NZ Government apologises for the poll tax Event


NameNZ Government apologises for the poll tax


Repealed in 1944, the poll tax was a restrictive immigration tax imposed on Chinese people entering the country (introduced through the Chinese Immigrants Act 1881). Originally £10 (with only one Chinese immigrant permitted for every ten tonnes of cargo) this increased to £100 in 1896, “a sum greater than the average annual wage at the time” (with the cargo ratio increased to 200 tonnes).

In addition to the tax, Chinese immigrants faced a range of other social and legal discrimination in New Zealand, including being deprived of their right to naturalisation (rescinded only in 1951; no other ethnic group was deprived of this right), with measures designed to deter Chinese families from establishing themselves in New Zealand.

This had a significant impact on Chinese immigration, with the New Zealand Chinese population decreasing from 5,004 in 1881 to 2,147 in 1916, during a time in which the overall population of the country doubled in number. Alongside this, a number of organisations opposed to Chinese immigration were in operation, including the Anti-Chinese Association, the Anti-Chinese League, the Anti-Asiatic League and the White New Zealand League.

On 12 February 2002, The New Zealand Government formally apologised to the Chinese New Zealanders whose ancestors had paid a poll tax and been subject to these legal restrictions. Then Prime Minister Helen Clark said, “The Government will be entering into discussions with descendants of those who paid the poll tax on an appropriate form of reconciliation.” A translated version of the apology was delivered by Dr Henry Liu, in Mandarin — a “decision that left many in disbelief…it’s estimated that 98% of those who paid the poll tax came from the Cantonese-speaking regions of southern China.”

In 2004, the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Deed Trust was created, with a government reconciliation package of $5 million. The Trust funds projects that deepen and preserve understanding of the history of Chinese communities in New Zealand as well as promote the Cantonese language, with a number of art projects being funded through the Trust, including theatre productions of other [CHINESE], and Pork and Poll Taxes.

In 2023, the Government re-delivered their apology in Cantonese, also translated and delivered by Dr Henry Liu. “This is a rightful acknowledgement to those who paid the poll tax,” commented community elder Esther Fung on the night. “If they were still alive, they would understand these words and be able to fully accept the apology.”

Poet Laureate Chris Tse read a poem on the night, about his great-grandfather who also paid the poll tax.


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Last updated: 7 June 2024 Suggest an Edit


A certifcate with somebody's name, birth place and age with 100 pounds written in the corner

Poll tax certificate, Archives New Zealand (LS 24/1 1615)