The arrival of new Chinese immigrants in the 1980s and 1990s has resulted in radical changes in the community. The contrast in the community’s profile between the 19th and 21st centuries could not be greater. Now there is a much higher ratio of females, as many of the working-age men have returned to earn better money in the booming Asian economies.
These immigrants have different reasons for coming to New Zealand. They also come from different places: most now migrate from highly developed urban centres inside and outside China. Many are ‘re-migrants’ from British Hong Kong, Taiwan, or Singapore and Malaysia.
They are generally well-educated professionals or business people with internationally transferable skills. Many have chosen to come because they want to raise their children in a less competitive educational environment, or because they want a more leisurely lifestyle and new employment opportunities.
In contrast to the pioneers of a century ago, the new Chinese migrants tend to be well informed and articulate, and therefore less likely to tolerate discrimination. Their desire for recognition and integration has also made them active in philanthropy and politics.
This group has not anticipated job market difficulties. When satisfactory employment is unavailable, they become return-migrants and visit their families in New Zealand by regular commuting. Because they are frequently airborne, they have been labelled ‘astronauts’ by the media. Their sense of commitment to their country of adoption has been queried, as they are so often absent. This trans-nationalism has fuelled public misunderstanding, which has been inflamed by populist politicians during election campaigns.