11 July, 2020

We have just had the book launch for our book Merchant Miner Mandarin: the Life and Times of the Remarkable Choie Sew Hoy and it was a great day.

Since many of you could not be there, we are sending you a summary of events, as well as a set of links to some of the media interviews and items which followed.

More events will follow and we’ll keep you posted.

Best wishes

Jenny and Trevor


1. The Book Launch:

The official book launch of Merchant Miner Mandarin took place at the University Book Shop in Christchurch on the afternoon of Saturday 11 July. It was enormous fun and we’ve only just recovered from all the excitement. The Canterbury University Press did a great job of organisation, so everyone present – ninety or a hundred people - had name tags.  Of course, many of them were Sew Hoys, so they all had a great mini-family reunion as well as a book launch. 

The senior Sew Hoy present was Winnie Ding aged 90, and she really enjoyed herself and found the section in the book where the Dings are mentioned. Her son, Colin, and her daughter, Rhonda also came with their spouses. Our cousin Choie Wai Guing was brought by Mike Chui who purchased an extra copy of the book to show to family members back in Guangdong. We were pleased that Choie Wai Guing was there because her account of life in Sha Kong in the 1930s (recorded jointly with the late Kong Pooi King, Mike’s mum) was important to us in gaining access to the traditions and memories passed down in the family.

Two historians present, Geoff Rice and Edmund ‘Ned’ Bohan, were very complimentary to us about the book, both using the word ‘Impressive’. Geoff said he had had trouble finishing it because his wife kept taking it to read.

The official launch began with Grace Newman presenting a Mihi. She had Felicity as a supporter and both did well. We were so proud of them. Everyone sang the Waiata with enthusiasm. (Copies of the words had been passed out but lots knew Tutira Mai Nga Iwi.)

The publisher, Catherine Montgomery, gave a great speech describing the work that had been done since we signed the contract in 2017. She mentioned, in particular, the editing work of Anna Rogers who trimmed our text to manageable size and enhanced its structure. Tim Nolan did the maps and Nigel Murphy checked the text.

The launch was done by Julia Bradshaw, the author of the history of the West Coast Chinese, Golden Prospect. This was the book that showed such a history could be done and this inspired us to press on. Julia said she hadn’t thought that dredging was interesting until she read our book. She was very complimentary and spoke with passion about the importance of recognizing the contribution people have made.

Jenny’s speech was brilliantly presented (copy below) while I was able to thank Julia Bradshaw and Gavin Bishop and implore people to buy their books. (Margaret pointed out that I hadn’t actually told people to buy Merchant Miner Mandarin but by that time they had sold over 40 copies anyway.)

Signing books was great fun. We used the UBS signing pen, while everyone else got on with the wine and cheese. A highlight was the tiny chocolates wrapped up in equally tiny copies of Gavin Bishop’s book cover. Jane was the genius behind them but a joint family working party had folded and glued them. The family also handed them out.

It must have been one of the busiest afternoons of our lives.  Also one of the most perfect.

Afterward the whole family went home for pizza and pavlova. With champagne.




2. Media Links for Merchant Miner Mandarin



Listen to Morrin Rout interviewing Jenny and Trevor on Plains FM for their Bookenz book review programme on 9 July 2020:



Listen to Kathryn Ryan interview Jenny and Trevor on Nine to Noon (RNZ National) on 24 June 2020, or download:



Listen to the Detail podcast about the Ventnor controversy, where Jenny talks about the Sew Hoy family’s reactions:




The Memorial Gate at Mitimiti   Photo: King Tong Ho


Read Trevor’s account of politicians stirring up racial hostility:


 Red Gate at Miti Miti


3. Appendix:

Jenny’s Thank you speech: 11 July 2020

You might wonder why we had a Mihi to begin, so nicely led by our granddaughter, Grace Newman.

The answer lies at the end of our book about our ancestor, Choie Sew Hoy. Look there and you’ll see that his body lies in the wreck of the Ventnor with over 400 other Chinese bodies or ‘former friends’ as the Cantonese called them. More Chinese remains are cared for in the urupā of the Te Rarawa, Te Mahurere, and Te Roroa tribal groups. We are grateful to the Māori people of the Hokianga region for their loving care of these former friends.

“May their souls now rest in peace in your domain.”

I have other people to thank and some advice to give.

Firstly if you write a book, don’t publish it yourself or you’ll end up with a garage full of boxes of books. Get a publisher. Get a good publisher, a firm that knows what has to be done and how to do it. Our publisher Canterbury University Press is womaned by Catherine Montgomery and Katrina McCallum, who has been highly professional and endlessly patient. They have worked on through the pandemic, scrutinised every word, and put in an effort beyond what we had any right to expect.

Secondly, be sure that expert professionals work on your book. Catherine and Katrina chose well. They chose an editor. Our book may look big but at one point the manuscript had twice as many words. Enter Anna Rogers, a great editor, who performed skillful plastic surgery on the text.

They chose a good designer: Kim Dovey and Smartwork Creative did a wonderful job of designing the book and its layout, making our words look good. 

Always choose a good cover artist. Catherine and Katrina didn’t choose Gavin Bishop; he chose himself. On the day we signed the contract with Canterbury University Press, Trevor and I went out for lunch to celebrate. Gavin and Vivienne Bishop came in and Trevor was so excited he spilled pumpkin soup all over himself. While we were all mopping-up, Gavin asked if he could do the cover. He asked? He asked! He volunteered. Not only that; he created a marvelous dramatic illustration and mixed those perfect colours. And he gave it to us.

Please judge our book by its cover and thank Gavin Bishop.


We also want to thank the University Book Shop for its wonderful support for our book launch.  Our book shops are vital. Please buy a book from UBS. It doesn’t have to be ours; any book will be fine.

Others we have to thank are the librarians and archivists all over New Zealand and in Australia. They not only found us what we were looking for, but they also said things like, “Have you seen this picture?” Or. “I thought this file might interest you.”

We also have to thank the Chinese Poll Tax Heritage Trust, for its generous financial support of this project.

There is also an army of researchers, historians, anthropologists, and archaeologists out there who have generously shared their knowledge with us, and we thank them.

Those who study Chinese in New Zealand stand on the very sturdy shoulders of Dr. James Ng and his wife Eva Ng; these two have given us constant encouragement. Anyone who studies the Sew Hoy family has to be grateful to Colleen and Ron Sew Hoy for their pioneering work in preserving our past. Above all we have dedicated this book to my Uncle, Justin Sew Hoy, who has been a powerful force behind the project, always encouraging and driving us on. 

On the Acknowledgements page of the book, there are the names of three dozen family members who all helped us in some way, some of them no longer alive.

This book has been created with the help of all these people. We are grateful to them and we would like you to join us in thanking them.