White Ghosts, Yellow Peril: China and New Zealand 1790–1950 by Stevan Eldred-Grigg, with Zeng Dazheng (Otago University Press, Dunedin, 2014), 384 pp., $55
The subject of White Ghosts, Yellow Peril: China and New Zealand 1790–1950 is vast, even daunting, a fable of an elephant and a flea, yet this book succeeds not only because of the thoroughness of the research but also because it has the virtues of good fiction: vivid particularisation, the density of lived lives.
Stevan Eldred-Grigg (with Zeng Dazheng) interweaves events and significant actors, treatises and opinions, treaties, acts of parliaments and statistics. Overarching theories are set up only to be undermined by counter evidence, by competing voices. By the third chapter I was caught up in the dynamic process of a text that is interleaved with well-chosen images. The authors engage with the scholarship on the topic, referencing James Ng’s work and acknowledging the Otago University academic Brian Moloughney’s ‘valuable feedback’. They also have ‘drawn heavily’ on the works of a further nine authorities, including Charles Sedgewick whose ‘thesis remains to this day the only serious work looking closely at the politics within Cantonese New Zealand’. [Read more…]