China’s fight against the Japanese before and during the Second World War did much to influence public opinion in favour of the Chinese. Moreover, their contribution on the home front was appreciated. The national importance of market gardening was reflected in its classification as an ‘essential industry’. In 1941 the Dominion Federation of New Zealand Chinese Commercial Growers was formed to help boost vegetable production.
From 1939 wives and children of Chinese men in New Zealand were allowed temporary entry as refugees from war-torn China. Rather than indicating a fundamental change of immigration policy, the more liberal residence requirements that were introduced in 1947 were prompted by humanitarian concern about adverse conditions in China, which was now wracked by civil war. Those granted permanent residence included wives and children who had arrived as refugees after 1939, New Zealand-born babies of the wives, and Chinese temporary residents and students who had been in New Zealand for over five years. They came to a modest total of 1,323.
This was the low-key beginning of a significant change, hastened by a Communist victory in China which brought the realisation among New Zealand Chinese that return to their homeland was no longer possible. From then on, a real Chinese community, consisting of families, could sink roots.
Greater security and standing in the community enabled families to prosper. By the 1960s many offspring had become successful professionals. This rise in socio-economic status, however, came at the same time as the community was rapidly losing its ‘Chineseness’. The clearest sign was the loss of heritage languages, and the increasing use of English as the primary language.