailors, Jeronimus soon sparked a mutiny that seemed certain to succeed—but for one unplanned event: In the dark morning hours of June 3, the Batavia smashed through a coral reef and ran aground on a small chain of islands near Australia. The commander of the ship and the skipper evaded the mutineers by escaping in a tiny lifeboat and setting a course for Java—some 1,800 miles north—to summon help. Nearly all of the passengers survived the wreck and found themselves trapped on a bleak coral island without water, food, or shelter. Leaderless, unarmed, and unaware of Jeronimus’s treachery, they were at the mercy of the mutineers.

Jeronimus took control almost immediately, preaching his own twisted version of heresy he’d learned in Holland’s secret Anabaptist societies. More than 100 people died at his command in the months that followed. Before long, an all-out war erupted between the mutineers and a small group of soldiers led by Wiebbe Hayes, the one man brave enough to challenge Jeronimus’s band of butchers.

Unluckily for the mutineers, the Batavia’s commander had raised the alarm in Java, and at the height of the violence the Company’s gunboats sailed over the horizon. Jeronimus and his mutineers would meet an end almost as gruesome as that of the innocents whose blood had run on the small island they called Batavia’s Graveyard.

Impeccably researched and beautifully written, Batavia’s Graveyard is the next classic of narrative nonfiction, the book that secures Mike Dash’s place as one of the finest writers of the genre.

From the Hardcover edition.
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