Saturday, September 24, 2011

Mutu and The Yellow Peril

Margaret Mutu’s recent racist remarks –though totally distasteful – are nothing new in New Zealand.
We think of ourselves as multi-cultural, laid-back, understanding and accepting of others, but history says otherwise. Just mention ‘Yellow Peril’ to any kiwi Chinese and watch the reaction…
‘Yellow Peril’ (or ‘Yellow Terror’) is a racial metaphor that started in the late C19th, with immigration of Chinese workers to Western countries (it was later used in WWII anti-Japanese propaganda). It referred to the belief that mass Asian immigration threatened white standards of living and wages...perhaps *gasp!*
At least The Colonist 16 May 1871 was positive...
 even the very fabric of Western civilisation!
That button was actively pushed by NZ Prime Minister Richard Seddon in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Measures to curb Chinese immigration included a heavy poll tax, which stayed in place until 1944.
Chinese were the first non-europeans to migrate in big numbers to NZ, and did so because of the 1865 Otago goldrushes. Invited to come here, they nonetheless suffered discrimination - they worked hard, their crime rate was low, but they were seen by many as “different” and competition to the European population.
Amidst this officially-sanctioned intolerance, the murder of Joe Kum Yung in 1905 highlighted the depth of hatred some people had.
Many lonely Chinese men, socially isolated from other elements of NZ society, sought solace in opium and gambling. The notoriety of Haining Street in downtown Te Aro, Wellington, fueled considerable anti-Chinese sentiment.
Enter Edward Lionel July 1905, 32yr.old Englishman Lionel
Going for a
short walk...
Terry walked 1400 km from Northland to Wellington, attracting considerable attention en route. He gave out copies of The Shadow, a book of verse with a long introduction on the need for racial purity. He also lectured on the ‘Yellow Peril’ threat. People who met him commented on his magnificent physique, striking personality, conversational powers and depth of knowledge.
When he arrived in Wellington on 14 September, he tried to convince the House of Representatives and immigration officials that all non-European immigration should be stopped. Achieving little success, and to gain further publicity, he randomly shot elderly Joe Kum Yung in Haining Street, this day in history 24 September 1905. Terry surrendered the following morning, handing over his revolver and a
Seacliff: home sweet home
 copy of The Shadow.
At his trial, Terry was found guilty and sentenced to death, which was commuted to life imprisonment on the grounds of insanity. Later diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic, he spent the rest of his life in Lyttleton prison and Sunnyside and Seacliff mental hospitals.
Terry: self-portrait
He escaped from Sunnyside twice in 1906 and from Seacliff in 1907 and 1908. His allegations of mistreatment gained him some public sympathy: while most condemned the murder, many shared Terry’s dislike of the Chinese.
While behind bars, he continued writing, referring to himself as The Prophet, Messiah and Superman. He wore white clothes, grew a long beard and wore his hair below his shoulders. Terry died at Seacliff Mental Hospital in August 1952, aged 79. He had spent the last 12 years of his life in solitary confinement.
Perhaps such a place would be suitable for Margie Mutu…?

[For an interesting history of Chinese in NZ and their valuable contribution, click here…]

No comments: