China. Suddenly everyone is talking about it. If, as has been said, revolution is the Chinese way of change, then what is happening in Hong Kong is not just a protest, it's a rebellion.
Closer to us geographically than the countries from which many of our ancestors hailed, what are we to make of this vast behemoth we know as China? Should we, as Christchurch academic Anne-Marie Brady, advises, be wary of its reach down into the Pacific, its citizens buying up our land, its global companies surveilling our activities, its alleged infiltration of our governing institutions?
Mao Zedong likened his policy of persuading the peasants to join his revolution as "mixing the sand into the hardened soil". Is this what lies behind China's involvement in infrastructure projects throughout the Pacific? Are we all going to end up as subjects of Beijing?
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There is a Chinese saying that goes like this: "A person goes to China for a week and writes a book. A person goes to China for a year and writes an article. A person goes to China for two years and stays silent."
It's intended not just as a warning to visitors, but as an acknowledgement of the impossibility of ever "getting to the end" of this multi-lingual, multi-cultural, 4000-year old nation.
My father was not the only Dunedin citizen to own a cache of Chinese treasures acquired on his travels as a young man. Intricately carved chests and screens, jade or-naments, pottery and porcelain, scrolls and silks, decorated more than one of the homes I visited as a child.
Few of the owners of these treasures would have known much about the cruel treaties forced on the Chinese by the imperial powers - chiefly Britain, France, Japan and Belgium - or that the name that had been given to this vast country was not even its real name.
The British called it China because of its porcelain. Its Chinese name - Zhong Guo - means Central Kingdom. Deep in the collective memory of the Chinese people is the conviction that their country stands at the centre of the known world.
There are no simple answers to questions about China's role in the world and its ambitions for the future. The current stand-off between the US is not about human rights abuses but a perceived imbalance in trade.
China may well want to be the dominant trading power in the world, but to deduce from that, that it aspires to political and military control over sovereign states thousands of miles away is, in my opinion, absurd. New Zealand is about as likely to become a vassal state of China as it is to be ruled from Mars.
In the wake of the recent horrific attacks in Christchurch any narrative that seeks to demonise China is not only foolhardy, it is dangerous.
Anti-Chinese sentiment - like many Kiwis of my generation, I grew up hearing the playground chant "Ching Chong Chinaman" - tolerated for so many years in this country, is something of which we should all be ashamed.
It was not until 1934 that the poll tax demanded of every Chinese man and woman entering the country was waived. Many of those who came here were refugees from the Opium Wars and the Taiping Rebellion, but that made no difference to our government. The tax of ￡10 a head (about $1650, later increased to 10 times that amount ) had to be paid.
Nor was tax the only injustice the Chinese had to face. Organisations such as the Anti-Chinese Association, the Anti-Asiatic League and the White New Zealand League kept up a constant campaign of harassment directed at anyone who looked even vaguely "oriental".
For the past three years I have been researching and writing a book about my maternal cousin, Rewi Alley, and his life in China during the years of the Japanese invasion, the civil war, and beyond.
I learned many things in the course of writing this book but perhaps the greatest thing I learned was not to judge a person by the label attached to him or her. Being called a communist at the height of the Cold War was tantamount to being called a traitor. Careers were ruined, lives destroyed. "Ching Chong Chinaman" was not the only taunt I heard in the playground. "Your uncle's a filthy commie" led, on more than one occasion, to fisticuffs and bloody noses.
That said, New Zealand's anti-communist policy was never pursued as vigorously as it was in the US. The SIS, under instructions from the CIA and MI6, dutifully surveilled those identified as communists, but documents reveal a more nuanced response to the so-called Red Peril. Trade talks with China went on beneath the radar throughout the Cold War years. As they did during the Cultural Revolution. The goodwill created by this ongoing conversation is something we as a nation should treasure.
Anti-Chinese sentiment ... tolerated for so many years in this country, is something of which we should all be ashamed.
While there are legitimate grounds for criticising the government, it is the people that make a nation not its leaders. More than a billion people, universally lauded for their resilience, ingenuity and creativity, cannot and should not be seen as passive agents of a state whose policies do not always chime with ours.
How sad and wrong it would be if we were to allow a re-emergence of anti-Chinese sentiment to destroy the unique and valuable relationship - created, in part, by a handful of New Zealanders who loved and fought for China - between our two countries.
• Elspeth Sandys ONZM, is a multi-award winning writer. Her book A Communist in the Family: Searching for Rewi Alley published by Otago University Press is published on July 24. Rewi Alley is Sandys' cousin.