‘Discourses of Maori and Chinese in the formation of New Zealand’s national identity’ 1

I found this essay really quite interesting – and it elaborated on a few tensions I had been wondering about (reference below). In it, Nigel Murphy looks at the way “Pakeha representations and misrepresentations of Maori and Chinese were used in the formation of New Zealand’s national identity” (56) by analysing the “discourses of race in New Zealand during the period from 1890-1914” (56)

Murphy asserts that “Reaction to, and interaction with, Maori and Chinese shaped White New Zealand’s identity. Maori and Chinese New Zealand identities were also inextricably shaped by White New Zealand’s perceptions of them.” (56)

The period Murphy focuses on is the period from 1890-1914 (for good reason, as you will discover when you read it!). These, he writes, were “The crucial formative years in New Zealand’s history” (57); years which “James Belich has described … as ‘the hinge of modern New Zealand history'” (57). This period was “dominated by a search for national identity which was part of the transition from colony to nation” (57). Murphy writes that “It could be argued that a popular modern reading of the New Zealand historical narrative would read as: pre-contact, contact, colonisation, New Zealand Wars, Gallipoli, the Depression, Labour Party, the Second World War and after.” (57) “Dating the birth of the nation’s identity to the landing at Gallipoli on 25 April 1915 is a reflection of New Zealand’s desire to deny the importance of the previous twenty years” (58) though (something Murphy goes on to discuss).

“The advent of the Liberal government in 1891 provided the political means to return to the idealism which marked New Zealand’s founding; to become what Richard John Seddon famously called ‘God’s Own Country’. The Liberal government’s aim was to create the model society that New Zealand was always meant to be [an egalitarian, ideal society, free of the ills of the Old World – a ‘Better Britain’]” (59) The Liberals, Murphy explains, made New Zealand into a social laboratory, introducing an impressive raft of progressive legislation and began creating a national identity – one that emphasised ‘race’ and ’empire’ as key factors.

He writes: “In the white settler societies such as New Zealand, race, not class, would be the means of identity and unity.” (60) Murphy discusses the developing importance of ‘Whiteness’ on the peripheries of the British Empire (“where settlers came into contact with a far greater range of races – both indigenous and immigrant – than those in the countries they had left” (60). He discusses the legal tensions around whiteness and ‘being British’ with regards to citizenship in New Zealand at that nation-forming time. “Whiteness acted as a marker” (61), he writes, and “a central unifying force in New Zealand’s identity” (61). “Concepts of whiteness and empire were … used to bind together a disparate community and create a national identity for New Zealand and this identity was to be White, British and imperial” (62). “Why did New Zealand include its native people into the membership of the national identity while other white settler societies excluded theirs? The answer lies in New Zealand’s unique self-identity as a model society – a country with the best race relations in the world.” (63)

Murphy chooses not to cover the legal issues of citizenship, but acknowledges the contested understanding of citizenship (“some refer to  it in political terms; others, cultural.” (57))

Ref: Nigel Murphy (2009) ”Maoriland’ and ‘Yellow Peril’: Discourses of Maori and Chinese in the formation of New Zealand’s National Identity 1890-1914, pp.56-88 in Ed. Manying Ip

NOTE: I haven’t got macrons here… imagine them over Maori and Pakeha, etc….


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in Asian connections, Maori learners and education, Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners, Pakeha learners and education and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to ‘Discourses of Maori and Chinese in the formation of New Zealand’s national identity’ 1

  1. Pingback: ‘Discourses of Maori and Chinese in the formation of New Zealand’s national identity’ 2 | LiteracyNZ

  2. Pingback: ‘Discourses of Maori and Chinese in the formation of New Zealand’s national identity’ 3 | LiteracyNZ

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