Dr Lorraine Wong and Ms Zhen Huang from the Department of Languages and Cultures have lent their expertise to the Otago Museum to decipher items from New Zealand missionaries in China.

The items include written documents that bear witness to the missionaries’ attempts to learn the Chinese language, examples of material used to promote Christianity, and hints about the connections they formed in their new communities.

Dr Lorraine Wong and Ms Zhen Huang are translating some of the items, to help the museum identify the nature of this material – what it said, did, or was used for.

Already they have identified two pass documents that were issued to Alexander Don. Don was appointed leader of the Presbyterian Church of Otago and Southland’s mission to the Chinese in 1879. He spent over a year in Canton with the American Presbyterian Mission, and then came to Dunedin in 1881. He returned to Canton in preparation for the establishment of the Canton Villages Mission in the 1890s.

Lorraine Wong works on script reforms and language politics in the Chinese national context and beyond and is excited about tracing the interactions of New Zealand Christian missionaries with the commoners in China who spoke different non-Mandarin languages.Dr Lorraine Wong and Ms Zhen Huang

“It was exciting to discover, among the materials we are working, some pamphlets promoting a Chinese phonetic alphabet created at the turn of the 20th century. You get a sense of how far the campaigns for phonetic writing in China could go in a war-ridden situation.”

Zhen Huang, originally from Changsha, China is hoping to build more connections between China and New Zealand.

“Identifying and translating Museum collection materials that are China-related gives me new ideas about teaching Chinese language and culture in New Zealand. It is interesting to see that the Museum has two pairs of shoes used in the past by Chinese women with bound feet. I think it is a good idea to make use of local China-related materials to teach Chinese language and culture.”