From fashion to housing, China has a rich history of influence on Hawke's Bay.

MTG Hawke's Bay's latest exhibition, Bringing China Home, showcases the long association between the Bay and China.

"It tells the story that China has always been part of Hawke's Bay, not just in recent times when we look to it for trade and investment," curator Dr James Beattie said.

The University of Waikato associate professor said Chinese influence was reflected in local 19th century trends.


"Wealthier residents imported beautiful silk garments and grew species of Chinese flowers and ornamentals ... households everywhere used the classic blue-and-white dinnerware with scenes of oriental lovers fleeing a wrathful Mandarin."

Mr Beattie said the link between the town and country was formed through Chinese migration and the special interest of Kiwi travellers.

Nineteenth-century Chinese immigrants set up as market gardeners and quickly enjoyed great success in the area.

Nineteenth and 20th-century travellers, such as Rissington farmer Bill Youren, collected Chinese art as a way to try to "break down cultural misunderstandings" and give China a "more human face".

Many of the Bringing China Home pieces are from Mr Youren's collection. He was a pacifist but not a "card-carrying Communist", Dr Beattie said.

The exhibition will feature works from 2000 years of Chinese civilisation and includes material objects, photographs and fine art.

Bringing China Home was also curated by the University of Canterbury's Dr Richard Bullen.

He said it included "absolutely exquisite" pieces from both China's Qing Dynasty and the 20th century.


Among this art will be Mandarin squares and snuff bottles.

Mandarin squares were embroidered badges used to show rank, while snuff bottles were used to hold powdered tobacco.

Dr Beattie hoped the exhibition would attract "a broad range of people", from those interested in all aspects of art to children who could see toys and games of the time.

- MTG Hawke's Bay's Bringing China Home exhibition opens to the public this Saturday at 10am, with a floor talk from the curators at 10.30am.