Purewa is pleased to serve Auckland’s valued Chinese community, a vital and integral part to New Zealand’s identity. This year we remember Bickleen Wang (nee Fong), the first Chinese author of an English-language book in New Zealand.
HER FATHER A PIONEER
Bickleen’s life story begins in 1930 with her birth to parents from Lung Yin Tsuen village (龍涎村) in Hong Kong. (Now Nga Yiu Tau village 瓦窰頭.) She and her mother remained there as Bickleen’s father went to work in Marlborough to support his family. In fact, they were not allowed to be together. Regulations at the time did not permit family immigration. Notably, Bickleen’s father was the first Chinese to own a fruit farm in New Zealand.
However, as fate would have it, a tragedy set the stage for the family’s reunion. The occasion was Japan’s invasion of Hong Kong in December 1938, which wreaked devastation and hardship throughout the Pearl River Delta. New Zealand missionaries working there reported executions, rape and intentional starvation of civilians. Since many of New Zealand’s Chinese men came from this region, the plight of women and children became an urgent concern.
REFUGE IN NEW ZEALAND
Through the efforts of the New Zealand Chinese Association and with strong backing from the Presbyterian Church, the government took action. New laws now gave Chinese men in New Zealand the right to bring their spouses and children on a special two-year permit. Some 239 women and 244 children arrived in 1939. All received rights as permanent residents in 1947.
Among the 1939 arrivals was Bickleen Fong. She settled with her father in Rapaura and attended the local primary school. “I was the only Chinese, and I shall never forget those first few weeks,” she said. Although she couldn’t understand or speak any English when she started school, Bickleen learned fast. She became a very successful student. After primary school Bickleen studied at Marlborough College and then Queen Margaret College in Wellington. From there she went on to higher education at Otago University in Dunedin. Regarding her Queen Margaret years, Bickleen recalled that she was “the only Chinese girl to have admittance to this girls’ college.”
It was at Otago University that Bickleen earned an MA in education, making her the first Chinese woman to earn a post-graduate degree in New Zealand. Her work led to the publication of The Chinese in New Zealand, a Study in Assimilation, published by Oxford University Press, which is still highly regarded and cited—a standard reference in this field of study.
After teaching at Taiwan Normal University in 1956, Bickleen returned to New Zealand and married Wang Chefu on 8 June 1957 at the Knox Church in Dunedin. She finally retired to Auckland in the 1970s.