Parliament passed the Chinese Immigrants Act on 5 July 1881[1] which created a ‘poll tax’ of £10 (equivalent to nearly $1700 in 2017 terms) to be imposed on Chinese migrants and restricted the number allowed to land from each ship arriving in New Zealand: Only one Chinese passenger was allowed for every 10 tons of cargo.[2][3]

In 1896 this was changed to one passenger for every 200 tons, and the tax was increased to £100 (nearly $19,000 in 2017 terms).[2][3]

These measures were supported by organisations opposed to Chinese immigration during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including the Anti-Chinese Association, the Anti-Chinese League, the Anti-Asiatic League and the White New Zealand League.[2]

On 15 December 1944, The Finance Act (No. 3) abolished the poll tax introduced in 1881, when it was officially repealed[4] (although the Poll Tax had been waived since 1933)[4]. The Minister of Finance Walter Nash described the Poll Tax as a ‘blot on our legislation’.[4]

The poll tax was waived by the Minister of Customs in 1934, but it was not repealed until 1944. By then other countries had abandoned it.[4]

In 2002 the New Zealand government officially apologised to the Chinese community for the suffering caused by the poll tax.[4]

Other ways in which Chinese were discriminated against included:

  • From 1907 all arrivals were required to sit an English reading test.[3][4]
  • From 1908 Chinese who wished to leave the country temporarily needed re-entry permits, which were thumb-printed.[3][4]
  • The ability of Chinese to become British citizens in New Zealand through naturalisation was prevented between 1908 and 1951[3]
  • From 1926 permanent residency was denied to Chinese.[3][4]
  • Until 1936 Chinese were denied the old-age pension.[3][4]

In 2002 the New Zealand government officially apologised to the Chinese community for the injustice of the tax.[4]

  1. Archives New Zealand. (2013). Hong Yuen [Photo]. Retrieved from
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 'Poll tax imposed on Chinese ', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 25-Jul-2017
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 3.5 3.6 Wendy Harnett. (2013). Chinese New Zealanders: An Inventory of Records Held by Archives New Zealand. Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies, Six. Retrieved from
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 'Poll tax on Chinese immigrants abolished', URL:, (Ministry for Culture and Heritage), updated 24-Nov-2016


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