Where-ever I go, and when the subject comes up, I enjoy boasting that New Zealand was the first self-governing nation in the world to give women the right to vote (in 1893, although they were unable to run for parliament until 1919). I was always under the impression that this meant that NZ was the first country to have universal suffrage. Not so, as I learnt yesterday.
I have just finished reading Stevan Eldred-Grigg’s Diggers, Hatters and Whores: the story of the New Zealand gold rushes. A thoroughly interesting read, which he concludes with a call for more exploration and writing about this very important but rather overlooked part of our history, in particular the stories of Chinese immigrants who came to dig for gold. It is in this conclusion that Eldred-Grigg states that people of Chinese ancestry, “even if they had been born and lived their whole life in New Zealand”, were unable to vote until the middle of the 1900s. I was shocked.
I have searched around a little on the net to try to find out how this was so, but have not found anything that tells me the exact mechanism by which this denial occurred. I suspect it may have something to do with the over-riding desire for a ‘white NZ’ that led politics in the early 1900s, racism towards Chinese, the fact that Chinese were unable to become NZ citizens for quite some time, and only NZ citizens were able to vote until 1975 when permanent residents were granted the right to vote. But if you know, please share.
So I’ll have to modify my boasting now, with a little caveat about how women gaining the right to vote did not make NZ the first nation to have universal suffrage.