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It was a Flemish Jesuit's world map in Chinese that introduced China to Australia and New Zealand in 1674.

At the time, only the South Pacific and Americas were uncharted waters for China; through trade, the Chinese were already well-acquainted with the rest of Asia, the Middle East and to a certain extent, Africa.

The formation of the relationship between the Chinese and New Zealand, the country and its people, form the thrust of this book.

New Zealanders' historic perceptions of its Chinese migrants have been well-documented, but this book looks through Chinese eyes at what would be a future home for the diaspora.

But until the Chinese began flocking to the South Island during the gold rush of the mid-1800s, Christian newspapers were the major source of information about New Zealand, through which they discovered its geography, economy and people.

Maori were a regular topic in the Christian publications, often presented as savages who made astounding progress after conversion to Christianity. Despite the Euro-centric observations, the publications nevertheless provided the Chinese with the rudiments of the country.

When Chinese began arriving in the 1860s, they were impressed not so much by the natural beauty, but the auspicious feng shui elements - indicating good omens in the search for gold. But for every Chinese man who made his fortune, many would remain poor.

They faced the aggression of European miners passively, and by the 1870s the Chinese had became an integral part of the goldfields.

By 1911, when the Qing Dynasty fell, 50 years of the Chinese experience in New Zealand had been reported in bits and pieces back to the motherland.

And this is where the book suffers - but through no fault of its own. Much of those letters to China have been lost to time, so it is left to the author to reconstruct the perceptions of the time - largely through the eyes of New Zealanders, newspaper excerpts and broad summations.

But this is also where the book is at its most telling, vividly recounting the personal relationships that had formed between the Chinese and New Zealanders.

Through daily interaction, a picture of mutual respect and learning emerged between the two communities. One memorable anecdote recounts how one shopkeeper dealt with the hard-bargaining tactics of the Chinese by putting his prices up to bring them down again without a loss, leaving both parties satisfied and in good grace. But the relationship has not been without tensions. Of particular mention is the introduction of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1908. The Chinese Consul then became a clear voice dissenting against mainstream public opinion.

"Since the Act of 1908 was passed not a single Chinaman has come into New Zealand.

We would not complain so much if you treated all nations alike. But you do not treat the people of any European nation like that," the consul is cited as saying. Ultimately it was the contributions of New Zealanders such as Rewi Alley that helped to shape positive impressions abroad.

New Zealanders in China, the author notes, were perceived as much for what they were (missionaries, teachers and aid workers) as what they were not (gunboat commanders, opium traders or "as diplomats demanding concessions and extraterritoriality").

While intended as an academic account of the historical relationship between the two countries, the book is easily accessible to the general reader. It is an insightful look into the ties that bind the two countries, and the groundwork that has been laid for the relationship that stands today.